World champ Terence Crawford stops John Molina in 8th round

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Unbeaten world champion Terence ”Bud” Crawford stopped John Molina in the eighth round to end a dominating performance and a dominating year.

Crawford retained his WBO and WBC junior welterweight titles. Molina didn’t make the 140-pound weight Friday, and had Crawford been upset, the titles would have been vacated.

Backed by a hometown crowd of 11,270 at CenturyLink Center, Crawford was fighting for the third time this year and first since his lopsided win over former WBC champ Viktor Postol in Las Vegas last summer. In the fight before that, he knocked out Hank Lundy in New York. Now Crawford is poised to be named fighter of the year for a second time in three years.

”I think I should get a lot of credit for what I did this year, especially tonight,” Crawford said. ”I showed I could be a finisher.”

Crawford was in control all the way and finished off Molina moments after Molina raised his hands as if to ask for more as the champion landed a flurry of punches. A shot to the midsection backed Molina into the neutral corner, and Crawford then unloaded repeated shots to the head and body, causing Molina to go down. Referee Mark Nelson stepped in to stop the fight at the 2:32 mark.

”He fought a hell of a fight tonight, and he came out on top,” Molina said. ”Omaha’s a good fight town, and we appreciated coming here.”

The 29-year-old Crawford (30-0, 21 knockouts) came out in an orthodox stance but quickly switched to southpaw. Molina was on defense early, with Crawford landing a left to the head and then a right that staggered him. Molina walked into a right to the head in the second.

Crawford went mostly untouched, but Molina did land a hard right to the head in the third. From there Crawford mixed in his jab while connecting often with punches to the head and body.

”It’s cool to have somebody come straight forward and be an easy target, but you still have to stay focused,” Crawford said. ”I hit him with everything. We were prepared for him. I think I showed that today.”

Crawford continues to hold out hope that he gets a shot at Manny Pacquiao before Pacquiao retires.

”Yeah, I’d like to fight him. I’m not chasing him,” Crawford said. ”We’re ready to fight anybody. Our promoters pick the fight. We train and go fight.”

The 33-year-old Molina (29-7, 23 knockouts) upset Ruslan Provodnikov in his last fight but had been just 5-5 in his previous 10.

The fight against Crawford lost much of its luster when Molina weighed in at 143.4 pounds on Friday, disqualifying him from winning the titles.

In the co-main event, former world title contender Ray Beltran knocked out Mason Menard 51 seconds into the seventh round to win a pair of regional lightweight titles.

Beltran (32-7-1, 20 knockouts) began asserting himself after the second round. Beltran left Menard (32-2, 24 knockouts) woozy with a flurry at the end of the sixth. His left to the right cheek laid out Menard, and Nelson stopped the fight.

Menard, who had won 30 straight fights, stepped in for the injured Juan Diaz on the card. Beltran had won twice since stopping Takahiro Ao in May 2015, but that fight was changed to a no-decision after he failed a post-fight drug test.