Heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua, unable to finalize a mega-showdown with former world champion Wladimir Klitschko, will instead make his second defense against Eric Molina, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced Tuesday.
The fight will take place on Dec. 10 at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, with American television coverage ticketed for Showtime, which has a contract with Joshua. The card will be on Sky Box Office pay-per-view in the United Kingdom.
Joshua was hoping to face Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs) following the cancellation of Klitschko's Oct. 29 rematch with world champion Tyson Fury because of Fury's personal problems, including drug, alcohol and mental health issues. When time began to run short to finalize and then properly promote such a major fight -- the biggest in the heavyweight division -- combined with Klitschko also suffering a mild calf injury, the camps decided to put off the possible blockbuster until spring.
While they hope to make the fight for March or April, Joshua (17-0, 17 KOs) will stay active by facing fringe contender Molina (25-3, 19 KOs).
"I am pleased that everything is now set for Dec. 10 and I can concentrate on getting the business done in the ring," Joshua said. "There has been plenty of talk about who I may face but all I'm doing is concentrating on finishing Molina in style and putting on a great show."
The 27-year-old Joshua, the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist for Great Britain, has not been challenged in any serious manner in his previous title bouts. He won the belt by second-round knockout of Charles Martin in April and then dominated Dominic Breazeale, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, en route to a seventh-round knockout in June.
Molina, 34, of Raymondsville, Texas, will be a prohibitive underdog but he is getting his second opportunity to fight for a world title. He challenged Deontay Wilder for his version of the title in June 2015 and, although he rocked Wilder, Molina eventually got knocked out in the ninth round. Molina's other two career defeats came by first-round knockout, in his pro debut in 2007 and to former title challenger Chris Arreola in 2012.
Since the loss to Wilder, Molina has boxed once, traveling to Poland and knocking out faded former contender Tomasz Adamek, a former cruiserweight and light heavyweight world titleholder, in the 10th round in April.
"There is no heavyweight in the world that has bounced back like I have," Molina said. "That's the man that Joshua faces on Dec. 10 and that man is a very dangerous one. He'll fight the toughest Molina that anybody has ever seen, just like Adamek fought the toughest Molina.
"I'm confident. These type of fights don't shake me up. I'm a very strong mental fighter. I know exactly what I've got to do to prepare myself in the amount of time. I know exactly what I've got to do, mentally, physically, to go there and perform. When you walk out into the atmosphere, half the battle is the mental battle, and if you can stay in the moment mentally you have a shot in any fight."
Said Joshua: "Every fight is dangerous in this division and this is no exception. I saw Molina have a great fight with Wilder and he is now coming off a strong KO win against Adamek in Poland. I'm expecting this to be the toughest fight of my career so far and I will be ready for an all-out war."
Before the fight with Molina was finalized possible opponents included British countryman and one-time top prospect David Price (21-3, 18 KOs), 33, and former world title challenger Kubrat Pulev (23-1, 12 KOs), 35, of Bulgaria. Mandatory challenger Joseph Parker (21-0, 18 KOs), 24, of New Zealand, was also an earlier consideration, but Parker elected to go in another direction and will instead face Andy Ruiz Jr. for one of the world title belts vacated by Fury.
"The heavyweight division has been turned on its head in the last few months and while many are standing still waiting, I'm delighted to get this huge card up and running in Manchester," Hearn said. "I have spoken to Eric Molina at length and I know this is going to be a big test for Anthony. We saw in the Wilder fight that he can punch and doesn't give in and is coming off a strong knockout win against Adamek in his backyard in Poland."
The card will also include heavyweight Dillian Whyte (19-1, 15 KOs), 28, defending his British title against former world title challenger Dereck Chisora (26-6, 18 KOs), 32, in a bout that will also serve as a world title eliminator. The winner will move a step closer to a mandatory shot at the world title held by Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs).
Whyte also has his eye on a possible rematch with Joshua, who, before he won a world title, stopped Whyte in the seventh-round of a brawl in December 2015. Whyte has won three fights in a row since, including winning the vacant British title in by 10th-round knockout of Ian Lewison on Oct. 7.
In Chisora's biggest fight, he lost a one-sided decision to then-heavyweight world titleholder Vitali Klitschko in 2012 but vast experience in losses to opponents such as Fury, David Haye and Pulev. The Joshua-Molina card will also include junior bantamweight world titleholder Luis Concepcion (35-4, 24 KOs), 31, of Panama, defending his belt for the second time when he meets Khalid Yafai (20-0, 14 KOs), 27, of England.
Former junior featherweight titleholder Scott Quigg (31-1-2, 23 KOs) will face an opponent to be determined. He is moving up to featherweight for his first bout since suffering a broken jaw in a split decision loss to Carl Frampton in their title unification fight in February.
"The card is one of the strongest we have produced, supported by a huge all-British heavyweight grudge match between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora," Heard said. "We are delighted to see the return of Scott Quigg, who will now campaign at featherweight, and Birmingham's Kal Yafai has a chance to make history in a brutal fight against world champion Luis Concepcion."
Two other fighters of note are also slated to be on the show if they win previously scheduled bouts. Heavyweight destroyer Luis "King Kong" Ortiz (25-0, 22 KOs), who recently signed with Hearn, first must get past Malik Scott (38-2-1, 13 KOs) on Nov. 12 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Also, women's amateur star Katie Taylor, a lightweight who won a 2012 Olympic gold medal and competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, will fight on the card if all goes well in her Nov. 26 professional debut.