‘But if I beat him… what happens then?’
Boxing, like every other sport, dwindled during the COVID-19 lockdown.
While fight shows have been sporadic in Australia, the upcoming boxing schedule is beginning to look healthy once again. The remainder of October sees many high-profile boxing contests, with many involving Australian boxers.
1. Jason Moloney versus Naoya Inoue
Australian Jason Moloney has plied his trade quietly while the Australian media has focused on less accomplished boxers like Anthony Mundine or even football players like Paul Gallen and Barry Hall.
Even Tim Tszyu has not accomplished what Jason Moloney has in the professional game.
Moloney, twin brother of 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Andrew, was himself an accomplished amateur representing Australia at the 2010 New Delhi Games, where he made the quarter-finals.
Jason boasts a record of 21 wins from 22 contests with 18 knockouts, with the lone loss coming to Emmanuel Rodriguez for the IBF bantamweight title in 2018 in a candidate for fight of the year, with Moloney losing on a split decision. He has wins over former world champion Kohei Kono and top contenders Leonardo Baez, Lolito Sonsona and Immanuel Naidjala, who Moloney defeated to win the Commonwealth bantamweight title.
Jason Moloney is by far the best pound-for-pound Australian boxer.
Moloney’s opponent represents the toughest assignment an Australian boxer has faced since Daniel Geale travelled to Las Vegas to battle Gennady Golovkin. Japan’s Naoya Inoue is considered the hardest puncher pound for the pound on the planet and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He has won multiple titles in three weight divisions and won many of those fights in the first or second round.
Inoue won the World Boxing Super Series – a tournament Moloney was eliminated from in the quarter-finals – last year after destroying Juan Carlos Payano and Rodriguez in one and two rounds respectively before outpointing Nonito Donaire in the final.
The two men battle on 31 October (1 November AEDT), and if Moloney pulls off the upset, it should rank as the greatest win by an Australian boxer since Lionel Rose went to Japan and upset Masahiko Harada for the world bantamweight title in 1968.
2. George Kambosos versus Lee Selby
George Kambosos is another one of Australia’s best-kept boxing secrets – that is, if you do not follow the sport closely. Kambosos cleaned out the Australian lightweight division between 2015 and 2017 before moving to the United States. Kambosos has served as a sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao during his time away from Australia and the skills he has learnt overseas have shown in his performances. He is undefeated in 18 fights, and in December last year he outpointed former IBF world title-holder Mickey Bey.
His opponent Lee Selby is a former world title-holder at featherweight, losing his IBF title to Josh Warrington in a huge fight for British boxing in May 2018. He jumped two weight classes to the lightweight limit, scoring close points wins over Omar Douglas and Ricky Burns before agreeing to fight Kambosos. These two also square off on 31 October (1 November AEDT) but on a different card, with this fight taking place on the undercard of a much-anticipated heavyweight clash between Oleksandr Usyk and Dereck Chisora. The winner of the Kambosos-Selby bout will be the mandatory challenger for the winner of the Vasyl Lomachenko-Teofimo Lopez lightweight unification bout.
3. Justis Huni versus Faiga Opelu
If you have not heard of Justis Huni, you probably don’t follow amateur boxing. The 21-year-old Huni won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships in Russia, with an injury eliminating him from the semi-finals. Earlier this year he qualified for the 2020 Olympics and represented Australia’s greatest medal chance until COVID delayed the games until next year.
Huni still represents our best medal chance, but he has decided not to stay idle and has taken advantage of a loophole in the Olympic rules. Olympic boxing now allows professionals to compete. Huni has qualified already, so fighting professionally is not going to disqualify him from Tokyo next year. Rather than taking a soft touch, Huni has chosen to chase history.
While Faiga Opelu may not be Australia’s best heavyweight, he does hold the Australian title. It has been many years since the Australian champion represented Australia’s best fighter, but Opelu is a dangerous fight for a 21-year-old with no professional experience. Huni will attempt to become the first person to win the Australian title in his professional debut.
The ten-rounder takes place on 22 October.
4. Vasyl Lomachenko versus Teofimo Lopez
This bout is perhaps the most anticipated boxing clash of this year thus far. The skill level that 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Vasyl Lomachenko has shown in his short professional career has been other-worldly. The speed of hand and feet combined with his uncanny reflexes have made even the dullest moments of his fights highlight reel-worthy. Lomachenko has won titles at featherweight and junior lightweight before moving to lightweight, where has won three of the four major titles. All of this in just 15 fights.
In Teofimo Lopez, Lomachenko faces perhaps the toughest test of his professional career. Lopez himself has just 15 professional fights, but at age 23 and with apparent dynamite in both hands, Lopez is young and dangerous. In December Lopez wiped out Richard Commey in two rounds to win the IBF title and establish himself as the logical contender to Lomachenko’s status as the premier lightweight in the world. He is also naturally larger than Lomachenko and by far the biggest puncher the Ukrainian has faced.
The lightweight unification takes place 17 October (18 October AEDT) and will be shown live on Fox Sports.
5. Jai Opetaia vs Ben Kelleher
The main event that evening sees one of Australia’s other top prospects in action. Jai Opetaia is one of the best prospects in the cruiserweight division. The 25-year-old was the youngest competitor at the 2012 London Olympics, losing a controversial decision in the opening round against Teymur Mammadov, the eventual bronze medallist. Opetaia has won all 19 of his professional bouts and beaten all of Australia’s top cruiserweights, including Mark Flanagan, Daniel Ammann and upcoming opponent Ben Kelleher, who he stopped in the third round due to an injury.
New Zealand-born Kelleher has won all six fights since losing to Opetaia, which is the only loss of his career. While Opetaia had hoped to chase overseas opponents after beating Flannagan and New Zealand’s Nikolas Charalampous last year, travel restrictions give him the chance to score a clearer win over Kelleher. This bout headlines the 22 October card that features Huni vs Opelu on the undercard.