This Saturday night streaming live on ESPN+ (Oct. 31, 7:30 pm ET), unified bantamweight titlist Naoya Inoue will make his highly-anticipated Top Rank debut, defending the WBA and IBF belts against Jason Moloney in the main event from Las Vegas.
The 27-year-old Inoue (19-0, 16 KO) is a boxing sensation of recent years, his legend growing in an almost mythical manner. This is an era where streaming and expanded coverage has made it far easier for boxing fans all over the world, and definitely in the United States, to keep up with international boxing. But Inoue’s popularity and reputation hasn’t just been a result of that expansion and ease of access, either, because he was building his name even before DAZN and ESPN+ got into the game and made for a huge change in how American fans in particular consume boxing.
Turning pro in 2012, Inoue won the Japanese junior flyweight title against veteran Ryoichi Taguchi — a good fighter — in his fourth pro fight in 2013, and picked up the regional OPBF belt with a win over Jerson Mancio in his next bout. In his sixth pro fight, he went in with Adrian Hernandez for the WBC 108-pound title, and ran Hernandez over in six rounds.
After a single title defense in 2014, Inoue skipped right over the flyweight division to take what was thought to be a significant risk, jumping all the way up to 115 to fight veteran Omar Narvaez for the WBO junior bantamweight belt. Narvaez, who was 43-1-2 coming into that bout, had only ever lost to Nonito Donaire, and that was at bantamweight, a fight where Narvaez didn’t engage at all and stunk out the joint in a 2011 HBO main event.
But the Argentine southpaw got no chance to stink it out with Inoue, as the rising Japanese star blasted him out in the second round. After seven successful title defenses at 115 pounds, Inoue jumped up to bantamweight in May 2018, winning a secondary WBA belt from Jamie McDonnell via first round stoppage.
How to Watch Inoue vs Moloney
Early stoppages were to become routine for Inoue. Starting with Yoan Boyeaux in 2017, Inoue didn’t go past the third round for four straight fights, and he didn’t go past the sixth round in seven straight from 2016-19. He wasn’t just beating guys, he was demolishing them, earning the nickname “Monster” and making his move onto pound-for-pound lists as a three-division champion still in his mid-20s.
He also entered the World Boxing Super Series tournament in 2018, and mowed down Juan Carlos Payano and Emmanuel Rodriguez — again, these are good fighters — in the first and second round, respectively. He’d made his UK debut with the win over Rodriguez, that fight taking place in Glasgow, but got to go back to Japan for the tournament final against Nonito Donaire in Nov. 2019.
Donaire had his own interesting story. A former P4P guy himself, he’d faded by climbing a bit too high in weight, going all the way up to 126 pounds after winning his first world title at 112. But he’d come back down to 118 for the tournament, which was seen as a big risk, and his first two fights were sort of fluky. He beat Ryan Burnett in what was shaping up to be an interesting fight, but Burnett was stopped via back after in the fourth round, an unfortunate ending. In the semifinal round, Donaire beat over-matched substitute opponent Stephon Young after Zolani Tete pulled out of the fight during fight week.
There was fear from many going into the Inoue-Donaire fight that Inoue would simply demolish Nonito, and put a proud, well-liked, aging star fighter out to pasture in unceremonious fashion. That’s what our staff unanimously expected going into the fight, in fact, and we were not alone.
“I think this winds up a bit of a battering, as a younger, faster fighter lays waste to the breadbasket of a proud veteran champion,” I wrote at the time. “Inoue blows him away within the first third of the fight,” Patrick L. Stumberg predicted, and Lewis Watson added, “I’m expecting a big, brutal statement victory from Inoue.”
Instead, we got the 2019 Fight of the Year, as Donaire defied basically all expectations other than his own and hung tough for a full 12 rounds with Inoue, giving future opponents some things to scout in the process. Inoue won, and clearly deserved the win, but he took a beating in that fight, too. It wasn’t a let-down; it was a fight so great that it couldn’t possibly be one. It was a wonderful surprise, a great veteran fighter showing he still had something against a great young fighter. If you still haven’t seen it, watch the whole fight here.
One person who has watched Inoue-Donaire repeatedly looking for things to cop from Donaire’s plan is Jason Moloney, the 29-year-old Aussie who will try for a second time to win his first world title. Inoue-Moloney would have happened back in 2019 had Moloney beaten Emmanuel Rodriguez in the opening round of the WBSS tournament, but Rodriguez hung on and edged a split decision despite a valiant attempt from Moloney to rally after a slow start.
Moloney (21-1, 18 KO) is another good fighter. He’s top 10 in the division, he’s a legitimate contender, and he’s a massive underdog here, because “good fighters” are the guys Inoue has trucked for basically his entire career.
Moloney is naturally a bit thicker in the body than Inoue, as Moloney turned pro at 122 pounds before settling at 118 for serious fights, while Inoue of course started at 108 and has worked his way up. Inoue is actually the same listed height with a couple inches of reach on Moloney, but Moloney is definitely the more sturdily built bantamweight when you look at them.
Moloney was last in action on June 25 in Las Vegas, stopping Leonardo Baez after seven rounds. It was a good performance for the Aussie, but it would be ill-advised to say that prepares him for Inoue. Nothing that Moloney has done to date prepares him for Inoue. He’ll either be good enough to compete with Inoue or he won’t be, basically, but you can expect him to give it his very best effort. He’s a game fighter who isn’t coming just to collect a check.
Mikaela Mayer isn’t entering Saturday’s fight with Ewa Brodnicka as the titleholder, and as a result she is not the listed “A-side.” But realistically, she’s the obvious A-side in the co-feature bout on this card, as Top Rank are hoping to get their top (and to this point only, to be fair) women’s fighter her first world title.
The 30-year-old Mayer won bronze at as a junior welterweight at the 2012 World Championships, and also fought at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where she lost in the quarterfinal round to Russia’s Anastasia Belyakova. Mayer (13-0, 5 KO) isn’t quite a Claressa Shields for current American women’s boxers, but she may prove be the second-best American woman in the game today, with due respect to current undisputed welterweight champ Jessica McCaskill, Seniesa Estrada, and Mary McGee in particular.
But she has to win and do so impressively on Saturday to make that idea more than just a mere idea. She doesn’t yet have the achievements of McCaskill or McGee, but winning the WBO 130-pound belt from Brodnicka (19-0, 2 KO) would at the least put her on par with McGee in achievements, and then you’re talking “eye test” stuff.
Mayer has supreme confidence in her abilities, and she’s well-coached by the veteran Al Mitchell, with whom she has a wonderful bond. Poland’s Brodnicka, 36, won the interim WBO belt back in 2017 and has been full titlist since 2018. She’s made a handful of successful defenses, but Mayer really ought to be a step up in class for her; Mikaela has the amateur background and quality training and depth to her game that is starting to make a clear difference across women’s boxing.
Top Rank’s best heavyweight prospect, Toledo’s Jared “Big Baby” Anderson, will also be back in action. Anderson will turn 21 in a couple weeks, and at 6-0 (6 KO)he’s done the work in front of him to date, including three (3) fights in The Bubble already, beating Johnnie Langston on June 9, Hector Perez on July 16, and Rodney Hernandez on Sept. 5.
Langston and Hernandez were able to take Anderson out of the first round, at least, with Langston going into the third and Hernandez the fourth. Anderson has stated he’s purposely been trying to get some rounds in, as he wants to get more experience and maybe see how opponents may try to adjust past a first round.
He’s a sincerely talented American heavyweight prospect, and at 6’4” and weighing in around 240 or so (he came in a year ago as a pro at 233, most recently was just over 247), he’s got the size to compete without needing some sort of, like, incredible skill set.
On Saturday, he’ll be facing 26-year-old Luis Eduardo Pena (6-1, 6 KO), who is a bowling ball of a heavyweight, standing 5’11”. You may remember him from an August loss to Michael Coffie on a PBC card, where he was stopped in the fifth round. Pena actually displayed some decent boxing skills, sort of a poor man’s Andy Ruiz Jr, but Coffie was just too naturally big for him. Anderson has the skills Coffie doesn’t and isn’t a whole lot smaller, so he should be way too much for Pena, but Pena gave it a real whirl against Coffie.
- Robson Conceicao, who became Brazil’s first gold medal winner at the 2016 Olympics, will be in action against Luis Coria. Conceicao (14-0, 7 KO) has been fiddle fucking around since turning pro in late 2016, and he’s 32 years old now. For a three-time Olympian and former gold medalist, he’s shown no sincere desire to be a contender as a professional. The 22-year-old Coria (12-3, 7 KO) had a terrific fight with Adam Lopez on Top Rank’s June 11 show, dropping a fiery majority decision. Conceicao has a lot more boxing ability than Coria, but Coria is a fearless young battler, has nothing to lose here, and if Conceicao isn’t prepared for a fight, he could find himself in deeper than he expected, and that’s the sort of thing that can result in a guy like Conceicao getting upset.
- Newly 26-year-old (his birthday is today!) Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez returns against Jose Eduardo Lopez. Rodriguez (20-0, 13 KO), a junior welterweight from New Jersey, stopped an unprepared Anthony Laureano in the first round on Aug. 22. You couldn’t take much from that fight because Laureano missed weight badly and then looked terrible in the ring. The 29-year-old Lopez (29-7-2, 15 KO) should provide a bit more of a test, even as a clear and heavy underdog. Lopez has been in with some good fighters over the years, including Viktor Postol and Humberto Soto. He doesn’t beat those guys, but he knows his way around the squared circle.
- 24-year-old Japanese junior welterweight Andy Hiraoka makes his second appearance in the U.S., taking on Rickey Edwards in an eight-round bout. Hiraoka (15-0, 10 KO) isn’t a blue chipper or anything, but a decent prospect in a good division. He hasn’t fought in 11 months. Edwards (12-4, 3 KO) is a 30-year-old from New Jersey. His first three losses saw him quite competitive each time, but he was blown out in three by young Jesus Ramos 13 months ago. We’ll see if that says more for Ramos’ prospect status or if maybe Edwards has just hit the wall.
- 23-year-old lightweight Andres Cortes is also in action, facinbg 24-year-old George Acosta in a Nevada vs California matchup. Acosta (10-1, 1 KO) has won three straight since losing to Ruben Torres in May 2019, while Cortes (13-0, 7 KO) last fought on July 7 in The Bubble, winning a competitive decision over Alejandro Salinas in what was a really fun fight.