All roads that lead to a career in boxing can be contrasting. Some are born into a life revolved around the sport, whilst many inspired by watching their heroes commence battle on the TV screen, decide to embark on the loneliest of athletic ventures, in search of flashing lights and glistening titles.
For Australian promoter and manager, Tony Tolj it was an opportunity he’d stumbled upon by chance, setting in motion a truly fascinating seventeen-year adventure.
“My background is in graphic design. I applied for a job and it turned out it was to do graphic design for a boxing gym back in 2002. It was Harry’s Gym run by Craig Christian, we got along really well and I started learning the business under his wing. You couldn’t have been anymore spoilt than I have been in boxing. I was twenty-two or twenty-three at the time and within in one year we had acquired Chris John and we had him as a world champion for ten years. Within one year I was working on four round fights, [then moving] to world championship fights.
“I loved it! At the beginning I was running around doing many things. We had a receptionist, who didn’t really do much work so I was helping her and doing stuff with Craig (Christian). I was like a sponge soaking up all the knowledge I could. I’m still learning now! As soon as you think you know anything in boxing, it changes all the time. Craig Christian was very influential to me and taught me a lot.”
As Tony Tolj stepped into the realm of boxing management, it was a famous promotional genius away from boxing that would inspire him in his newfound career-path, one often beset with failure and financial insecurity.
“I was always a big fan of all combat sports. I loved boxing and not many people in boxing will admit it, but I’m a big wrestling fan as well. I could see a lot of similarities between the WWE and boxing, the inner workings are scarily similar! Interesting fact actually, Vince McMahon’s (WWE promoter) Grandfather promoted both wrestling and boxing. Vince has been an inspiration [to me] as he is an entrepreneur and he revolutionised an industry.”
To say Tolj was ‘chucked in at the deep end’ early in his career would be a colossal understatement. Tolj’s mentor, Craig Christian, was arrested and institutionalised in the lead up to a fight with Mexican legend, Juan Manuel Marquez in 2006. Tolj was left with the bulk of the managerial responsibilities for the Indonesian featherweight star, Chris John. Despite the turbulent events in the lead up, John would go on to defeat Marquez in the fifth defence of his WBA World title.
“Chris John was the WBA champion of the decade”, he explained. “So he took up the majority of my time. He’s actually the third longest reigning world champion in the history of boxing! In his own country he was like a God, but it was frustrating that other nations didn’t really know anything about him, so I became very active in trying to get his name out there. One of the biggest knocks for him is that he never fought outside his backyard until we came along, but he was the epitome of the old school Muhammad Ali style of world champion. He fought in Singapore twice, he fought in Australia twice, fought in Japan three times and fought in America twice. More than half of his title defences were abroad!
“During the build up to a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, his trainer Craig Christian at the time couldn’t be present because he got into a bit of mischief and had to take a bit of a holiday. I was going to jail to talk to Craig in the build-up, that’s how we were organising that fight! Craig’s brother in-law and Angelo Hyder, who now trains the Moloneys were doing the training for that fight. Sampson Lewkowicz was also a massive help to me when Craig was in jail. Alongside Craig Christian and Angelo Hyder, all three men have been the biggest influences in my career.”
The enigmatic Tolj’s good work with one of the decade’s greatest fighters had gained him notice from other talents. Former light-heavyweight world champion and Australian household name, Danny Green would be the next notable figure to benefit from the managerial service of the ever-passionate man behind the scenes.
“We helped with all of his [own Danny Green] promotions, with all of Craig Christian’s fighters on the undercards. Then towards the end of his career it was Angelo [Hyder], myself and a few of Danny’s existing people that would be the real driving force behind Danny’s last half a dozen fights. It was a lot of work!
“After Chris John had retired (in 2014), Craig [Christian] wanted me to move to Indonesia with him and help push Indonesian boxing, but there were just too many headaches with that. I ended up staying in Perth and continued with Thunderdome Promotions with Angelo Hyder. We started looking after a few fighters and it was about a year after that we started looking after the Moloneys.”
Twin brothers Andrew and Jason Moloney are the latest fighters to come under the watchful eye of Tony Tolj, gaining some serious notoriety on a global scale, of late. Jason Moloney (18-1, 15 KOs) took part in the bantamweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series, narrowly losing to Emmanuel Rodriguez via a majority decision in a fight many believe he was unlucky not to win. However, Jason got back to winning ways, stopping Chris Paulino in his native Australia this March.
Twin brother Andrew Moloney (19-0, 12 KOs) finds himself positioned nicely towards the very top of the super-flyweight WBA rankings, coming off a destructive KO victory over Miguel Gonzalez in Chile this past month, making it no secret that he demands a shot at WBA World champion, Kal Yafai. As recently as the time of writing, Top Rank have named Andrew as a potential challenger for Filipino IBF super-flyweight champion, Jerwin Ancajas, with options aplenty.
“It all came about when I was texting Danny Green the night Pacquiao and Mayweather was announced and he said ‘We have to go to this fight’, so we made it out there. Long story short, we were all staying in different hotels [in Las Vegas] and when I was walking down to meet up with everybody who flew out there, I was walking through the MGM and bumped into a couple of guys who were pretty small that looked like athletes. It turned out they were the Moloney brothers. I went to say g’day and Greeny [Danny Green] had already been talking to them and took a real liking to them. We exchanged numbers and Greeny was getting ready for a comeback fight and he put both of them on the card. From there, they were happy for me to guide their career. The trip to Las Vegas cost me thousands of dollars for the worst seat in the place, but it was a blessing in disguise.”
His relationship with the WBA has served him well; both Moloney brothers have won numerous WBA regional titles and Chris John’s long-reigning decade as champion has complimented a relationship that has spanned almost the entirety of Tolj’s career.
“The WBA are all about opportunity. They gave Andrew and Jason the opportunity after just five fights to [then] fight for the regional titles. Normally they don’t do that but they relied on my knowledge of boxing and I went to bat for both boys, saying these boys will be special fighters.”
Tolj continued on his methodology of signing a fighter: “I don’t know how to describe it. I can just sense which fighters are going to make it. Some of them I hand out questionnaires for psychological things, which I actually did with the Moloney brothers. General mindset, ability and being able to adapt when situations get tough are all things I look for in a fighter. I’ve been looking after Billel Dib (23-3, 11 KOs) for his last three fights and he’s a lovely person, which is something I also look at. They need to have character and you have to work with good people. There are a lot of guys who have better ability, but they just don’t have the right character and I choose character over ability as well. It’s a big determining factor to making it and you got to have faith in your team also. All my guys have this, after their fights they send the most heart-warming messages, but at the end of the day, I’m just doing my job.”
Boxing isn’t all about world champions. Beneath the highest echelons of the sport, it contains a vast network of regional and national level fighters competing for less glamorous silverware, especially in Australia. Boasting nearly forty fighters under his stewardship, Tolj’s young warriors are competing at various levels on his promotional outfit, Thunderdome. It was clear their guardian was committed to providing ample opportunities and a solid platform for his stable, despite finding themselves in less commercially rewarding bouts, based on location and exposure.
Tony said: “The promotions are going well and we are going into a few different markets. We are doing five shows a year in Perth on the west coast and another four shows on the east coast. It’s a place called Kingscliff, very near the Gold Coast. We have our shows televised on Fox Sports, which sounds pretty glamorous, but to do the right things by the fighters we have to pay all the production costs and give away the TV content. Which is a big shame in this country.”
“I’m not afraid to back my boxers, either. On the Jeff Horn v Anthony Mundine undercard in Brisbane with 35,000 people in attendance, WBO World number 2, Kyle McKenzie (20-1) needed an opponent. I had a 5-0-1 part-time boxer/removals man called Francis Chua, I put him in and everyone said I was crazy, he’s gonna get killed! Most people don’t know boxing, we took the fight, we won and it was the 2018 upset of the year in Australian boxing.”
In a conversation that lasted over an hour, Tony Tolj appeared to be providing a real 360-degree service for the fighters he had taken full responsibility for. When arranging an interview with Andrew Moloney he had been beyond accommodating and you only have to glance at his social media to see the effort he’s putting in to generate publicity for his vast stable. In a sport that lacks caution and a sense of caring, it was evident that to him, boxing was more than a business – it was a family.
“It’s very hard for a lot of the guys to get exposure, especially this side of the world. The slightest hint of interest from the media, I’m like a rat on cheese! One of the reasons I got more active in management was because I could see a lot of people just getting the wrong advice and going down the wrong pathways. I just felt like I had a duty to correct some of the wrongs.”
Article by: Adam Noble-Forcey
Follow Adam on Twitter at: @Adam4cSports