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Oubaali vs Donaire preview: Big ambitions at bantamweight

Written By | May 29, 2021
Nordine Oubaali (left) and Nonito Donaire pose after making weight on Friday for their title fight in Carson. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing Oubaali vs Donaire

Nordine Oubaali (left) and Nonito Donaire pose after making weight on Friday for their title fight in Carson. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

SAN DIEGO, Calif., May 28, 2021 –  While boxing fans fixate on heavyweights and celebrity fights, they risk missing the biggest and best action in the sport found in the smaller weight divisions.

In 2019, four-division champion Nonito “Filipino Flash” Donaire and world bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue of Japan delivered an all-action Fight of the Year. Although Donaire lost, he left a positive impression after taking on one of the world’s best pound-for-pound talents, a man more than a decade younger who went home with a broken orbital bone thanks to Donaire’s power.

Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire gave their all and delivered the 2019 Fight of the Year. Photo: Naoki Fukuda

Now age 38, Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) shows no signs of slowing down. He challenges himself again Saturday against WBC Bantamweight World Champion Nordine Oubaali (17-0, 12 KOs) for another chance at winning a world title on Saturday on Showtime Boxing from Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The card starts at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT.

If Donaire wins, he will become the oldest man ever to win a bantamweight title. The accomplished former champion is more fired up than ever, thanks partly to the long break forced on him by the coronavirus pandemic. He says he’s hungrier than ever and has all the skills he needs along with valuable, hard-won experience.

Donaire: ‘Ain’t no stopping me’

Nonito Donaire is brimming over with confidence about his fight with Norman Oubaali on Saturday. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing Oubaali vs Donaire

Nonito Donaire is brimming over with confidence about his fight with Nordine Oubaali on Saturday. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

“It would be great to win the title at 38 years old and become the oldest champion at 118 pounds, but let’s keep it going. Let’s make it 40. Let’s make it 42. There ain’t no stopping me,” said Donaire, who credits his strong will and confidence for giving him the edge.

“The reason why I can compete with anybody is because I keep myself healthy, and I work hard. There’s nothing less than 100 percent every time I’m in that gym,” said Donaire. “I’m very hard-headed, so I don’t always do what people tell me to do. People can say that it’s their time. But I also have my time, and I’m always going to be the one who concedes their time or makes that decision. It’s still my time.”

Oubaali: ‘I want to win more’

Holding a championship belt gives you a little something extra. Nordine Oubaali is counting on it. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

Holding a championship belt gives you a little something extra. Nordine Oubaali is counting on it. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

Oubaail comes in as the champion, but the French fighter is not as well known in the United States. Saturday’s fight is his second stateside. He acknowledges Donaire’s accomplishments but believes he will retain his title.

“Yes, he’s had an outstanding career, and he has power, but I believe I have more power than him,” said Oubaali. “I know I have the power. He’s a good boxer, but I’m the world champion, and on Saturday, I’m going to show the world who is the best.

“The difference in the fight is going to be I want to win more. I want to continue to make history and stay as the world champion in this division. I know that it’s my time. I want this more than he does,” claimed Oubaali.

Listening to Donaire the last week, it’s doubtful Oubaali is hungrier than the veteran. It oozes out of his pores. “Oubaali is the champion for a reason. He’s been through it in terms of the amateurs and making it here,” said Donaire. “So we’re not underestimating any of that.

“But I’ve fought in this venue many times, and I always make magical fights in the first place. It’s always going to be magical with me. I’m a unicorn. The difference in this fight is going to be my hunger. He’s younger than me, but I have the hunger. We both have an objective, and that’s what’s going to make this a great fight.”

Without a doubt, fans will be treated to a barn burner. Both are all action, and at the infamous Carson War Grounds, we’re in for a StubHub special. Will it be the champion or the hungry veteran? Does Oubaali have the skills? Does Donaire still have the magic?

Prediction: Donaire will get it done

Nonito Donaire is fighting in his best division at bantamweight, with a resume that can’t be matched. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

In his last fight, Nonito Donaire came close to defeating one of the best boxers on the planet and gave him all he could handle. His resume dwarfs Oubaali’s 17 fights. While much is made of Donaire’s age, Oubaali is only four years younger at age 34. The French fighter didn’t turn pro until age 28 in 2014. Donaire had already won titles in four divisions by then.

As long as Donaire is as fit as he claims, he will give Oubaali all he can handle. There’s no reason not to believe him. After eight years fighting at super bantamweight and featherweight, Donaire has returned to the 118-pound division. At this weight, he’s only lost once to Inoue. It’s his best division, and despite being a betting underdog, Donaire’s confidence is undeniable. He’s never been a blowhard.

Oubaali won the vacant title over Rau’shee Warren, not the most formidable opponent in the division. He is technically sound, thanks to a long amateur career. But Ouballi hasn’t walked through the kind of fire Donaire will bring. Like his countryman Manny Pacquiao, Donaire still shows impressive speed. The Carson crowd will be squarely behind Donaire, and it will be a little extra wind when he needs it. Bet on the Filipino Flash to win the title in a barnburner decision victory.

Undercard action: Matias vs Jukembayev and Russell vs Santiago

Ouballi vs Donaire

Subriel Matias (left) might hand Batar Jukembayev his first loss. Photo: Sean Michael Ham, TGB Promotions

In the co-main event, Subriel Matias of Puerto Rico (16-1, 16 KOs) meets Batar Jukembayev of Kazahkstan (18-0, 14 KOs) in an IBF junior welterweight title eliminator. Count on another all-action fight in Carson between these offense-minded fighters.

“I will be his toughest test without question,” said Matias. “I believe him when he says that he has the tools to get a stoppage on Saturday. But it’s not just a matter of saying, on Saturday night, he has to prove it. If it’s going to come out of your mouth, then you have to prove it. We’re both knockout artists, and with what we’re looking at, this fight should not finish by a decision.”

His opponent played his cards a little closer. “We will see Saturday night whether it’s going to end in a knockout. I’ll show you what I’m made of, and you will all see,” said Jukembayev.

Matias is coming off an impressive victory over previously undefeated Malik Hawkins, and he has rebounded well from the unfortunate fight with Maxim Dadashev in 2019, which resulted in Dadashev’s death. Matias has both the skills and the mental toughness to win.

Ouballi vs Donaire

Gary Antuanne Russell hopes to keep his unbeaten streak going against the surprising Jovanie Santiago. Photo: Esther Lin, Showtime Boxing

The opening bout provides an intriguing matchup between undefeated Gary Antuanne Russell of Maryland (13-0, 13 KOs) and Jovanie Santiago of Puerto Rico (14-1-1. 10 KOs) in a 10 round super lightweight fight.

Russell is the younger brother of champion Gary Russell Junior, and both are trained by Gary Senior. He speaks softly but with plenty of swagger about his talents. “I’m a superstar,” declares Russell. “The light hasn’t been shining on me because there’s a lot of other things going on. Until then, you’re going to have to wait and see.” Russell promised blood, sweat, tears, and fireworks in Carson. “I have an opponent that’s not willing to lay down. If he’s not willing to, I must make him lay down.”

Santiago wasn’t well known until he faced Adrien Broner in February. Broner won by decision on the scorecards, but boxing fans felt Santiago did more than enough to win. Now Santiago has the opportunity to prove it wasn’t a mirage. Santiago fought Broner at welterweight, not his natural division. He says returning to junior lightweight is where he performs best.

“I just have to work round-by-round, throw punches and win one round at a time. After I beat Russell, everybody is going to be on my side,” said Santiago. “This time, I’m fighting at my actual weight. I feel strong. I’m coming to work round-by-round, and on Saturday, everybody will see what I’m all about.”

If Santiago wins, it will reinforce the thinking of observers who criticized the Broner scorecards. Russell may have the edge in power, but if Santiago can avoid getting caught, Russell might walk away with his first loss. It’s a close call. Add the Carson magic, and who knows what fans might see?

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.  

Copyright © 2021 by Falcon Valley Group



Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.