A late rally by challenger Joshua Franco upset pre-fight favourite Andrew Moloney to seize the WBA super-flyweight title at ‘The Bubble’ in the MGM Grand Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

Scores were 115-112 and 114-113 (twice).

The last two rounds proved critical with Franco scoring an 11th round knockdown before sweeping the final session on all three judges’ cards.

‘Professor’ Franco (left) showed championship know-how in the final two rounds to pip Moloney (right). Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank.

Franco, brother of light-flyweight contender Jesse Rodriguez who was featured recently on Boxing Social, emerged victorious in the first world title fight since the Covid-19 pandemic halted boxing in its tracks.

“After the fourth round, I gained the momentum and figured him out. I always knew this was possible,” said Texan Franco (17-1-2, 8 KOs), who won the final four rounds on all cards as he flipped the script in the closing stages.

“I wasn’t nervous when the decision was being read. I knew I’d done enough to win this fight. My coach, Robert Garcia, had me ready. I’m going home with the belt.”

Franco’s crucial 11th round knockdown set up a surprise win on the cards.
Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank.

Deposed champion Moloney (21-1, 14 KOs), from Melbourne Australia, was making his US debut and showed admirable sportsmanship in defeat.

“It just wasn’t my night tonight,” said Moloney. “This was not the best version of Andrew Moloney, but full credit to Joshua Franco. He deserved to win the title with his effort. He closed the fight strong, like a true champion. I’ll be back. One loss won’t define me.”

The former champion was taken to hospital afterwards after throwing up in his dressing room, but was later released having suffered two perforated eardrums.

Moloney’s twin brother Jason tops another MGM card on Thursday night and this past week told Boxing Social the protocols involved with fighting during a global pandemic.

A joyous Franco hugs coach Robert Garcia. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank.

On the undercard, former WBO 130lbs title challenger Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz put himself back in the frame for another shot with a decision win over Jason Sanchez (15-2, 8 KOs). Scores were 98-92 (twice) and 97-93.

Puerto Rican Diaz (26-2, 16 KOs) has now won two in a row since a decision loss to Shakur Stevenson in April 2019 and is targeting a world title fight down at either featherweight or super-bantamweight.

“I can fight at featherweight or I can make 122 pounds. Whatever Top Rank wants, but I’m ready for a big fight in either weight division,” said Diaz.

“I am a completely different and improved fighter from the one who fought Shakur Stevenson last year. I worked on my power in the gym. My coaches, Nelson Rodriguez and Freddie Roach, got me ready for tonight.”

Diaz (left) inched closer to another world title opportunity with a crucial points win over Sanchez (right). Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank.

In other action, unbeaten super-lightweight Miguel Contreras (11-0, 6 KOs) trumped Rolando Vargas (5-1, 5 KOs) by unanimous decision. All three judges scored 58-56.

Meanwhile, Helaman Olguin (8-3, 3 KOs) upset the previously undefeated Adam Stewart (8-1-1, 5 KOs) via majority decision. Scores were 58-56 (twice) and 57-57.