The legend of “The Monster” continues to grow. Naoya Inoue (20-0) emphatically defended his bantamweight titles last night in “The Bubble” at the MGM Grand to make his Las Vegas debut a memorable one. Inoue used a scorching right-hand counter to plant Jason Moloney (21-2) on the canvas in the closing seconds of round seven, and while the Australian gamely attempted to rise, he was too damaged and dazed to beat the count. Inoue vs Moloney proved to be what most expected: another showcase for the awesome skills of “The Monster.”
Inoue was coming off a year-long layoff, his last outing being his impressive victory over veteran champion Nonito Donaire, who pushed Inoue to the brink in a hellacious slugfest. The undefeated power-puncher demonstrated he has heart and toughness to match his formidable skill as he overcame a broken orbital bone to finish the battle and claim the World Boxing Super Series trophy. That and his jaw-dropping, one-shot KO of Emmanuel Rodriguez were enough to make him this site’s 2019 Fighter Of The Year.
Prior to the grueling struggle with Donaire, “The Monster” had been ruthlessly efficient in eviscerating all comers during his rise up the pound-for-pound list. His explosive power, pinpoint accuracy, and soul-sapping body attack allowed him to quickly dispatch the likes of Jamie McDonnell, Juan Carlos Payano, and Rodriguez, all of whom had never previously been stopped.
Earlier this year, in April, Inoue had been scheduled to face John Riel Casimero in a unification bout, but the match was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic. Moloney then accepted the chance to test himself against the Japanese sensation, eager as he was to prove himself the best 118-pounder in the sport. The Aussie was riding a four-fight win streak since his lone defeat to Emmanuel Rodriguez, which had come in the WBSS tournament that Inoue won.
Meanwhile, Inoue vs Moloney marked the Japanese superstar’s first match in the United States since his stoppage of Antonio Nieves in 2017, that victory being his stateside debut. And with the well-oiled promotional machine of Top Rank behind him, and his remarkable performance against Donaire still on the minds of fight fans, Inoue was clearly ready to capture the U.S. market.
As is his custom, Naoya started aggressively against Moloney, stalking and looking to land his patented power shots. “The Monster” then established his jab in round two, which snapped Moloney’s head back and kept him off balance. The jab in turn set up the big bombs, including uppercuts from both hands and the left hook.
With Inoue stalking and pressuring, the Aussie was compelled to rely on lateral movement, but when Moloney did sit down on his punches, they had virtually no effect on the champion. This was the beginning of the end for Moloney. With no concern about what was coming back at him, Inoue ratcheted up the pressure and loaded up even more with his power shots, which were taking their toll on the brave but out-gunned challenger.
There’s only so many flush bombs a human being can take from a puncher like Inoue, which became evident in the middle rounds. Toward the end of the fifth, a right-hand howitzer from Inoue wobbled Moloney, who survived the remaining seconds by desperately holding on. Naoya then countered a double jab with a beautifully precise, short left hook to put Moloney on the canvas in the sixth. The challenger beat the count and made it through the round, albeit after eating a few more forceful hooks. But it was now undeniable that the contest was decided; the only question remaining was when Inoue would get home the finishing blows.
With ten seconds left in the seventh, Inoue unleashed another missile of a right hand over the jab. The blow felled Moloney for the count and put an exclamation point on another dominant performance from “The Monster,” who, at this point, must be considered a front-runner for the game’s best fighter, pound-for-pound.
“The finishing punch,” remarked Inoue afterwards with the help of his translator, “I am very happy and satisfied with that punch.” Spoken like a true knockout artist.
Moloney deserves credit for putting forth a valiant effort and withstanding punishment for seven rounds, as no doubt not many other bantamweights would have lasted as long. But while Moloney is still a top contender in the division, he was outclassed by Inoue, who must be regarded as one of the most powerful punchers we have and maybe boxing’s best finisher. But Inoue himself believes he is still honing his craft and only approaching his full potential.
“As you go through fight to fight,” he commented, “you learn things from the previous fight … I think I am getting wiser and better.”
That’s a truly scary proposition for what is left of Inoue’s competition, most notably John Riel Casimero and Nordine Oubaali, the other bantamweight titlists and the only remaining obstacles standing between Inoue and his goal of becoming the division’s undisputed champion. If either of them is to have a fighting chance against the Japanese KO artist, they need to put on the performance of their lives. But as the Donaire donnybrook showed us, even that might not be enough. Yes, “The Monster” is that terrifying. And he appears unstoppable. — Jamie Rebner