For Jason Moloney, destiny calls in Las Vegas

It was nearly two decades ago, that Jason Moloney first laced up the gloves and stepped into a ring as a kid with a dream. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, that dream can become reality when the Australian faces Japan's Naoya Inoue for the WBA and IBF bantamweight world titles.

"This means absolutely everything. I've dedicated my whole life to this sport for 17 years." Moloney told ESPN's Mark Kriegel earlier this week. "I've had a lot of setbacks, a lot of heartbreaks. It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices to get here. And this is my moment where everything I've ever done is all worth it when I get my hand raised on Saturday night."

The 29-year-old Moloney (21-0) has earned a shot against the undefeated Inoue (19-0) following a run of four impressive wins over the past 18 months, culminating in retiring Mexican Leonardo Baez in June. It's a run of form that Moloney says he believes has him ready to tackle one of boxing best pound-for-pound fighters.

"Inoue, being the No. 1 bantamweight, I've had my eye on him for a long time," Moloney said. "And I've always just wanted a chance to beat him, and it's my dream to be the No. 1 bantamweight.

"He's the man that's in my way, so I've studied him for a long time, and he's a great fighter. I respect him. But to me, he's just another man with two arms and two legs. I see that he's overly reckless and comes in, and he's there to be hit. There's plenty of opportunities. And if you're good enough and brave enough, which I believe I am, he's there to be taken out."

Inoue has been inactive for the whole of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with his last fight coming last November, a brutal points win over Nonito Donaire, in what was voted Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. While Moloney has taken note of how Donaire was at times able to trouble the champion, he's ready to fight his way.

"I'm a different fighter to Donaire, and I respect Donaire a lot, and I thought he fought a good fight, but he didn't win the fight," he said. "I'm not coming into this fight hoping to have a close fight or hoping to go the distance. I'm coming in this fight to win the fight. I'm coming in here to do much better than what Donaire did and take this guy to a place he's never been before.

"I believe in my power. I've got a good head on my shoulders. I'm not just going to go in there and just start winging shots and hoping for the best. You've got to pick your moments. You've got to be smart enough. Most guys go into their shell when he's letting his shots go, but that's not me. I'm willing to fight fire with fire.

"I think we both have good speed and good power. We're both great fighters. But I think the main thing is physically, I'm stronger than him. And mentally, my will is much stronger than his. I don't think anybody in this division wants it as much as I want it, and that's going to be the difference on Saturday night. I'm willing to go through whatever it takes to win this fight."

Saturday's fight takes place inside the bubble at the MGM Grand Conference Center, a venue the Australian knows well from his stoppage of Baez in June, two days after his twin, Andrew, lost his own title shot at super flyweight against Joshua Franco. Moloney believes that experience could give him the edge come fight night.

"I've already shown that I can perform well inside the bubble, whereas he's going in there with a complete unknown," Moloney said. "He's used to fighting in these sold-out stadiums with thousands and thousands of people cheering him on and giving him this extra energy, whereas how's he going to deal with having nobody there but himself?

"When it's going rough and, I'm putting him into places he's never been before, is he going to need someone? Is he going to need the crowd to try and bring him home? Well, they're not going to be there. It's just me and him."

Whatever the environment, Inoue provides Moloney with his biggest challenge to date. The split decision defeat to Emmanuel Rodriguez in 2018 is forgotten and the Inoue challenge is one Moloney says he believes he is ready for.

"Honestly, I've never been in this sort of shape physically or mentally," he said. "I'm going into this fight feeling better than I ever have, probably more confident of winning this fight than any of my fights I've ever had, even though it's the toughest fight of my career.

"I just really believe that this is my destiny, and I've done everything, everything to achieve this dream, and nothing's going to stop me."