The Moloney twins’ American invasion begins

LAS VEGAS — Australian Rules Football was one of the staples of the early days of a fledgling all-sports cable television network in the U.S. born in late 1979. 

Before it developed into an American staple that has broadcast rights to virtually ever major sport, ESPN filled its air with whatever sports it could get.

And before they became world-class boxers who are scheduled to headline back-to-back shows from the Fight Capital of the World on ESPN, twin brothers Andrew and Jason Moloney dreamed of playing Australian Rules Football.

When, on a lark, they finally decided to try to box, it was, well, less than a rousing success.

“Terrible; just terrible,” said Jason Moloney, a bantamweight who will headline Thursday’s Top Rank card from the MGM Grand Conference Center on ESPN when he faces Lorenzo Baez in a 10-rounder. “I lost my first three fights.”

He’s seated next to his identical twin brother, Andrew, the WBA super flyweight champion who on Tuesday makes the first title defense in a 12-round bout at the MGM Grand Conference Center against Joshua Franco on ESPN.

Andrew is grinning impishly as he listens to his brother speak about his early days in boxing.

The brothers weren’t naturals at this fighting thing. Fit and athletic, they nonetheless had their problems.

“I lost my first three fights [as an amateur], if you can believe that,” Jason said. By this point, he’s grinning ear-to-ear. He nods at his brother. “He lost his first seven.”

When a visitor to the Top Rank Gym expresses astonishment at this, the brothers break into full-out laughter.

“Oh mate, it was bad,” Andrew adds.

TWEED HEADS SOUTH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 30: Jason Moloney celebrates with his brother Andrew after winning his fight against Cris Paulino during Boxing Mania 5 at the Seagulls Club on March 30, 2019 in Tweed Heads South, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)TWEED HEADS SOUTH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 30: Jason Moloney celebrates with his brother Andrew after winning his fight against Cris Paulino during Boxing Mania 5 at the Seagulls Club on March 30, 2019 in Tweed Heads South, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Jason Moloney celebrates with his brother, Andrew, after winning his fight against Cris Paulino during Boxing Mania 5 at the Seagulls Club on March 30, 2019, in Tweed Heads South, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The twins are in Las Vegas on a mission, out to not only win their upcoming fights but to prove that a pair of Australians who compete in weight classes that get precious little attention in the U.S. can somehow break through and become stars.

It’s not going to be an easy task, because there are Hall of Famers from those weight classes who could walk down the street in Las Vegas and not ever be recognized.

The twins, though, are undaunted. Boxing, they say, isn’t huge in Australia, either.

“Boxing isn’t that big back home as it is, so one of the things we want to do is something special and grow the sport in Australia,” Jason Moloney said. “Right now, it’s getting there, but let’s be honest: Australian Rules Football rules the country. It’s the main sport and it takes up the media’s attention.

“So if we could make a name for ourselves over here, where there is so much boxing, and then go home … ”

His voice trails off and his brother instantly picks up his thought. They say they don’t have that sixth sense that twins have, but they’re right on the same page now.

“I’ve got my world title and I want to make some defenses of it,” Andrew said. “Hopefully, Jason can win his world title and eventually, we could go home as champions and fill up a stadium. That would be the ultimate dream for us.”

The brothers had bouts in Australia canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, right before they were slated to occur. They’d put in entire camps and were just about ready and the bouts were canceled.

Not long after the shutdown began, Top Rank president Todd duBoef began working on a plan to return. He knew he’d need as many fighters as possible, and those who would be ready quickly.

The Moloneys were in Australia while duBoef was plotting Top Rank’s return, but they’d never stopped training. They also were not only willing, but eager, to hop on a plane and get to Las Vegas if that meant getting an opportunity to compete.

There was a travel restriction in place, but their manager, Tony Tolj, figured a way to get them out of the country. He awakened them at 3 in the morning one night to tell them to pack for a long stay and be ready to leave the next day.

When they arrived in the States, they spoke to duBoef via phone, and he asked them when they’d be ready to fight.

“Take us straight to the venue because we’re ready now,” Andrew said.

They understand what it takes to be big. They need to fight the best fights, to compete often, to make it exciting and to be accessible. There are a lot of elite fighters at super flyweight and bantamweight for them to fight, so they’ll get the opportunity to show that they belong among the world’s elite.

They’re uber competitive, so much so that when they used to spar, it would quickly turn more into an all-out brawl than boxing practice.

“We’d wind up on the floor wrestling around,” Jason said, chuckling.

These days, they’re ready to show their competitiveness and take their aggression out on others, but they don’t rule out fighting each other one day if an important title — and loads of money — were at stake.

There is plenty of work to do before that, and they each have fights to win this week. Andrew will work Jason’s corner on Thursday, but Jason won’t be in Andrew’s corner on Tuesday. With a fight of his own coming up, it would be too emotionally taxing for him to be in Andrew’s corner.

They hope their performances create emotion among the American fans, many of whom will be seeing them for the first time. It’s all part of laying the groundwork for the dramatic return to Australia with both as champions in a jam-packed stadium.

“There’s a lot of big fights for us to be involved in and so the opportunity is right there for us,” Jason said. “We’re both in stacked divisions and if things go the way we want and believe they will, we’re going to bring attention to these lighter weight classes where, honestly, there is so much talent. Just keep taking the best fights we can and keep winning and it will happen for us eventually.”

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