Nonito Donaire will need a new dance partner in pursuit of a fourth bantamweight title.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed Jason Moloney—through promoter Top Rank—has broken away from talks to face Donaire for the vacant WBC bantamweight title. The development comes well ahead of the February 17 deadline assigned to a matchup that was more than months in the making.
“The WBC has received confirmation from Top Rank that [Moloney] will not be fighting for The WBC bantamweight title,” WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman confirmed to the teams for both boxers via official letter, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “With this letter the process of [Moloney] vs Donaire is hereby cancelled."
As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, the WBC confirmed during its convention that Moloney and Donaire would be next in line for the title once Naoya Inoue (24-0, 21KOs) vacated the belts to campaign at junior featherweight. Inoue became undisputed champion the hard way, defeating four reigning titlists—Butler for the WBO belt, Donaire for the WBA title in November 2019 and the WBC in their June 2021 rematch, and Emmanuel Rodriguez to win the IBF title in May 2019.
The win over Butler was Inoue’s last piece of business at bantamweight. The three-division champion vacated the titles on January 13, though the rest of the division was essentially on hold. The status of Moloney-Donaire left the other sanctioning bodies hamstrung, as Moloney (25-2, 19KOs) is the number-one contender in the WBC and WBO rankings, and is likely to pursue the vacant WBO title in lieu of a showdown with Donaire (42-7, 28KOs).
While an attractive matchup, the fight always appeared to be a nonstarter given the lack of progress since the WBC convention. The WBC was forced to formally order the fight in mid-January, with the threat of a purse bid as the only likely resolution should the bout remain intact.
Moloney was represented in talks by Top Rank, while guided by career-long manager Tony Tolj. Donaire is promoted by Probellum and company co-founder Richard Schaefer, who has now seen several proposed fights between the two companies fail to materialize.
Concerns arose over whether the two sides could actually reach an accord. Top Rank founder and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum has openly insisted that Probelum is tied to accused Irish crimelord Daniel Kinahan, who was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Probellum brass—and Schaefer, specifically—vehemently denied the allegations, though the Dubai-based promotional company has since lost TV deals in the U.S. and U.K.
Top Rank has all but ceased conducting business with the company, save for select bouts either already scheduled (Janibek Alimkhanuly-Danny Dignum last May 21) or where the fights were negotiated without their direct involvement (Inoue-Donaire II and Inoue-Butler; Top Rank is the U.S. promoter for Inoue). Arum and Schaefer also have a longstanding love-hate relationship, though largely one way; Schaefer has genuinely tried to do business with all promoters for the sake of putting his fighters first, though has not had luck in advancing a Moloney-Donaire fight.
“The good news is that Nonito Donaire is a warrior who is willing to face anyone,” Schaefer told BoxingScene.com. “Our stance was always the same–Nonito Donaire was going to challenge for the WBC bantamweight title. We went to the WBC convention to declare our position which has not changed.
“I wish I could say that I was surprised but I am not.”
Top Rank and Schaefer also failed to come to terms for an ordered fight between WBC 140-pound champion Regis Prograis and former champ Jose Ramirez, who was the mandatory challenger for the title. Negotiations were dead on arrival, with the fight not even making it to a purse bid once it was learned that Ramirez and Top Rank could not negotiate any better than 65/35 split.
The WBC will now have to go down its rankings to determine the next highest ranked available contender.
Reymart Gaballo (25-1, 21KOs) and Puerto Rico’s Rodriguez (21-2, 13KOs) are ranked just below Donaire. However, it is believed that both are going in separate directions. Rodriguez is in line to challenge for the vacant IBF title, earning that right following a one-sided, technical decision win over Gary Antonio Russell last October 15 in Brooklyn, New York. Rodriguez—who is promoted by Juan Orengo and fights under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner—won the vacant IBF title in a May 2018 win over Butler, then defended in a twelve-round split decision win over Moloney in October 2018 before he suffered a second-round knockout to Inoue in May 2019.
Gaballo is believed to go the WBO route, which would lead to a vacant title fight versus Moloney. However, such a fight can’t be determined until the Philippines’ Vincent Astrolabio—ranked number-one with the IBF and number-two with the WBO—confirms which route he will choose for his first career title fight.
The most likely scenario would see Donaire face Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (27-3-5, 14KOs), who has won three in a row including a seventh-round stoppage of Antonio Nieves last October 29 in Glendale, Arizona. The 26-year-old was 8-2-1 to begin his career, with just one loss in his last 24 outings—a ten-round, majority decision defeat to Russel in November 2021.
Donaire has won titles in four weight divisions, including three tours at bantamweight.
The Fil-Am superstar chases a unique piece of history, as he has twice become the oldest fighter in history to win a bantamweight title. Donaire was two weeks shy of his 36th birthday when he claimed a fourth-round injury stoppage of Ryan Burnett to win the WBA title in November 2018 at the start of the World Boxing Super Series tournament, losing the title to Inoue in their thrilling November 2019 finale hailed by many outlets as the Fight of the Year.
Donaire broke his own record when—at age 38—he scored a fourth-round knockout of unbeaten WBC titlist Nordine Oubaali in May 2021. One successful title defense followed—a fourth-round knockout of Gaballo in December 2021—before he suffered a second-round knockout loss to Inoue in their three-belt unification rematch last June in Saitama, Japan.
Donaire has not fought since then, while pursuing several options for his next title fight. The WBC convention ruling came just before his 40th birthday last November, though not even the threat of Father Time has made it any easier to secure a willing opponent for his next title fight.
“I guess the bantamweight division has a new monster,” quipped Schaefer. “The old ‘Monster’, Naoya Inoue left but the division has a new monster and his name is Nonito Donaire.
“We will see who the WBC will find to challenge us, but Nonito Donaire will become world champion once again.”
Moloney (25-2, 19KOs) has lost only at the title level. The 32-year-old Aussie from Kingscliff, New South Wales dropped a narrow decision to Rodriguez in their October 2018 vacant title fight between unbeaten contenders, as part of the WBSS bantamweight tournament eventually won by Inoue. Moloney’s second title bid resulted in a seventh-round knockout to Inoue in an October 2020 ESPN main event from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
Four straight wins have followed for Moloney, whose twin brother Andrew is a former secondary WBA 115-pound titlist and current top-rated contender. In his most recent start, Moloney outpointed Nawaphon Kaikanha over twelve rounds in their WBC title eliminator last October 16 in Melbourne, Australia.
It appears that the effort to secure the lofty WBC ranking was for naught.
“We wish [Moloney] the best of luck," stated Sulaiman. "The WBC will be announcing future steps towards the fight for such vacant title.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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