It’s a difficult time for fighters. As the Skype ringtone babbled around my office, waiting to connect to former bantamweight world title challenger Jason Moloney, I was uncertain of the mood that would underpin our imminent exchange. The 29-year-old Australian was due to make his Las Vegas debut just three days prior against Joshua Greer Jr., with COVID-19 temporarily chewing up and spitting out the 118-pounder’s lifelong dream of fighting in Sin City.
“It’s all pretty heartbreaking,” Jason confirmed as the sun glistened off his perspiring forehead. “The Smooth One” had started his Wednesday morning with a gentle run and seemed in high spirits as his infectious smile lit up my monitor.
“Ah mate, Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas would have been a dream come true. As a young boxing fan, I always wanted to fight on the biggest stage in New York or Las Vegas – these iconic venues.”
After signing with Top Rank last summer, Jason, along with his twin brother Andrew, were gearing up towards life-changing opportunities in 2020. Just two days before the pair were due to fly to Oklahoma – en route to Las Vegas where Andrew was due to defend his WBA super flyweight title for the first time – they got the call confirming that all boxing events in April had been postponed.
“We were shattered,” Jason continued, a brave smile still plastered across his face as he tried to disguise his disappointment. “I was so excited to realise my dream – I couldn’t wait. I’d been training so hard, and everything was right on track. Everything was booked and ready to go, and then the news broke.”
Since Moloney’s narrow split decision loss to Emmanuel Rodríguez in the WBSS quarter-finals, three stoppage wins followed in 2019 extending his record to 20-1 while keeping hold of his WBA Oceania bantamweight title. This stretch of victories Down Under appeared the perfect run-up for another shot at world honours, something that Jason is relentlessly pursuing as he reaches the peak of his career.
“I’m just trying to stay positive, although it can be pretty hard. I know Bob [Arum] is thinking about starting back up again at the end of June or the start of July, but until they allow international travel, I am not going to be able to get over to the US to fight.” Jason lives in Kingscliff, Australia, with his wife and one-year-old daughter, with the pressure to provide mounting during this period of uncertainty.
“I’ve been trying to make the most of this situation as best as I can. A lot of fighters will probably be taking a holiday right now, doing the wrong things, eating the wrong stuff and blowing out. I’m staying focused. I’m approaching the peak of my career, and I can’t afford to have six to eight months of sitting around doing nothing. I want to keep improving and training each day.”
There is a determination in the voice of Jason that is impossible to ignore. He speaks with such vigour and honesty as he details the marginal gains that he hopes to benefit from down the line.
“I think after all this [boxing’s COVID-19 halt] you’ll be able to see who the disciplined and dedicated fighters are and who were the ones that let themselves go. I’m using this as my main motivation: once we return to the ring, I want it to be clear that I’ve been working as hard as ever.”
This hard work has underpinned Jason’s success from an early age, with his competitive spirit and hunger to succeed a product of sporting obsession and twin rivalry. Australian rules football dominated the Moloney household at a young age until Jason and Andrew entered a boxing gym for the first time aged 13.
“Our main love was footy. We dreamt of playing in the AFL and dedicated a lot of our childhood to the sport. One preseason, along with a couple of mates, we went down the local boxing gym to improve our fitness and totally fell in love.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I trained from the ages of 13-16 until a few of the guys in the gym convinced me to have my first fight. They saw something in me – a real potential for a future in the sport.”
“I lost my first three fights, and Andrew lost his first seven,” Jason offered candidly, unable to contain his laughter, “but we were reluctant to give up. Even though we didn’t see any results straight away, we decided to give up the footy and concentrate 100% on boxing. We got on a roll, and in a couple of years, we were representing Australia at the Commonwealth Games and turning pro.”
Although Jason’s story is one of self-reflection, his twin brother Andrew is never far from his tales.
“It’s been a huge advantage to grow up with Andrew. 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!”
I swallowed some pride in asking the obvious question of who came out on top, with Jason conceding “it was often split” despite a tongue-in-cheek trigger response of “me, of course!”
“Somethings 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.”
Jason also pays tribute to his idol, and now friend, Danny Green, who has helped him shape his career up to this point. Green – former WBA light-heavyweight and IBO cruiserweight champion – introduced the Moloney’s to their manager Tony Tolj and trainer Angelo Hyder.
“He’s a legend,” Jason chirped with affection. “They say you shouldn’t meet your idols, but we are really good mates with Greeny now. He’s steered us in the right direction and made sure we had the right people around us that could take us to the top. He was, without a doubt, my favourite fighter growing up, too. He was a huge idol of mine in the early days.”
Despite his admiration for Green, Jason’s got big aspirations to eclipse his idol’s accomplishments inside the ring. Ranked in the top five with all four recognised sanctioning bodies, the 29-year-old is confident he can grab his next world title opportunity with both hands should it come along.
“I just want to become world champion. I don’t have a preferred route, whichever one comes first. Then, my aim is to unify the division and prove I am the very best.”
With Australia’s interest in boxing waining slightly, the 118-pounder hopes to inspire a new generation to take up the sport and see first-hand how it can improve the lives of so many youngsters.
“I’d love to go down as one of the best ever Australian fighters and inspire the next generation. Hopefully, if people see guys like Andrew and me living clean and honest lives, it’ll prove that you don’t need to be a thug to be a good fighter, and parents will be encouraged to introduce their kids to the sport.”
“I understand that I am asking for a lot, but as they say, if your dreams don’t scare you, they ain’t big enough.”
On answering how he would like to be remembered in the sport, Jason concludes with an honesty I had become to cherish.
“As someone that gave it his all, worked hard and didn’t take any shortcuts. Someone that the youngster generation can look up to and act as a role model to them.”
The AFL’s loss is without question boxing’s gain. Despite currently treading water along with the rest of the boxing world, there is little doubt that Jason will be one of the first to reach dry land when this troubling period is over.