By Anthony Cocks
Emmanuel Rodriguez 19-0 (12) was taken right down to the wire by a fast-finishing Jason Moloney 17-1 (14) to retain his IBF bantamweight title by razor-thin split decision in the quarterfinal of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Florida on Saturday night.
The 26-year-old Puerto Rican was awarded the 12-round points decision by scores of 115-113 twice while the third judge had Moloney the victor by the same score.
With the win Rodriguez progresses to the semi-final of the WBSS tournament where he will meet Japanese wrecking machine Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue 17-0 (15), who was ringside for the fight.
“It was a close fight but I saw myself winning,” said Rodriguez after the highly competitive bout.
Rodriguez started fast as expected, pressuring Moloney who was having his first fight outside of his native Australia. The champion applied effective pressure through the first four frames, landing crisp, eye-catching shots, particularly the left hook.
In the fourth round Rodriguez, who was making the first defence of the world championship he won against Paul Butler in London in May, appeared to stun Moloney. But the challenger rallied in the fifth, digging into Rodriguez’s body and snapping his head back with a hard right-cross.
As Rodriguez tired in the mid-rounds Moloney took over, his superior fitness coming to the fore as he forced the pace. Moloney continued to aggressively attack Rodriguez’s long body while looking for the chopping right hand over the top.
Early in the ninth round the referee stopped the action so that the tiring Rodriguez could return to his corner to have the tape on his left glove re-strapped. It bought the champion some much needed respite from Moloney’s relentless attack.
Coming in to the championship rounds it was clear that the fight would be determined by the style the judges preferred: the champion’s sharp and accurate single shots or the challenger’s high workrate.
An accidental headclash in the twelfth round opened up a small cut on Moloney’s brow, but it didn’t stop the game challenger from throwing everything at Rodriguez until the final bell.
In the end Moloney came painfully close to joining Jimmy Carruthers, Lionel Rose and Jeff Fenech as Australian world bantamweight champions.
Despite the loss the 27-year-old Australian impressed the sport’s powerbrokers with his toughness and tenacity in the ring.
“Jason Moloney doesn’t need to worry about another chance, he will be world champion very soon,” said promoter Kalle Sauerland.
Meanwhile Australia’s most accomplished boxer heaped praise on Moloney’s effort.
"Just sat and watched Jason Moloney fight in the super series and would to say I’ve never been prouder watching an Aussie fight for a long long time," wrote former three-time world champion Jeff Fenech on social media.
"Jason, hold your head up high, learn from this experience and it won’t be long before you have a belt around your waist.
"Great job my friend."
In the main support bout former cruiserweight titleholder Yuniel ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos 23-1 (21) was taken the distance for just the second time in his pro career by the durable Mateusz Masternak 41-5 (28) to win a close but clear-cut 12-round points decision in the other WBSS quarterfinal.
Dorticos looked to have the measure of Masternak early, but the 31-year-old Pole sustained the early pressure to force his way back into the fight late.
At the final bell the 32-year-old Miami-based Cuban was awarded the victory by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 twice.
Dorticos will now face Andrew ‘The Beast’ Tabiti 17-0 (13), who defeated Ruslan Fayfer23-1 (16) on points in Russia earlier this month, in the WBSS semi-final.