Amir Khan has taken the first step towards regaining a world title with a stoppage win over previously unbeaten Carlos Molina in a fight he had admitted was "make or break" following two devastating defeats.
Bolton native Khan knew nothing less than victory would do after losing against Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia over the last 12 months. There was no such upset at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, though, as the former unified light-welterweight world champion produced a measured, mature performance to break down unfancied Molina and prompt his corner to pull him out after the 10th round.
Khan's 26-3 (18KOs) record bore the scars of a turbulent year which the fighter himself admitted was the worst of his professional life. Molina, meanwhile, was unbeaten - with 17 wins and a draw - but also untested, having campaigned mainly at the lower lightweight division.
The form book suggested the apparently light-punching Californian was the perfect opponent in this 12-round fight for the vulnerable Khan, who still bristles at suggestions his punch resistance is weak. After being given a largely hostile welcome by the largely Latin American crowd, Khan stayed true to his pre-fight vow that he would be more patient.
The Briton moved forward in measured bursts, landing shots before coming out of the way. He cut Molina with his best shot of the round, a straight, driven right hand which looked responsible for cutting Molina over the left eye. A right to the body then closed the first round nicely for Khan.
A jab and left hook early in the second worked well for Khan as he started well - as he had done against Peterson and Garcia too. A left-right landed hard but Molina finally countered with shots of his own, forcing his attacker to think twice for a moment. The local man thudded in two jabs and a right hand which Khan shook off well before the bell.
Molina was beginning to look a little more aggressive by the third and caught Khan on the ropes for the first time. Khan was winning the rounds and left hooks to head then body represented decent success in the fourth.
The crowd were excited by the burst of action that followed as Khan fired at will before swallowing a left hook from the American. The former champion landed a jab, straight right and right uppercut as referee Jack Reiss had a quick look at Molina's wound.
A three-punch combination culminating in a reaching uppercut was Khan's best work in a quieter fifth. Molina landed a crude but hard left hook and wild right in the sixth while Khan produced another flurry to back his man up. Khan worked his way in with shots on the inside and caught the eye with a number of spiteful left hooks broken up by another uppercut. Again, though, he failed to put a dent in his man but even the pro-Molina crowd were enjoying much of his work.
Khan mixed things up somewhat in the ninth, a right to the body preceding a pause and then a superb left hook from range. A left-right jolted Molina late in the round. Even Molina was arguably still in with a puncher's chance but after another round of one-way traffic in the 10th, the American was spared further futile punishment and the win was Khan's.