The beat goes on for Eric “Drummer Boy” Molina
Eric Molina has always had this knack of finding bicentennial quarters. These coins, minted in 1976 to commemorate the 200th birthday of the United States, feature a colonial drummer on one side.
Molina collects them and uses them as lucky charms. They appear, it seems, when Molina needs them the most.
“They pop up, looking at me,” Molina said. “When I find them, overwhelming luck just hits me. I usually find them when my back’s against the wall.”
These quarters spawned “Drummer Boy” — the nickname the Lyford native uses when he is boxing.
Molina is well-known as “Drummer Boy,” in the area’s boxing circles.
However, Molina doesn’t rely on luck as much as his smarts when it comes to navigating his boxing career these days. In February 2012, Molina was quite literally knocked to his senses when Chris Arreola, then the top-ranked heavyweight in the world, scored a devastating first-round knockout on him on national television in Corpus Christi. Molina, a rising star in the heavyweight ranks, was shattered.
“Drummer Boy” needed a bicentennial quarter that night.
The loss forced Molina to reassess things in his life. He married the former Yesenia Valdez one month after the fight, and in May 2012 accepted a job at South Middle School in Edinburg.
“Drummer Boy” became Mr. Molina. He didn’t retire, but he knew that chasing the boxing dream could no longer be his priority.
“It was a big loss for me, and it was a real big thing for me to deal with because I had to figure out, ‘Do I want to do this? Do I want to teach?,’” the 31-year-old Molina said. “It was time to start teaching. … Boxing’s been good to me, but I’ve struggled a lot with boxing. It’s a lot of struggling and a lot of holding on to a dream and sacrificing. The odds of making it to that level you see on TV … for every guy that makes it to fight De La Hoya, there’s 10,000 who don’t.”
With his boxing career on hold, Molina decided to pursue a master’s degree in special education at the University of Texas at Brownsville. Last August, he was hired as a special education teacher and head coach in boys cross country at Edinburg Economedes.
“I didn’t want to sit around and wait for an opportunity in boxing,” Molina said. “I had done that for years. I wanted to start my career in this (teaching and coaching), but I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to retire from boxing. But, I told myself, I don’t want to fit other stuff into boxing. I want boxing to fit into my life.”
And so it went for Molina. He coached cross country and was a soccer assistant at Economedes.
Still, that stinging loss to Arreola remained on his mind. Even his students would joke about the knockout to him. A chance for redemption would be sweet.
In March, his promoter Don King called with that opportunity for “Drummer Boy.” It was for a fight against Tony Grano, the world’s fifth-ranked heavyweight at the time, for Grano’s North American Boxing Federation belt. Molina would have only 3 1/2 weeks to prepare, but it wasn’t an opportunity he was going to pass up.
Molina trained twice per day — after school and at midnight — in the time leading up to the fight, which took place April 27 in Ontario, Calif. Molina said he had never been so confident heading into a fight.
“There was too much inside of me that had built up after that loss,” Molina said. “I was able to use it to my advantage as far as motivation. I had built up my career so high, and I lost. … I couldn’t retire on that note. I wanted to show everybody that I could do this.”
Molina did. He recorded a 12-round unanimous decision and took Grano’s title belt. He improved to 20-2 and moved up to No. 14 on WBC’s world heavyweight rankings. Molina doesn’t have a title defense lined up at the moment, but he’s hopeful something will materialize before the year’s end.
Molina couldn’t possibility teach his students — or the rest of us, for that matter — a better lesson.
“It helps me live in peace,” Molina said. “I wanted every day to redeem myself. I wanted to show that I could beat a world contender, that I could be a world contender. Yeah, I lost, but that’s OK. It’s OK to get knocked down. It’s OK to suffer a setback, but what really defines somebody is how they respond.
“It’s what I tell my kids when they graduate, ‘Get ready for the world. It’s going to kick your butt. When you get knocked down, what are you going to do? Are you going to walk away?’
“If anything, that’s what I really try to show my kids. It’s all right. You are going to get knocked down and get embarrassed. But I’d rather get embarrassed than to never try.”