By Jake Donovan

Nordine Oubaali now has a title challenger for which to truly prepare.

The two-time Olympian from France is set for the first defense of his bantamweight title, as he will face Philippines’ Arthur Villanueva. The bout was confirmed by Oubaali’s MTK Global management team, as part of a previously announced July 6 ESPN+ show at Barys Arena in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

 “I’m expecting this to be a huge night of boxing. There’ll be 10,000 people in the venue so it’s a beautiful night for boxing and for Kazakhsta,” noted Oubaali (15-0, 11KOs) who claimed the 118-pound strap he acquired in a 12-round win over USA’s three-time Olympian and former champ Rau’Shee Warren this past January in Las Vegas. “The fans can expect great entertainment because this collision with Villanueva has all the ingredients to be a really explosive fight.”

The 32-year old southpaw will eventually be due to face undefeated interim titlist Takuma Inoue later this year, but was first granted a voluntary defense. Inoue—whose older brother Naoya is a three-division and reigning bantamweight titlist and pound-for-pound entrant—is also expected to take an optional fight before pursuing a full title shot later this year.

Oubaali is not at all looking past his recently named challenger in Villanueva (32-3-1, 18KOs), whose lone career losses have come against championship-level competition.

The 30-year old Filipino native has come up short in two separate title bids spanning two weight divisions. He dropped a technical decision to Puerto Rico’s 2008 Olympian McJoe Arroyo in a July 2015 vacant 115-pound title fight, winning three straight before falling well short versus still-reigning bantamweight titlist Zolani Tete in April 2017.

His lone other loss came at the lethal hands of then-bantamweight titlist Luis Nery in Nov. 2017, albeit in a non-title fight. Villanueva still fought as if a championship was at stake, scoring a surprise knockdown in round four before succumbing in six rounds for the lone stoppage loss of his career.

Still, it’s the experience he takes from those fights that has him feeling like the third title fight challenge will be a charm.

“I’m expecting a very tough fight just like my previous world title fights,” notes Villanueva, who comes in on the heels of a 10-round draw versus countryman Cecil Demecillo last November. “I learned a lot from fights like the Tete fight, where I went the distance.

“Even though I wasn’t successful in winning the belt that time, I picked up things I can use against Oubaali.”

The bout will stream live on ESPN+, along with showcase bouts featuring unbeaten local heroes Zhankosh Turarov (22-0, 15KOs) and Sultan Zaurbek (7-0, 5KOs).

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox