One thing that was undeniable about the boxing scene in 2020, was that it was a year that messed up the calendar, significantly, and saw so many bouts being cancelled or postponed. Due to the effects of Covid19 a lot of major names in the sport either didn't fight at all in 2020, or fought just once, as their careers stagnated for a year. Thankfully it appears that 2021 will be the year that things get back to normal, at least in the last few months of the year.
Two men that were massively affected by the Covid19 pandemic were WBC Bantamweight champion Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12) and his mandatory challenger Nonito Donaire (40-6, 26), who had a planned bout cancelled when Oubaali tested positive for Covid19. Donaire himself would also test positive for the virus, though it appears his positive test was likely a false positive, as he got a negative response in a confirmatory test that he and his team paid for.
With neither man fighting last year, and with Oubaali having a planned March defense cancelled as well, neither man has actually fought since November 2019, when they both featured on the same card over in in Japan. That card saw Donaire lose to Naoya Inoue, in the WBSS Bantamweight final, and Oubaali beat Naoya's younger brother Takuma Inoue to retain the WBC title. Following those bouts in Japan, and the cancellation of an eliminator featuring Luis Nery who failed to make weight, Donaire was made the mandatory challenger to Oubaali, in what looked like a great bout for early 2020. Before the pandemic left it's mark on the sport's calendar.
Despite the long lay off for both men, and the issues of 2020, we'll get to see the two men clash this coming weekend in arguable the best Bantamweight bout currently on the schedule, and one of the most interesting bouts the division has seen in well over a year. It's a bout neither man can afford to lose, and a bout that sets the winner up for a potential unification bout, possible with Naoya Inoue or Johnriel Casimero.
So with that back story out of the way how do we see this bout? And what can we say about the two men involved?
The defending champion, Oubaali, is a 34 year old southpaw who was a former amateur standout before turning professional in 2014. He started his career well and picked up notable wins over Hiram Irak Diaz, Julio Cesar Miranda, Alejandro Hernandez and Mark Anthony Geraldo in his first on his way to a world title fight. When he finally got his world title shot he beat Rau'shee Warren for the then vacant WBC title, which he has now defended twice, stopping Arthur Villanueva and scoring the aforementioned win over Takuma Inoue in 2019. For a man with just 17 bouts his resume is genuinely solid, not spectacular but really solid. Sadly however for a man who is now in his mid 30's, in a division where most fighters are consider on the slide at the age of 30, his careers underwhelming, and it's clear he will need to not just win here, but rack up other wins to live up to his full potential.
In the ring Oubaali is a solid technician. A really good technical boxer, with under-rated power, a surprising physicality, very good speed, sharp punches and good work rate. He is, however, small at the weight, has questionable stamina, and there are perhaps some questions about his durability. To date he's yet to face an actual world class puncher, and he was hurt against Inoue in the later rounds, as Takuma surprisingly made the very competitive late on, despite what the scorecards for that bout suggest.
When it comes to Nonito Donaire it's fair to say there it little that hasn't already been said about the Filipino legend and future Hall of Famer. He is a legitimate legend and there is no denying that. Aged 38 Donaire has been there, done that and got the T-shirt. He made his professional debut way back in February 2001, when his first world title in 2007, when he upset Vic Darchinyan, and became one of the few major stars of the lower weight classes. He managed to win world titles at Flyweight, Bantamweight, Super Bantamweight and Featherweight, while scoring notable wins over a who's who, of who. He has beaten Darchinyan, Moruti Mthalane, Raul Martinez, Rafael Concepcion, Hernan Marquez, Volodymyr Sydorenko, Fernando Montiel, Omar Andres Narvaez, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr, Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka, Jorge Arce, Simpiwe Vetyeka and Ryan Burnett. Despite picking up losses along the way he has one of the best resumes in the sport today. A truly brilliant resume.
In the ring Donaire has changed his style over the years, but some things have remained the same. Over the years he has tried boxing southpaw, and was once very light on his feet, but as he's aged he's become less reliant on his speed, with his legs and footwork both slowing, in fact he's almost a flat-footed fighter. Instead of relying on speed he's relied on his physicality, size, power and strength, and he's a huge Bantamweight. Last year he dwarfed Inoue in their bout and will tower over Oubaali here. He's strong, tough, with a dynamite left hook, a really impressive chin, thunderous jab, good technical skills and excellent timing. Given he's now 38 it's hard to know what he's got left in the tank, but given his performance last time out, against Inoue, there is a feeling he may well have one more big performance left before he calls time on his career.
It's hard to know what both men will be bringing to the ring here. Both have been out of the ring for more than 18 months, both old are for Bantamweights and whilst Oubaali is younger it'll be interesting to see how he looks following his legitimate bout with Covid19.
At their best it would be almost impossible to favour Oubaali. Even now it's hard to pick the Moroccan born French fighter, who's key advantages are being younger than Donaire and being quicker. We suspect he lacks the fire power to get Donaire's attention, he'll be the much smaller man, he'll have to work incredibly hard to get in and get without eating Donaire's stiff jab and potent left hooks. Especially if he tires again as he did against Takuma Inoue. If a tired Oubaali, perhaps even an Oubaali feeling the effects of his 2020 illness, show up, this could be a very, very tough night for him.
That's not to say Oubaali can't win. He could out work and out fiddle Donaire early on, then see out the 12 rounds fighting on the retreat. We can see that happening, but we're not expecting it. Instead we see Oubaali starting well, but tiring through the fight and then being stopped late as the power, size, and strength of Donaire wears him down.
Predictionm - TKO10 Donaire.
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