After seeing his twin brother Andrew lose an upset two days ago to Joshua Franco, the pressure was on a bit tonight for Jason Moloney, and the bantamweight contender from Australia stepped up, stopping Leonardo Baez after seven rounds in tonight’s Top Rank main event on ESPN.
Moloney (21-1, 18 KO) and Baez (18-3, 9 KO) both came to fight here, but Moloney, 29, was simply the better man, battering Baez en route to the stoppage win, with Baez’s corner pulling the 24-year-old Mexican out of the fight when Baez said he wasn’t able to breathe well.
It’s worth noting that Baez took this fight on pretty short notice, as original opponent Oscar Negrete pulled out with an eye injury just 11 days ago, but he was a very good replacement option, and gave it his best. He’d been on a nice winning streak and fighting well, but Moloney just had too much for him.
“I just wanted this so bad. I’m so driven and so dedicated, I wanted this so much,” Moloney said after the fight. “It’s the biggest opportunity of my career. I’m so happy now, this is the best moment of my career. This is a big, big step towards me fighting for another world title. I want that dream so bad.”
Moloney did fight for a world title in his U.S. debut in 2018, losing to Emmanuel Rodriguez in Orlando, which was also a first round World Boxing Super Series tournament bout. It was a very close fight, easily could have gone the other way, and Moloney remains a legitimate contender at 118 pounds. He feels tonight’s performance sent a message to the titleholders at bantamweight.
“I think I sent a big message,” he said. “I knew Leonardo Baez was going to be a really, really tough challenge. He’s an absolute warrior, as you just saw. He pushed me hard, but I showed how bad I want this. I’m ready for any of the champions at 118.”
The champions at 118 are currently Naoya Inoue (WBA and IBF), John Riel Casimero (WBO), and Nordine Oubaali (WBC). Inoue is a Top Rank fighter, and was meant to face Casimero in a unification bout in April. There’s still some hope that fight can happen this fall, but obviously no guarantees, with Inoue in Japan and Casimero in the U.S. right now.
Abraham Nova UD-10 Avery Sparrow
ESPN’s commentary team really talked themselves into this being a potential “upset,” and I was on board with that going in, too; I thought Sparrow’s crafty style might give the straightforward, sort of simple Nova a lot of problems.
But it didn’t, really, and I don’t think this was close. In the end, ESPN’s Andre Ward had it for Nova, 96-94, who swept the second half of the fight on Ward’s scorecard. So he came up with the right winner, but he and Tim Bradley in particular gave Sparrow a lot of credit for very little early in this fight especially.
BLH had it 97-93 and 98-92 for Nova, and the official cards were 96-94, 97-93, and 98-92. Nova (19-0, 14 KO) didn’t really do anything impressively here, but once he started pressing a bit more you couldn’t even argue Sparrow (10-2, 3 KO) winning the rounds. The rounds Sparrow did win were halfway given to him by Nova, who out-landed Sparrow considerably, but did show some reasons for concern about his future. At 26, he remains kind of a middling prospect; I compared him to Fernando Guerrero or Joel Julio, decent fighters who flamed out against better opposition, and I stand by that even believing he won this fight by a comfortable margin. He has time to prove that wrong, but that’s my assessment as of now. As for Sparrow, he doesn’t always commit to his craftiness enough to be a real problem for better fighters, even guys who aren’t particularly great, and that was the problem tonight. Combine that with a lack of punching power and it’s hard to see him getting further than gatekeeper.
Orlando Gonzalez UD-8 Luis Porozo
The big story of this fight is some anonymous bettor put down $192,000 on the huge favorite Gonzalez, with a potential return of $14,000. The idea is that the big favorites in fights like this, if you have the money to put up, you’re basically going for free money.
But this was a tough fight for Gonzalez (15-0, 10 KO), a 24-year-old Puerto Rican featherweight prospect. Official scores were 76-74, 77-73, and 77-73. I had it 76-74 for Gonzalez, with knockdowns in the second and seventh rounds the difference in the fight, but even 4-4 in rounds. Porozo (15-3, 8 KO) is an awkward sort of fighter and didn’t make this easy for Gonzalez, and this is one Gonzalez can learn from, in theory.
Porozo also ate a bad low blow in the fifth round, but came back to control a bit from there, and then he started selling “low blows” on belt line body shots. He also had a weird moment late in the eighth where he thought he’d scored a knockdown, but the referee rightly ruled it a slip, and when Porozo learned it wasn’t a knockdown he started acting injured for a moment. Very strange. Very strange fighter.
Vlad Panin MD-6 Benjamin Whitaker
Really tight fight here, Panin narrowly winning this on scores of 57-57, 58-56, and 58-56, which is fair but really easily could have gone the other way. The 24-year-old Panin (8-1, 4 KO) is originally from Belarus and now based in Los Angeles, and was coming off of his first pro loss to Moises Fuentes (not that one, this one).
Panin showed some potential here but also plenty of flaws, looks like a bit of a low ceiling prospect at 147. The 36-year-old Whitaker (13-4, 3 KO) returned to the ring in Aug. 2019 after being out since Aug. 2016, and he’d won a couple low-level bouts before this call. He looked like a guy who will have a run as a prospect checker.
Reymond Yanong SD-6 Clay Burns
It’s weird that this fight was even on this show, usually if either of these guys were to make a Top Rank show it’d just be getting fed to a young prospect, or that being the intent, anyway. But no problems with this getting on because it was a fun little welterweight scrap between two guys who came to fight. Yanong is now 11-5-1 (9 KO), while Burns drops to 9-8-2 (4 KO). Both guys should stay in Top Rank’s and everyone else’s Rolodexes for prospect checking.
Scores were 58-56 Burns, and 58-56 and 59-55 Yanong.
Kingsley Ibeh TKO-4 Waldo Cortes
Ibeh (4-1, 4 KO) had lost to Cortes (5-3, 2 KO) last October in his previous bout, and got some revenge here. Ibeh is a project fighter, a former football guy who had an NFL tryout and wound up in the CFL briefly with the Calgary Stampeders, and at 26 is trying to start a boxing career. He switches stances constantly and is really, really raw, but he’s a huge guy (weighing in at 285+ he’s not sloppy, he’s just a big, thick dude) and has some athleticism. There is, however, a LOT of work to do on the basics. Smaller promoters and trainers have become infatuated with turning football washouts into boxers over the last 15-20 years, though that has lessened after repeated failures. The best of them off the top of my head has been Gerald Washington or Seth Mitchell, and they had a definite ceiling.
Cortes went down about midway through the fourth round here after roughly 44 straight uppercuts from Ibeh, and though Cortes got up, referee Vic Drakulich waved it off, which was fair enough.