By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On November 7th, at the Saitama Super Arena, the undefeated Takuma Inoue and Nordine Oubaali clash for the unified WBC Bantamweight World championship.
Takuma Inoue (13-0 / 3 KOs) is the younger brother of Japanese phenom Naoya Inoue. He took up boxing at a very young age, after watching his sibling compete. During his amateur days, he won several tournaments, including the National Sports Festival in 2011, which is considered to be Japan’s premier sporting event. Takuma also placed second the following year, losing only to future 3 division World champion Kosei Tanaka. His record stood at 52-5.
Showing much promise as an amateur, Takuma made his pro debut in 2013, when he was barely 18 years old. His first opponent was future WBO World Champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (21-7). Even though he was outmatched, Inoue managed to pull off the upset and get the unanimous decision over the much more experienced boxer.
The Japanese rising star’s sound skills and technique brought him victory once again over another worthy foe in Teeraphong Utaida (38-7). After knocking out a debuting Chalerm Kotala, Inoue outclassed world title challenger Nestor Daniel Narvaes (20-3), in just his fourth bout.
Takuma would fight Mark Anthony Geraldo (38-9) in 2015, to capture the vacant OPBF title and also to make 2 successful defenses. He then met Filipino standout Froilan Saludar (31-3) at the Sky Arena in Japan, where despite getting dropped early in the first, he returned the favor in the later rounds.
Missing an entire year due to a hand injury, Inoue made his return on August of 2017, in an epic war with 4 time world title challenger Hiroyuki Kudaka (26-18). Both men went back and forth for 10 rounds, exchanging shots and stealing the show. Takuma remained unbeaten and proved that he was back and stronger than ever. Since then, he has defeated Kentaro Masuda (27-9), Waldo Sabu (13-14) and John Yap (30-14).
Finally, on December of last year, Takuma fought Tasana Salapat (52-1) for the interim WBC Bantamweight World title. Undefeated at the time and with 37 KOs under his belt, the Thai knockout artist couldn’t figure out a way to take his opponent out this time. The Japanese fighter used his speed and put together some excellent combinations to dominate the match, even hurting Salapat on a few occasions in the later rounds, after landing some crisp right hooks and straights. When the final bell rang, Takuma was the clear and decisive winner. He now has the chance to become the unified WBC champion, in his home country, but his next fight won’t be an easy one.
Nordine Oubaali (16-0) spent almost a decade competing in amateur boxing, gaining experience and honing his craft. He participated in 2 Olympics (2008 & 2012) and also won bronze at the World & European Union championships.
The Frenchman finally turned pro in 2014, winning 10 bouts in the span of 2 years, 7 of them via (T)KO. He then squared off with Julio Cesar Miranda (42-14), on December of 2016, for the WBA Intercontinental title. Oubaali overwhelmed the former World champion with a plethora of punches, scoring 3 knockdowns in the process.
Half a year later, he fought former interim WBO titlist Alejandro Hernandez (31-13), with the WBC Silver crown on the line. Oubaali was in complete control throughout the entire time. He dropped Hernandez thrice, once in the 1st after landing 3 back to back straight lefts, then in the 3rd with a thunderous right hook and again in the 8th. The referee finally stopped the contest in the 10th due to a nasty cut over Alejandro’s left eye.
After delivering a stunning knockout over Mark Anthony Geraldo (38-9) and easily dispatching world title challenger Luis Melendez (47-13) in just 2 rounds, Oubaali eventually earned a shot at the big one.
This past January, he took the former WBA (Super) champion Rau'shee Warren (16-3) the distance, to claim the vacant WBC Bantamweight World title for his own. It was an even fight at the beginning. Oubaali started taking over as we reached round 7, throwing more punches than his opponent, as well as the more significant ones. That was the first time in 3 years that a fight of his had gone to the judges’ scorecards. His inaugural title defense was a one sided affair against Arthur Villanueva (32-4), whom he knocked down 2 times, before retiring on his stool. The Frenchman will now travel to Japan in order to unify the WBC titles.
Both men’s pro careers began with only a few months difference from each other, and in that relatively short time, they already have become champions. It’s easy to spot the similarities as well as the differences between the two. They both share a successful amateur background, but undoubtedly, Oubaali has had the better run. Experience is definitely on his side, with approximately 15 years into the sport. On the other hand though, Takuma is way younger than him, a decade younger to be exact, which makes him the fresher and faster athlete. Both have been in the ring with accomplished opponents, although the level of competition might be slightly higher in Oubaali’s case. Moreover, Takuma, even though he’s a crafty fighter, he lacks the knockout power his brother possesses, whereas Oubaali has a 75% KO ratio and is known for scoring multiple knockdowns in his matches, preferably with the left, which has put away most of his former rivals. To sum this up, for all of his impressive performances in the past, Inoue has never faced a boxer, the caliber of Oubaali. He’s outmatched and outgunned. But that has been pretty much the story of his entire career. So can Takuma survive the “French invasion”? We are about to find out.
The WBC world title picture at Bantamweight is a series mess with the body having one of their more confusing title pictures, with a world champion, and interim champion and a silver champion. The title scene really is a mess due to issues caused in 2018 by Mexican fighter Luis Nery, who failed a drug test and subsequently failed to make weight. Despite his issues Nery is actually the #1 ranked and current Silver champion.
Rather than going into detail about Nery, and his various issues, it's worth noting that him and Takuma Inoue, the interim champion, are both vying for a future world title fight, likely later in the year. They do however have to wait, and next up for the main title will be the first defense of unbeaten French champion Nordine Oubaali (15-0, 11), who takes on Filipino challenger Arthur Villanueva (32-3-1, 18) on July 6th. The bout isn't the most interesting, given the talent in the division and the long line of WBC challengers, but it's a notable bout headlining an MTK card in Kazakhstan, and certainly deserves some real attention.
The unbeaten champion, a French fighter with Morocan heritage, was an outstanding amateur competing at 2 Olympics and 3 world amateur championships. Although his best result was "only" a bronze medal, at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago, he was clearly talented and that showed in his consistency and success in the World Series Boxing, where he fought for the Paris United Franchise. That experience in the amateurs and WSB saw Oubaali turn professional with some pretty lofty expectations 2014 and since then the southpaw has impressed picking up minor titles before claiming the WBC belt last year.
As a fighter Oubaali is a talented southpaw boxer-puncher with excellent skills and solid punching power. He turned professional in 2014 and was kept busy early on in his career against mostly limited opponents, but in 2016 he stopped both Iran Diaz, who later went the distance with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and Julio Cesar Miranda, a former world champion from Mexico. Those wins put him on the map before he added stoppages against very tough Mexican veteran Alejandro Hernandez, skilled Filipino Mark Anthony Geraldo and tough Colombian Luis Melendez. Most recently he defeated Rau'shee Warren, over 12 rounds, for the WBC title back in January. Notably that bout in January is his only contest in the last 12 months. With a number of good wins he is really one of the top, and most under-rated, Bantamweights out there, with a resume comparable to better recognised fighters at the weight, like Zolani Tete, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Ryan Burnett, and would have been a good addition to the WBSS.
The Filipino challenger was once regarded as a bright hope, though has sadly failed to live up to the expectations on his shoulders. He began his career with 28 straight wins whilst working his way up the world rankings. In 2015 he would then face McJoe Arroyo in a bout for the IBF Super Flyweight title, losing a technical decision in what was a truly stinking bout. He was much more competitive than the score cards suggested, though in reality neither man did much of anything in a truly disappointing match up that never clicked. Since then Villanueva has gone 5-2-1 (4), and not looked particularly good, even in his wins.
At his best he was a methodical fighter, a thinking mans fighter, with good timing, patience and counter punching. He was a chess player in the ring, but unfortunately his skills haven't shown themselves at the top level, and losses to not only Arroyo but also Zolani Tete and Luis Nery, who he dropped before being stopped by, have shown he's a level beneath world class. He's a very capable fighter, but no world beater, and unfortunately fighters will need to be world beaters to beat Oubaali.
We're expecting Villanueva to put up a good effort early on, though as the fight goes on Oubaali's class, clean punching and accuracy will be the difference and by the middle rounds Villanueva will be getting broken down, before being stopped in the second half of the fight.
Prediction - Oubaali TKO9
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.