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Monster Mash: Naoya Inoue Makes Explosive Top Rank Debut

Mikey Williams/Top Rank

In September 2017, Naoya “The Monster” Inoue (20-0, 17 KOs) made his American debut at Carson, California’s Dignity Health Sports Park, against Antonio Nieves (19-3-2, 11 KOs). A defense of his WBO 115 pound belt. He was underwhelming in that effort, despite stopping his man via retirement after Round 6.

In this, his second stateside fight, Inoue looked to affirm his skill and ferocity to the American audience. On the line were his WBA (Super,) IBF and Ring 118 pound (Bantamweight) titles. After winning titles at 108 and 115, Inoue was looking to conquer 118 pounds.

Since moving to Bantamweight, Inoue has been nothing short of spectacular. In his 118 pound debut, he stopped WBA champ, Jamie McDonnell (30-3-1, 13 KOs) in a round. McDonnell’s lone stoppage defeat.

In his first defense, against Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs), it was much the same story. One round. Next up was IBF champ Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs). Two rounds. When five-division champ, Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) stood up to him and broke his eye socket? Twelve-round, “Fight of the Year” winner.

On Halloween night, Inoue fought under the Top Rank promotional banner for the first time, against solid Australian contender Jason Moloney (21-2, 18 KOs.) The fight, inside The Bubble at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, was meant to test Inoue, while showcasing his skills. Moloney is an aggressive, pressure fighter. Inoue, by contrast, is a calculating, explosive counterpuncher.

Almost immediately, the gap in skill was apparent. Inoue went at Moloney and began employing head movement and feints. All the while, the superior speed and snap of Inoue’s punches was visibly and audibly apparent. By the end of round two, all of Inoue’s feints seemed to be working.

By Round 3, the Inoue had taken control of the rhythm of the fight and methodically pressed his advantage. Crisp left hooks and lead uppercuts with either hand landed hard on Moloney’s head at will, as Inoue began looking to set up a finisher.

Rounds 4 and 5 saw Moloney’s last stand, even if it wasn’t readily apparent to viewers at the time. He began to trade with Inoue more, as he realized his only real chance to win would be to land a big single shot or compact combination. He did, in fact, land more solid blows, but was met in kind with far more damaging return fire. Not only that, but the small skirmishes Moloney was able to win cost far more energy than those which Inoue won by a far greater margin.

Shortly into Round 6, Inoue landed a picture-perfect check left hook that sent Moloney to the canvas. If you blinked, you missed it. Moloney was up quickly, and did shockingly little to betray how hurtful the punch was. Once action resumed, it was quite obvious.

Moloney somehow kept his legs under control, but slowed his punch output and clinched every chance he got. In making it through the round, Jason Moloney showed something special. Fighters know – making it through two minutes of a round when you’re badly hurt is remarkable.

Round 7 saw Inoue back off, seemingly resting mid-fight. He languished a bit for the first two minutes behind minimal offense, allowing Moloney to work. It was part “show me what you have left,” and part, “I won the first six rounds with a knockdown–a breather won’t hurt.” Moloney landed some shots, but none had any discernible effect.

Inoue changed tack with about a minute left. His renewed aggression was at a greater pace than before, and it began to tell in Moloney’s path of retreat. With about 15 seconds left in the seventh, the two traded right hands. As had been the case through the entire fight, Inoue’s landed first.

With a resounding impact on his left cheekbone, Moloney’s legs crumpled underneath him. Referee Kenny Bayless began a count, but waved the fight off shortly thereafter.

Naoya Inoue won via TKO at 2:59 of Round 7.

It confirmed what we should have already known–Naoya Inoue is simply the best at 118 and 122 pounds. The other champions at these weights are officially on notice, if they hadn’t been already.

Maybe some monsters are real after all.

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