Paul Wheeler rounds up the latest behind-closed-doors action with Miguel Berchelt keeping busy

HEAVY pre-fight favourite Andrew Moloney suffered
his first defeat in what was only his second appearance outside of his native
Australia. Making his US debut at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas,
the 29-year-old super-flyweight came unstuck against Joshua Franco on
Tuesday June 23, with the Texan receiving a close and hard-earned unanimous
decision.

Moloney (114 1/2lbs) began the bout brightly but
Franco’s consistent pressure saw him steadily chip away at the Aussie. Franco,
24, certainly finished the stronger of the two with his eye-catching
combinations. In the 10th round, he cut Moloney by the left eye with a solid
right hand. In the following frame, a salvo of shots forced Moloney to touch
down by the ropes. This knockdown ultimately proved decisive on the scorecards.

At the end of the 12 rounds, Franco (115lbs) was
declared the winner over Moloney, whose features were bruised and swollen after
a punishing battle. Julie Lederman scored 115-112, while Patricia Morse Jarman
and Dave Moretti both had it 114-113. Tony Weeks was the referee. With the
victory, Franco claimed Moloney’s WBA secondary super-fly strap. The organisation’s
true champion is four-weight world titlist Roman Gonzalez. Franco’s record now
reads 17-1-2 (8), while Moloney’s stands at 21-1 (14).

“I could hear him making noises when I was hitting
him, so I knew that little by little I was breaking him down,” Franco said
post-fight. “The knockdown was crucial – I needed that.”

At the same venue just 48 hours later (Thursday June 25), Top Rank staged another show headlined by a Moloney twin. Andrew’s brother, Jason Moloney, faced off against in-form Mexican Leonardo Baez in a scheduled 10-rounder. Moloney’s original opponent was set to be Oscar Negrete – a three-time rival of Franco. However, a detached retina rendered Negrete unable to compete, so Baez stepped in as a replacement at late notice.

Jason cheered the Moloney family’s spirits by putting
in an impressive performance in his second stateside showing. The former IBF
bantamweight title challenger attacked Baez with gusto from the get-go. Despite
boasting considerable advantages in both height and reach, Baez was unable to keep
Moloney away from him.

The energetic Moloney (117 3/4lbs) peppered Baez with
fierce flurries on the inside, including painful body blows and sharp, short
hooks that left the 24-year-old battered and bloodied. Baez (118 1/4lbs)
demonstrated his toughness by soaking up significant punishment, but after
seven sessions, his corner decided that they had seen enough. Referee Kenny
Bayless accepted the retirement. Moloney improved to 21-1 (18) with the win.
Baez dropped to 18-3 (9) 1NC.

“Baez is an absolute warrior, but nothing was going to
stop me tonight,” Moloney stated afterwards. “This is a big, big step towards
me fighting for another world title. I want that belt so bad. I’m ready for any
of the champions at 118lbs.”

Top Rank’s third promotion of the week took place at
the TV Azteca studios in Mexico City on Saturday June 27. The star attraction
was WBC super-featherweight king Miguel Berchelt. Opposing the explosive
Mexican in a keep-busy lightweight contest over 10 rounds was his countryman,
the 25-year-old Eleazar Valenzuela.

It was one-way traffic throughout, as Berchelt, 28,
bombarded his game but outgunned foe with powerful hooks, straights and uppercuts
both upstairs and down. Just before the bell rang to signal the conclusion of
the first round, Valenzuela was decked by a thumping left hook. The underdog
was given time to recover in the third after being caught by a low punch, but
the reprieve did not last long. Following a pounding series of unanswered
strikes from Berchelt in the sixth, referee Cesar Castanon halted proceedings
at the 1-13 mark.

Berchelt, who weighed in at 135lbs, recorded his 38th
victory (34 early) against one loss. The 135 1/2lb Valenzuela saw his statistics
decline to 21-14-4 (16) 1NC.

If Berchelt has his way, it won’t be long before he is
sharing a ring with Oscar Valdez – the ex-WBO featherweight boss who is now
operating up at super-feather. “It’s time for me to box Valdez,” Berchelt declared.
“The fans have asked for it and I’m ready for that war.”  

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