World class Australian bantamweight Jason Moloney can’t wait to enter Top Rank’s Las Vegas-based ‘bubble’ as he prepares for a ring return that he admits has come far sooner than he ever dared hope.
Moloney (20-1, 17 KOs) is due to face Mexican Leonardo Baez (18-2, 9 KOs) next Thursday, two days after twin brother Andrew defends his WBA super-fly crown against Joshua Franco.
Both bouts will take place inside the strictly quarantined Top Rank ‘bubble’ at the MGM Grand Hotel, which will shield fighters and their camps from Covid-19.
“With everything going on in the world with the Coronavirus we thought it was going to be quite a while before we got back in the ring,” the 29-year-old told Boxing Social. “But [manager] Tony [Tolj] managed to get us over here and we’re absolutely stoked that we are able to fight. We’re ready to go.”
Moloney’s original opponent – Colombian Oscar Negrete – was forced to withdraw from the June 25 showdown with an eye injury, but the Australian believes Baez will pose a stiffer test.
“I honestly think it’s a tougher fight than the Negrete fight,” he said. “He’s a really tough Mexican style brawler who comes forward and throws big shots. He trains under Joel Diaz so he’s from a good stable of fighters.
“He seems to be on a bit of a run – I think he’s had six pretty good wins in a row – so I’m sure he’s coming in feeling confident, but I don’t think he’s ever faced a fighter like myself.
“I’m determined, I’ve worked very hard and I’m ready for anyone they put in front of me.”
Moloney stressed that despite the worldwide lockdown of the past few months he and his brother have been active and training hard.
“Back home in Australia, Andrew and I have our own private gym. During the heavy lockdown we closed the gym to everyone else, but myself and Andrew were able to carry on training, just me and him,” he said.
“It looked at that stage that we might not be fighting for quite some time, and we knew that a lot of fighters would be taking their foot off the pedal and maybe doing the wrong things, so we thought, ‘let’s stay in the gym, let’s keep training every day and let’s use this time the best we can to keep improving as much as we possibly can’.”
The brothers’ state of ever readiness to rumble was rewarded when promoters Top Rank began to make ambitious plans for boxing to return sooner than many expected.
“When we heard Top Rank were starting to plan shows behind closed doors for June we wanted to be involved. They then spoke to Tony and asked if we could get over here,” said Moloney.
“At first, we thought there probably wasn’t much chance what with travel restrictions and closed borders. But Tony moved heaven and earth, went through really vigorous procedures to get us permission and he pulled off the miracle!
“Now here we are about to fight and we’re ready to go. We’ve reaped the rewards of staying training and being professional.”
Moloney then explained how the Top Rank ‘bubble’ will operate as his fight draws closer.
“When we first got over here none of the hotels and casinos were open. Top Rank hired us a private house, about 10 to 15 minutes from the strip,” he said. “We were tested as soon as we got over, and I think we’ve had another three tests since.
“We’ve stayed as safe as possible. We leave the house to go to the gym, which was fully sanitised, and we’re the only guys training there at the moment. We might leave the house to pick up a few groceries and when we do that we have masks, gloves, sanitiser and all that. So we just bunker down, train, sleep, eat and repeat.
“On Saturday, we enter the bubble. Top Rank have hired a whole floor of the MGM Grand. The first thing we’ll do is be tested and then we can’t leave our room until the results are back.
“We then stay there and don’t leave the hotel until we leave the ring after our fights. Once we’re in the bubble, we won’t see daylight for five days or so. It’s the safest environment you can possibly have.
“No one enters that area without being tested. There’s no risk of anyone getting the virus in the bubble. We’ll train, sleep and then fight in the bubble.”
Moloney admitted he has been mightily impressed with Top Rank’s efficiency and attention to detail.
“The lengths they’ve gone to are huge,” he said. “We’re just so grateful boxing is back, what with the strange times that have been going on in the world. They’ve had to go to extreme measures but they’ve done a fantastic job.”
It’s clear that the personable but also impressively focused Moloney possesses a steely determination to make the most of the opportunity of being one of the earliest world class boxers to return to competitive action.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “The opportunity Top Rank have given us is just amazing. For two Australians to come over here and headline two shows in a week at the MGM is an absolutely massive platform. They’re calling it Moloney week!
“Obviously, there’s no crowd in attendance, but the viewing audience on ESPN and Fox Sports back home in Australia and streaming services worldwide is going to be huge.
“In Australia, a sport like boxing doesn’t generally receive too much media attention, but the attention we’re getting for being over here as the first Australian sportsmen to travel abroad and compete [since the pandemic] has been unreal.
“Now it’s down to us to grab the opportunity with both hands and put on two spectacular fights.”
Moloney was defeated via split decision by Emmanuel Rodriguez in an IBF title showdown in October 2018, and sees next week’s fight as a chance to get back in the world title mix as soon as possible.
“I need to win but also make a statement and put my hand up to show I’m ready for a shot at the world title,” he emphasised. “I’d love to have the chance to become world champion before the end of the year.
“[Consensus bantam champion Naoya] Inoue and I are both with Top Rank, which is very handy. But the fights are there to be made against any of the champions and I’m ranked really well with all the sanctioning bodies. I’m sure there’s a big opportunity for me just around the corner.
“I had three decent wins in the ring last year, but it was my development out of the ring I was more happy with. I think I’ve improved a lot as a fighter over the past 12 months.
“I’m a much better and more experienced fighter than I was against Rodriguez. Second time around I’m very confident I’ll walk away with the world title belt around my waist.”