Andrew Moloney was fine with anywhere but Las Vegas.
As much as Moloney wanted a third crack at rival Joshua Franco, the Australian contender wasn’t willing to face Franco in Las Vegas again. Moloney narrowly lost a closely contested, 12-round unanimous decision to Franco in their first fight 13½ months ago and settled for an infamous no-contest in their immediate rematch November 14.
Both of those bouts took place at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Fans weren’t allowed to attend either of those shows due to COVID-19 restrictions.
ESPN will televise their third title fight Saturday night as the main event of a three-bout broadcast from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma (10 p.m. EDT; 7 p.m. PDT). Though Moloney would’ve preferred to face Franco in Australia, he is thankful that his promoter, Bob Arum, took their 12-round fight for Franco’s WBA world super flyweight title somewhere other than Las Vegas.
“I think it was very important,” Moloney told BoxingScene.com. “We tried our hardest to organize this fight to be in Australia, in my home country. Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen due to the COVID restrictions. Things are still very strict there and states are still on lockdown, so we decided to go ahead and come back over to the States. And thankfully, the fight’s gonna be in Oklahoma. I just hope that they give me a fair shake this time around.”
Arum’s Top Rank and Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, which represents Franco, have made every effort to ensure fair officiating for their WBA 115-pound championship match.
The Oklahoma State Athletic Commission, not the WBA, chose officials for Franco-Moloney III with the intent to avoid the type of scoring controversy that marred the outcome of the WBA interim welterweight title bout between Gabriel Maestre and Mykal Fox this past Saturday night at The Armory in Minneapolis. The three judges the WBA assigned to that championship match – Minnesota’s John Mariano (115-112), Florida’s Gloria Martinez Rizzo (117-110) and Panama’s David Singh (114-113) – scored Maestre the winner of a 12-round fight Fox seemingly did more than enough to win decisively.
The OSAC assigned Arkansas’ Karen Holderfield, Florida’s Mike Ross and Oklahoma’s David Sutherland to judge Franco-Moloney III. California’s Jack Reiss will be the referee, which is particularly noteworthy because Nevada referee Russell Mora’s controversial call in the second round of their rematch entirely altered the result.
Mora ruled that an accidental clash of heads in the first round initiated the significant swelling surrounding Franco’s right eye. Moloney’s team claimed one of his punches caused that damage and should’ve led to him winning by second-round technical knockout once Franco couldn’t continue.
An absurdly lengthy replay review at ringside complicated matters even more that night. Veteran referee Robert Byrd, the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s replay official, and NSAC executive director Bob Bennett used more than four times the number of minutes the entire fight lasted to examine ESPN’s footage of the first round.
Moloney’s team protested the official result, but it was denied by the NSAC.
“Taking this fight someplace other than Vegas takes the heat off it,” Arum told BoxingScene.com. “It’s one thing for people to act in a nefarious kind of way, but that wasn’t the case in Nevada. It was just, in my mind, stupidity. It was just reluctance to change something that clearly should’ve been changed. Clearly, there was no head-butt. Nobody could find a head-butt. But to not change that, I was very out-raged by it.”
In addition to this third battle between San Antonio’s Franco (17-1-2, 8 KOs, 1 NC) and Moloney (21-1, 14 KOs, 1 NC), of Kingscliff, Australia, ESPN will televise a 10-round opener in which junior welterweight contender Arnold Barboza Jr. (25-0, 10 KOs), of South El Monte, California, will meet Mexico City’s Antonio Moran (26-4-1, 19 KOs).
Between the Barboza-Moran and Franco-Moloney matchups, ESPN will air the pro debut of Muhammad Ali’s grandson, Nico Ali Walsh, who will encounter Jordan Weeks (4-1, 2 KOs), of Lexington, South Carolina, in a four-round middleweight match.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.