THE remarkable Nonito Donaire bids to take the WBC bantamweight title from fellow veteran Nordine Oubaali at the Dignity Heath Sports Park in Carson, California, on Saturday night (May 28). It is broadcast in the USA by Showtime.
Four-weight belt-holder Donaire is now 38 years old, the French champion is 34. They were around 18 months younger when the fight was first mooted. Donaire was made Oubaali’s mandatory challenger in December, 2019. The fight was eventually set for last December, but Oubaali was ruled out after testing positive for coronavirus. The WBC made Oubaali “Champion in Recess” and paired Donaire with Puerto Rico’s Emanuel Rodriguez. The fight was only nine days away when it was announced Donaire had coronavirus. Filipino puncher Reymart Gaballo stepped in to outpoint Rodriguez for the interim WBC title and earlier this year Oubaali was reinstated as full champion by the WBC.
Oubaali (17-0) and Donaire (40-6) last fought on the same show, in Japan in November, 2019. Donaire lost the consensus fight of the year to Japanese idol Naoya Inoue in the final of the World Boxing Super Series and Oubaali was a points winner over Takuma Inoue, Naoya’s younger brother.
The French southpaw had Inoue over in the fourth and went on to win by scores of 115-112, 117-110 and a too-wide 120-107.
Oubaali was a quality amateur, competing in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, before turning over at 27 and he was 32 when he won the vacant WBC title in Las Vegas with a points win over Rau’shee Warren in January 2019, repeating a victory he scored at the 2012 London Olympics.
Oubaali has made defences against Filipino veteran Arthur Villanueva (32-3-1) in Kazakhstan and Inoue in Japan. The win over Inoue was his 17th straight as a pro, while Donaire has had 20 sanctioning body ‘world’ title fights, winning 16.
Oubaali was still an amateur the first time Donaire won world honours at 118lbs, his whipping left hook counter sending Mexico’s Fernando Montiel on the way to a two-round defeat in February, 2011. There were constant rumours Donaire would be unable to get back down to 118lbs for the World Boxing Super Series when he was announced in the line-up three years ago.
He had not made the weight for seven years, but not only did Donaire make 118lbs, he shocked Belfast’s WBA champion Ryan Burnett (19-0). Donaire was competitive before Burnett’s back injury forced his retirement and “The Filipino Flash” then turned back the clock to flatten Saint Louis southpaw Stephon Young, a late replacement for the injured Zolani Tete, with a trademark left hook to reach the final.
There he met Inoue and in a quality fight of numerous twists and turns, the final twist came in the 11th when Donaire was dropped for only the third time in his career by a body shot that put a gap between them on the scorecards.
In Oubaali, Donaire faces a busy southpaw with fast fists and feet and a high punch output. Of Moroccan descent, Oubaali, the 13th of 18 children who grew up in the Paris suburbs, had a lengthy amateur career that included World Championship bronze in 2007.
He was beaten by China’s Zou Shiming and he also pipped Oubaali on countback in the last 16 at the 2008 Olympics.
Four years later, Ireland’s Michael Conlan denied Oubaali a medal with a 22-18 win. Oubaali is unbeaten since turning pro in 2014, but Inoue did have him looking ragged in the final minute. The punch that did the damage was a left hook, a shot that worked for Inoue throughout and has brought Donaire some spectacular knockouts. Oubaali was still a clear winner on the scorecards and deservedly so.
He started the fight beating Inoue to the punch from the outside, then started stepping in behind his shots.
Oubaali scored a knockdown late in the fourth and kept the punches coming in twos and threes until the final bell.
At 5ft 4ins tall, Oubaali is three inches shorter than Donaire and will know that one mistake when he’s darting in or out could end his reign. The Frenchman will surely be unable to shake off the Donaire left hook the way he shook off Inoue’s left hook.
Oubaali has stopped six of his last eight himself. He gets his early wins by breaking opponents down. Against Villanueva in his first defence, Oubaali put his challenger under pressure with his feet, countered every punch thrown at him and after six rounds, Villanueva had been dropped and decided he didn’t want anymore.
There’s a chance, a good chance, that Oubaali will be too fresh and too busy for Donaire. It’s equally likely Donaire will be too big and punch too hard.
It’s Donaire, in a fairytale showing, to win by late stoppage for me.
The Verdict Donaire can cement his place in boxing history with another title at the ripe old age of 38.