A Japanese “Monster” called Naoya Inoue lurks in Las Vegas and Jason Moloney tells Lewis Watson how he’s preparing for the biggest challenge of his life
AN unabating wind pummels Jason Moloney to the head and body. The Australian bantamweight contender stiffens his torso, squints his eyes and takes a long, deep breath as he runs along the desolate awakening beaches in Kingscliff, Australia.
It’s 7am, halfway across the world, and Moloney counters this attack from Mother Nature easily and instinctively: Laser focus sees him over another imaginary finish line, another morning run completed. More miles in the bank and the 118-pounder answers the phone with a warm, infectious smile that I’ve grown to cherish over a year of intermittent contact. Calmness ensues, and just like that, he’s recharged, ready, and reactive.
“I’ve never been scared of monsters, not even as a child,” Jason Moloney tells Boxing News ahead of his October 31 world title fight against Naoya Inoue. Two pieces of the bantamweight title will be on the line inside Top Rank’s Las Vegas Bubble; Moloney is attempting to join an illustrious group of Australian fighters to haven broken Japanese fighting hearts.
“I don’t fear any man,” he adds. “And definitely not Inoue. I think that’s what surprises a lot of people. They think I’m crazy for taking this fight, but I have worked extremely hard for this occasion and dedicated my life to this sport. He’s another man with two arms and two legs. Sure, he’s an excellent fighter, but I go into this fight fully confident.”
Moloney’s confidence is admirable. Ranked handsomely in the upper echelons of most respected pound-for-pound rankings, Naoya Inoue has quickly become one of boxing’s must-see attractions. Blitzing his way through the light-fly, super-fly and bantamweight divisions since turning over in 2012, the “Monster” has scooped world titles in three pools, as well as the bantamweights maiden Muhammad Ali Trophy courtesy of the World Boxing Super Series.
Inoue won the eight-man tournament’s final against Nonito Donaire last November in a Fight of the Year contender – a fight in which Moloney has taken confidence from ahead of his meeting with the unbeaten star this Halloween evening. “I’ve probably watched Inoue vs Donaire around six to eight times,” Moloney admits. “Nothing too crazy. It was a fantastic fight. It certainly showed that he was beatable and that he could be hurt fairly easily. I’ve had success against Donaire in previous sparring sessions, so that also gave me a degree of confidence. I think Donaire let him off the hook a couple of times when he could have pressured more. My coach [Angelo Hyder] studies a lot of footage and can read and break down a fight better than anyone I’ve ever met, so his focus has been on Inoue. I obviously do too, but I don’t get as involved. I want to improve myself rather than looking too much at my opponent.
“We’ve definitely picked a few holes in Inoue off the back of that fight, and he’s got me working on a perfect game plan. There are plenty of things we believe will work in this fight.”
In a fight of such magnitude for the Australian contender, marginal gains have been sought in an attempt to achieve what many in the sport believe to be impossible. Moloney is humble and observant enough to understand the gravitas of the task ahead but is unwilling to let that impact his belief in his own abilities.
Previous experience fighting inside Top Rank’s Bubble [w rtd 7 Leonardo Baez] has allowed the 29-year-old to focus fully on the scheduled 36 minutes of combat, rather than potential distractions of Covid-19 protocol. This will be Inoue’s debut in Las Vegas, and Moloney is willing to concede that the world champion [i]may[i] find the distractions hard to ignore.
“Maybe I’ll have a slight advantage in the Bubble. All the one per cents do add up. I know what’s ahead of me, I know the atmosphere, how everything works with the protocol. I am going in there with the experience for this occasion. He’s used to the big fights, but everyone will react differently to fighting with no crowd.
“I’m not going to read too much into it. I still know I need to go in and fight a flawless fight and to perfection. It needs to be the best performance of my career, but that’s what we are preparing for.
“In terms of training, we haven’t done much different this time around. Even though this is such a massive fight, we aren’t going to change too much. I still train twice a day, every day, and I’ll always enter in fantastic shape.”
While 2020 has been a challenging year for a majority involved in boxing, Moloney has managed to successfully ride the unchartered waters with thanks to his promotional outfit at Top Rank, and manager Tony Tolj. This in-house world title fight came quicker than many anticipated – Inoue vs John Riel Casimero was originally slated for two possible dates this year – but Moloney feels the time is right for him and his career. The Australian is 0-1 in world title fights following his only career loss to Emmanuel Rodriguez in 2017 [l pts 12], but is adamant that waiting is simply not viable.
“If I had waited for 12 months for this opportunity, it may have never come again. I’m a firm believer that you should never knock back big opportunities in life. Inoue has plans to unify and move up in weight to 122, so I couldn’t afford to wait.
“This is my chance to beat him [Inoue] and do something very special. Beating Inoue would surely be the best win for an Australian boxer in our history, so this is a massive chance for me to write my own chapter in the history books. A dream of mine is to be amongst the great Australian boxers. Guys like Lionel Rose, Johnny Famechon, Jeff Fenech – and this is my opportunity. This will really cement my legacy in the sport.”
Moloney displays a strong sense of Australia’s proud fighting history. Buoyed by boxing’s glittering archives, he is attempting to follow in the footsteps of the protagonists as mentioned earlier who won world titles in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions across the 60s, 70s and 80s. Moloney draws the comparisons between his fight with Inoue, and Lionel Rose’s world title upset over Fighting Harada in 1968 – an upset that stunned the congregation inside the Nippon Budokan Arena in 1968.
Harada was untouchable in the bantamweight division at the time. The Japanese star had assembled a record of 50-3 utilising his expeditious footwork, motoring energy and fearless aggression, moving through the weights and clearing close to everything in his path.
Rose had no right to be competitive with Harada that night in Tokyo. The stylish 20-year-old was a huge underdog but was able to display one of the purest, most impressive boxing displays the division has ever seen in outworking the champion to a 15-round decision. Rose’s lack of power didn’t impact his game plan. He was able to jab with one of the best across the divisions, out-punch a nasty counter puncher and briefly drop the Harada to his knees with a right-hand counter in the ninth round.
“It’s awesome that there is a history of Australians fighting the Japanese,” Moloney adds, reminiscing with a retrospective take of a fight that occurred more than twenty years before he was born. “There are so many similarities between that and my fight with Inoue. It definitely motivates and inspires me to do something special like Rose did [and later, Famechon recording two wins over Harada at featherweight].
“I am expecting the best version of Inoue, and I want to be beating the best version of Inoue. You don’t want to be beating a pound-for-pound star like him only for people to say he was underdone or rusty. We don’t want any excuses when I get the win.”
An advocate of staying fit and prepared all year round, Moloney found motivation through boxing’s forced hiatus where others would have slipped. He, like many fighters had to deal with the disappointment of a postponement – vs Joshua Greer Jnr in March – but didn’t allow himself to slip in the tempting chasm of inactivity.
“I think after all this [boxing’s Covid-19 halt] you’ve been able to see who the disciplined and dedicated fighters are and who are the ones that let themselves go. I’ve used this as my main motivation: once I returned to the ring, I wanted it to be clear that I’ve been working as hard as ever.”
By the time October 31 comes around, it will have been 359 days since Inoue entered a professional ring. “A big break can really have a negative effect on fighters,” he explains. “Especially with the pandemic, it’s given fighters an excuse to blow out and not eat right. But I think with Inoue – from what I’ve seen – he’s like myself, likes to stay in the gym in good shape and train hard. I can’t imagine he’s had 12 months sitting on the couch.
“I’m ready to do 12 rounds full steam ahead. I’m wary of burning out and leaving my best work in the gym, so I won’t be overtraining. We’ve managed to get some good sparring here in Australia – some of the local guys, my brother and a few guys in the gym – also, a few guys from Sydney and Queensland have come to stay with us. I’ve been getting some really good rounds in.”
Jason’s twin brother Andrew is an integral part of Team Moloney and is helping his sibling prepare ahead of his own world title fight a fortnight later. Andrew Moloney is seeking revenge against Joshua Franco after dropping a decision to the new WBA champion at 115 pounds back in June, with a return to the Bubble likely.
“It’s been a huge advantage to grow up with Andrew,” Jason says candidly about his twin. “We have always been super close and super competitive with each other. We’d put the gloves on in the house and have a tear up for what felt like an hour!
“Some things we are better at than each other. Natural competitiveness and having each other to bounce ideas off and help find improvements I think is a massive advantage and helps us move to the next level.”
We caught up again, as Moloney swaps home comforts for the bright lights of Las Vegas. Touching down in the City of Second Chances, his search for the final few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle commence over a month of final preparation.
Gamblers, street performers, day-trippers, newlyweds, DJs, bachelorettes and a handful of Elvis impersonators frequent the bustling, burning streets, yet Team Moloney are safe, secluded and settled in making the final tweaks to “plan A, plan B and plan C” that they promise have been considered in scrupulous detail.
“I’m confident in being the underdog,” he concludes with a steely conviction. “I’m not going to miss out on this opportunity to repeat history for Australia.”
As Jason Moloney knocks on the Monster’s door this Halloween, the boxing world will peer around the corner in fascination and trepidation. Will it be trick or treat in Sin City?