Naoya Inoue looking to bring out The Monster against Jason Moloney
Unbeaten Japanese star Naoya Inoue had already accomplished so much. He’d captured world titles in three weight classes, he’d entered the pound-for-pound top 10, he was the first Japanese national to adorn the cover of Ring Magazine, and he’d claimed The Ring Magazine bantamweight championship.
The one thing Inoue hadn’t done, however, was go to war against a great fighter in a truly great prizefight. All of that changed on November 7, 2019.
Before a 22,000 strong capacity crowd at the Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, Inoue and friendly rival Nonito Donaire went toe-to-toe in one of the finest bantamweight battles in boxing history. The WBSS final was named The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year and, having been ringside, I can honestly say that it’s the best fight I have ever seen live.
Inoue prevailed via 12-round unanimous decision and added the Ali trophy and the WBA title to his collection. But not without cost. Thanks to Donaire’s best weapon – a devastating left hook – Inoue sustained a broken right orbital bone in Round 2 and his vision was affected for the remainder of the bout. Despite the glory of victory, this was baptism by fire for the champion.
“The Donaire fight was surely the toughest fight of my career thus far,” acknowledged Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) through translator Masa Ueda. “But it was also a fight where I gained a lot of experience and that will make me a better fighter.
“The injury I suffered has fully recovered. I’ve been sparring after the New Year’s holidays and it hasn’t affected my training.”
The global pandemic has been as intrusive for Inoue as it has for almost every professional fighter. He was scheduled to make his Top Rank debut against WBO counterpart John Riel Casimero in April, but that show had to be postponed.
Like many people, the 27-year-old Inoue, who is currently rated No. 2 by The Ring in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings, kept things simple during his time off.
“I watched movies at home and played a lot with my two kids,” said Inoue. “I have been in self-quarantine since the outbreak of COVID-19, apart from training where they let me use the gym in private.”
With Inoue’s schedule requiring a reshuffle, Top Rank elected to match its new star against another one of their other top bantamweights, Jason Moloney. The pair will face off at The Bubble inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas this Saturday.
Moloney, 29, has a record of 21-1 (18 KOs) and he’s both talented and powerful. His only loss came in October 2018, when he dropped a split decision to the then-unbeaten Emmanuel Rodriguez, who, perhaps ominously, was obliterated by Inoue inside two rounds the following May.
“Maloney has top level technique and the stamina to fight the full 12 rounds,” offered Inoue with respect. “I hope to show my tactical technique together with the aggressiveness in the ring.”
Despite Moloney being rated No. 6 by The Ring at 118 pounds, he had been installed as a prohibitive 6-1 underdog in a two-horse race.
Should Inoue prevail, as most fans and experts expect, he will waste no time in seeking out the remaining world titleholders in his division. However, despite the odds, he refused to look past the task ahead.
“I would like to fight Casimero as soon as possible to unify the belts, but, for now, I’m focused on defeating Maloney,” Inoue told The Ring.
“I don’t have any [other] names at the moment, but after I get through Maloney, I think opponent names will be presented that everyone will be excited to see.”
Inoue-Moloney, plus Ewa Brodnickakl-Mikaela Meyer, will be broadcast on ESPN in America and FITE in the U.K.
Masa Ueda helped coordinate and translate this interview. The Ring is grateful for his assistance.
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Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing