In 2019 we saw Nonito Donaire (41-6, 27) rollback the clock and give Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue the toughest test of his career. The performance, by some, was regarded as Donaire showing up Inoue's limitations, rather than Donaire actually showing he was still a world class fighter. Today he ended any doubt that he was still world class as he claimed the WBC Bantamweight title in a destructive, and dominant performance against the previously unbeaten Nordine Oubaali (17-1, 12).
From the opening moments Donaire looked bigger, stronger and tougher Oubaali. He also looked smarter, making intelligent little moves to make Oubaali miss. Not only was he making the champion miss, but he was landing his own clean shots, especially the straight right hand which hard alarming success against the quicker, smaller, man. Not only was Donaire landing good right hands up top, but also to the body, taking some of the wind out of Oubaali's sails.
Donaire continued to land right hands through round 2, and despite taking some straight lefts from Oubaali never looked in any problems at all. In fact if anything Oubaali's left hand was just bouncing off Donaire and was only ever being landed in single shots. There was a sense, almost, that if Oubaali took any risks, he was going to pay for them. And he knew it.
In round 3 we finally saw Donaire's trademark left hook, with the Filipino landing it very early in the round. It was almost as if he was taking it out of the arsenal for the first time, and it quickly become the most telling punch of the fight. Part way through round 3 Donaire landed a right hand, then a body shot, Oubaali responded, and had his best success, as he tried to get back on track, before eating a huge counter left hook. It dropped Oubaali hard and despite beating the count he still seemed buzzed when he was allowed to continue. Through much of the rest of the round he looked like a man who was trying to clear his head, but was completely unable to as Donaire press, landing a right hand, a left hook, a huge uppercut, and then, right on the bell, a massive left hook. The left dropped Oubaali for the second time, and he was given an age to recover as Jack Reiss gave him every benefit of the doubt he could to allow him to go to his corner to end the round.
With Donaire's left hook now well in play, and Oubaali looking done at the end of round 3, the bout looked like it was over. Reiss should have stopped the bout. Oubaali's corner should have saved their man. Instead we proceded with round 4, and unsurprisingly Donaire was quickly in control again, landing right hands, uppercuts, a left hook, and really battering Oubaali who offered little. Then the Filipino landed a brutal left uppercut, dropping Oubaali for the third time. This time Jack Reiss finally decided enough was enough and waved off the bout.
Following the win donaire, who has now set the record for the oldest ever Bantamweight champion, stated that he wanted unification and seemed very open to a rematch with the "Monster", which would be something special. Much like their first bout.On the back of this performance it's clear Donaire might be old, but is not show, like many had been suggesting when he entered the WBSS. In fact if anything he looks like a man rejuvenated by the move to Bantamweight, which he made in 2018 to enter the WBSS.
As for Oubaali, it's hard to see where he goes from here. This was a seriously punishing, damaging, and hurtful loss. With his 35th birthday coming later this year, and with this loss, he'll have a long way to climb back to a title fight, and this loss may well be the end of his career.
Whilst some will discuss the issues at the end of round 3, with the punch thrown pretty much on the bell, it was, at most, an accidental foul, and at best came on the bell. It perhaps should have stopped the fight, Oubaali did not seem fight to continue. There will be discussions about it, and some will see it as a huge controversy. The reality however is they could rematch and given this performance Oubaali would be stopped again. He simply couldn't take the power of Donaire's left hook.
If there is one thing we need to thank DAZN for it's shining a light on the Light Flyweight division, which continues to deliver some of the best action we're getting. That was shown again this evening when Japanese legend Katsunari Takayama (32-9-0-1, 12) [高山 勝成] made his US debut and challenged WBO Light Flyweight champion Elwin Soto (19-1, 13) in a thrilling bout that saw Takayama get a chance to shine in the bright lights of the US.
It was a chance that was sadly ended in disappointment, not just with a loss, but also on the back of one of the worst stoppages we've seen in years, thanks to the often controversial Laurence Cole.
In the opening Takayama looked out of his depth. He was rocked repeatedly when Soto landed, anything clean, and it seemed as if the 37 year old legend was showing his age and the fact he wasn't a natural Light Flyweight. Soto seemed nailed on for an early stoppage win and Takayama really looked like his long career had taken it's toll on him. The challenger barely made it through the round. He was hurt again in round 2 and it seemed like Soto really was too big, too strong, too powerful and too young for Takayama.
What few were aware of however was just how fucking tough Takayama is. He refused to go down. He refused to give in and instead he fought his fight. He took it to Soto, he set a high tempo and challenged Soto to go with him. Soto failed to do that, as Takayama out worked him, out landed him and out boxed him at times. Sadly nothing Takayama landed seemed to do anything to Soto, who landed significantly less but landed much heavier shots, which caught the eye more than Takayama's lighter, quicker shots.
In round 4 Takayama started to really claw his way into the contest. Soto was doing much less than he had earlier in the bout, and Takayama was starting to grind away at Soto's body with some sustained body attacks. It seemed like, after a nighmare start, the momentum was shifting. That continued to shift in round 5 as Soto began to look tired, and was backing up. Soto on the back foot looked much less effective than he had earlier in the bout, and it seemed clearthat he was starting to feel the tempo.
Having seen Takayama build his way back into the bout Soto knew he had to take some of the wind out of Takayama's sailsand he did just that at the end of round 6 as he again rocked Takayama, as he landed huge right hands and a brutal uppercut. Takayama, foolishly, held his feet and tried to trade with the much bigger Soto, and it didn't work. He was just lucky the bell came when it did, as he looked about read to go.
After looking a beaten man at the end of round 6 Takayama came out for round 7 some how looking revitalised, and again out worked Soto, unleashing quick sharp combinations and really grinding Soto's body. It was an astonishing bounce back round from Takayama after the way he had ended the previous round.
The pace for the first 7 rounds had been high, frantic almost at times. In round 8 things chnaged, and the tempo dropped off, massively. This saw Soto doing very little, and Takayama picking his moments better. It was a breather for both the fans and the fighters before we moved into round 9.
The 9th round saw Takayama looking to up the pace, setting his tempo early on, and backing Soto up. Soto looked genuinely tired. That was until he managed to dig deep and land a rare combination on Takayama who walked through some huge shots trying to land his own blows. Soto continued to land in an exchange before the referee, stepped in and waved off the bout, stopping Takayama in a baffling decision that made little sense. Takayama had been significantly more hurt earlier on, he had been landing, and hadn't gone down or had his legs shaken like he had earlier on. It was a terrible stoppage that really looked like the referee had no idea of what he was doing.
Following the stoppage, which saw Sean Gibbons give an expletive to the crowd regarding the decision, Takayama took his moment to play to the crowd, basking in the moment and the opportunity to embrace himself to fans who had been won over by his heart and determination.
This is probably Takayama's last bout and the reality is that he had his opportunity taken from him by a terrible decision from the referee. Regardless he got a chance to shine on the big stage and prove to a wider audience what he can do, and why he's been one of the true favourites of hardcore fans during his great career. If this is, as expected, his last bout we want to say thank "Lightning Kid" for giving us so many fantastic fights through the years.
As for Soto this was probably the nightmare situation for him. The result, a TKO9, does little to cover up a performance that will leave the other champion licking their lips. Soto looked predictable, very low in terms of output, and like he could be out worked, out boxed and even out fought by some of the others. The likely plan is for him to face WBA "super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi next but on this performance Kyoguchi would have a field day with him, Likewise Kenshiro Teraji would also be jumping at the chance to face Soto. That's not to say Soto's a bad fighter, but his flaws are evident and he's not yet the fighter he will become. In two or three years Soto will be a better fighter, but for now he's a champion with a lot to prove, and this performance will leave many with more questions than answers.
As for Cole the sooner he's out of boxing the better.
Talented, yet horribly frustrating seems to be the most perfectly apt description of Kyrgyzstan born Russian based Dmitry Bivol (18-0, 11) and he showed that again tonight with a clear decision win over Englishman Craig Richards (16-2-1, 9). A clear decision that saw a lack of urgency from Bivol, though out, and saw Richards refuse to gamble until far too late, until the bout had already been lost.
The bout, like so many of Bivol's recent bouts, lacked drama, lacked excitement and lacked positive talking points. It resembled more of a friendly spar, than a world title bout. It looked less like Bivol was defending the WBA Light Heavyweight "super" title and more like he was going through the motions, waiting to get an opponent who can drag the best from him. It also, for the most part, looked like Richards had too much respect for Bivol, and wasn't willing to gamble in what was a huge opportunity for him to put himself on the boxing map.
The early rounds sawa lot of back and forth jabs, from both men. The saw Bivol pressing forward, applying very good front foot pressure, but neither man did much. The back key difference between the two seemed to be that Bivol's jab was landing much more consistently, and the pressure was forcing Richards backwards.
In right 3 we saw Richards land a really good right hand, leaving Bivol with a red mark on his head. It was, by far, his best shot up to this point, and yet it proved to be for nought, with Bivol putting his foot on the gas, taking the play away and landing better shots. It was a short lived moment of success for Richards, but one that seemed to come with an almost immediate lesson.
Through the middle rounds we began to see Bivol move up a gear. He looked to be in control, out working Richards, who still seemed timid, but sadly Bivol's best work was in bursts, and with little urgency. He was happy to catch the eye with one or two moments, then control with his jab, taking as few risks as possible. The typical Bivol way. Sadly for Richards every time he did land something good, the play got taken away, Bivol put together something nice, then resumed control the battle of jabs.
By round 10 it seemed clear that Bivol had done more than enough to take home the decision, and he seemed to feel that was the case to as he did very, very, very little in the final 3 rounds. He cruised over the line, and it seemed like his lengthy lay off, of well over a year, was taking it's toll on his gas tank. As a result Richards managed to have good success in the final 2 rounds, as it finally seemed the British fighter realised he was in a world title fight and began to show some urgency of his own. It was, of course, too little too late.
After 12 rounds we went to the score cards, and it seemed a fairy easy one to score. A 8-4 or 9-3 type of fight. That was shown by the first judge, who had it 118-110, but then we saw the other judges turn in cards of 115-113 and 115-114, which make the bout look a lot closer than it was. Despite those two very questionable scores, they all favour Bivol who got the win, shook some ring rust and got the chance to bore the audience once again.
To his credit Bivol had looked sharp early on, but as the bout went on he never managed to move through the gears and he seemed to feel the tempo late on. There was his typical lack of urgency, no real fire power and once again no belief that he had to impress. He just knew he had to win, and didn't care about entertaining fans. Not for the first time he showed he was willing to frustrate fans with a clear win, and without taking risks. Something that will not win over critics, despite the victory.
For Richards he looked less out of his depth than we'd expected, though he never really seemed to be close to winning. He won a few rounds, but they seemed to come more from Bivol easing his foot off the gas, than actually being a threat to the champion.
For Bivol this was a chance to impress. A chance to make a mark. A chance to get fans back onside after some dreary recent performances. Instead he gave us another dull performance and another clear win, at least in the eyes of the vast majority. Sadly it's not the type of performances needed to help make fans clamour for the big bouts.
It's also worth noting that stylistically, this bout wasn't pretty. It was compelling, and interesting, and it lacked clinches. But it wasn't exciting. The styles of the two men, for much of the bout, neutralised each other, they matched up similarly, and sadly in this case, that meant we had two men who simply waited for the other too much, and looked happy to have elongated jab battles, rather than mix it up. A poor match up from a styles point of view, and not one many will go back and rewatch.
As for the judging, the judges who pulled cards of 115-113 and 115-114 from their arses need to go and see an optician straight after the show, and should be made to explain their scorecards.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.