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The return of ‘The Monster’ Naoya Inoue

Naoya Inoue
Naoya Inoue returns to take on the tough Jason Moloney inside The Bubble in Las Vegas, writes Matt Bozeat

TOP Rank unleash their “Monster” on Halloween night when Naoya Inoue, the Japanese power puncher who’s near the top of every pound-for-pound list, defends his IBF and WBA bantamweight titles against Australian challenger Jason Moloney.

Between them, champion and challenger have 34 early wins in 41 fights – and only one defeat. Top Rank snapped up Inoue after his fight-of-the-year points win over veteran four-weight world champion Nonito Donaire (40-5) in November’s final of the World Boxing Super Series. That was a wonderful fight that had numerous shifts in momentum, dollops of drama and a knockdown – and probably told us more about Inoue than his previous 18 fights put together. We knew he could punch with either fist and had a good IQ, but against Donaire, he had to come through real adversity. By the end of the third round, Inoue was nicked on his right eyebrow and blood leaked from his nose. Though he was boxing well enough to keep his nose in front on the cards, the damage to Inoue’s right eye worsened as the fight went on and he was shaken up midway through the ninth by a right hand. He got through that mini crisis and responded by taking his boxing up a gear. Inoue found a wonderful rhythm to dominate the 10th and had Donaire down for a count of 9 ½ in the 11th with a sizzling body punch. Donaire lashed out with a left hook on the resumption that stopped Inoue in his tracks – but only briefly. There were to be no further twists. Inoue finished in charge, leaving Donaire’s right eye swollen shut by the final bell.

Naoya Inoue

The World Boxing Super Series provides a formline for this weekend’s fight. In the quarter finals, Moloney lost a split decision to polished Puerto Rican Emmanuel Rodriguez (18-0) in a challenge for the IBF belt 12 months ago. The Australian finished strongly to win 115-113 on one scorecard, but the other two judges went for Rodriguez by the same scoreline.

That set up a semi final between Rodriguez and Inoue in Glasgow – and it was all over inside two rounds. At ringside Carl Frampton said Inoue “looks almost like the perfect fighter.” The record shows 27-year-old Inoue has won world titles at three weights and he has a 8-0 (7) record against former and current world champions.

The Inoue punch has enabled him to jump up from light-flyweight (105lbs) all the way to bantamweight (118lbs). He puts his 16 early wins in 19 fights down to timing. Leigh Wood, Nottingham’s Commonwealth featherweight champion, said after sparring Inoue that he had the punch to trouble fighters all the way up to 126lbs.

Moloney gets his stoppages by breaking opponents down. That was how the 29-year-old beat Leonardo Baez in June. After seven rounds, the Mexican was cut around both eyes and looking defeated having been unable to come up with the answers to Moloney’s intelligent box-fighting.

Moloney spent most of the fight inside Baez’s long arms and as soon as he felt the Mexican was getting a foothold in the fight, Moloney got his feet moving and made him swing long punches he saw coming and was able to block and counter. That was a fourth straight inside-the-distance win for Moloney since the loss to Rodriguez. That stoppage streak includes routine wins over the average Goodluck Mrema, a Tanzanian previously stopped by Lee McGregor, and Nicaragua’s Dixon Flores, knocked out inside a round by Kal Yafai in 2016.

The twin of super-flyweight contender Andrew, Moloney had a good amateur pedigree, beating Michael Conlan at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and as a pro, the best name on his 21-1 record is a stoppage of former WBA super-flyweight belt-holder Kohei Kono. Kono was 37 years old, had seen better days, and after being dropped by a jab and cut, the Japanese veteran was pulled out by his corner after the sixth. Kono is a common opponent. Inoue fought him 17 months before Moloney and dropped him heavily twice in the sixth to force the stoppage. As he showed against Rodriguez, Moloney, nicknamed “The Smooth One,” is a well organised boxer who works well to the body and has a good engine. Fact is, Moloney lost a competitive fight to a fighter Inoue subsequently blew away inside two rounds.

The champion has the edge in every department and can force a stoppage around the midway mark.

On the undercard, there’s a belting scrap on paper between Poland’s WBO super-featherweight champion Ewa Brodnika, 19-0 (2) and Colorado’s Mikaela Mayer, 13-0 (5). It will Mayer’s second fight in The Bubble and the 2016 Olympian has the tools to dethrone Brodnika, who is making her sixth defence of the title. At 36, though, and with a series of closer than close fights behind her, one senses her luck might be about to run out. The pick is for Mayer, 30, to get the nod after 10 rounds.

The Verdict Not an easy fight for Inoue but hard to see an upset while Brodnika-Myer could be a cracker.

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