CARSON, Calif. – Nonito Donaire has stuck around long enough to shatter his own record.
The four-division champion and future Hall of Famer became a three-time bantamweight champion following a stunning 4th round knockout of France’s Nordine Oubaali. Donaire scored three knockdowns, the last of which prompted an immediate stoppage at 1:52 of round four to win the WBC bantamweight title in their Showtime main event Saturday evening at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
Both fighters were at the same disadvantage from an activity standpoint. Neither had been in the ring since separate fights on a Nov. 2019 show in Saitama, Japan. Oubaali defended his belt for the second time in a 12-round win over Takuma Inoue, whose older brother Naoya Inoue walked through hell to edge Donaire in their World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament finale.
From there came the WBC’s call to order the title fight, only to suffer two separate COVID-related postponements before including both boxers testing positive for the infectious disease prior finally meeting in the ring on Saturday.
Oubaali boasted a world of amateur experience, including two tours in the Olympics for his native France. However, he entered just his 18th pro fight, whereas Donaire was in a title fight for the 20th time in his storybook career.
“That’s a lot of damn title fights,” Donaire exclaimed at the post-fight press conference following the historic win.
Oubaali came out firing his right jab out of the southpaw stance to begin the fight. Donaire looked to put his height and reach advantage to use, stretching out his left to measure up the defending titlist though spending most of the round playing defense and slipping incoming left hands.
The tactical battle continued in round two. Donaire had brief success with his right hand, early in the round and again in the closing seconds. Oubaali used constant lateral movement to keep Donaire on his toes.
Action picked up at the start of round three. Donaire aimed a right hand at Oubaali’s midsection, only to get caught with an overhand left in return. Donaire came back to land a right hand, only for Oubaali to open up his attack midway through the round. Donaire came roaring back late in the round, cracking Oubaali with a left hook for the bout’s first knockdown.
Oubaali barely beat the count and sought to rally back. It proved to be his undoing as Donaire floored the defending champ right at the bell. Referee Jack Reiss had to clear the ring in order to issue his count, with Oubaali making it to his feet but still buzzed and in desperate need of the one-minute rest period to get himself right.
Donaire sensed history in the making as he went on the attack in round four.
“I knew at the end of the third round that he was hurt,” Donaire told BoxingScene.com. “I knew it because my hands hurt from it. But I saw that he was there to be knocked out and I went for it. I told my team before the fight that he wasn’t going to last beyond the sixth round. It was all about coming in with that killer instinct.”
Oubaali was still trying to regain his composure but quickly found himself defenseless. Donaire scored a third knockdown, launching a left uppercut along the ropes as Oubaali collapsed to the canvas. Reiss didn’t bother with a count, immediately waving off the count and sending the pro-Donaire crowd into a frenzy.
“The king has returned,” exclaimed Donaire, who managed to break his own record as the oldest fighter in history to win a bantamweight the title at age 38. Donaire (41-6, 27KOs) set the record at the start of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament, ending Ryan Burnett’s reign in Nov. 2018, just shy of his 36th birthday.
Donaire accomplished his mission by landing 74-of-183 total punches (40%), including 68-of-134 power punches (51%).
Oubaali suffers his first career defeat, falling to 17-1 (12KOs) with the loss. His two-plus year title reign comes to a close as he sought to make his third title defense. The 34-year-old was 33-of-144 (23%) in total punches, landing just 18-of-89 power shots (20%) in the losing effort.
Donaire now begins a third title reign, while claiming a major title in a third decade. The ageless Fil-Am superstar from San Leandro, California claimed his first belt nearly 14 years ago after unseating flyweight king Vic Darchinyan. From there came title wins at bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight, along with a 2012 Fighter of the Year run where he became lineal champion.
The quest now is to achieve one of the few things he has yet to accomplish in his incredible career—undisputed championship status at his most fitting weight. On a slate is a rematch with WBA/IBF champ Naoya Inoue. The two collided in Nov. 2019, with Inoue winning a 12-round decision though fighting through a broken orbital bone in the 2019 Fight of the Year.
“It’s why I wanted this fight. That’s my next goal,” insists Donaire, who is now 16-4 in major title fights.
The Inoue-Donaire fight came about thanks to the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament. The politics of the sport could make things more difficult in piecing together a rematch. Donaire is now with Richard Schaefer’s Ringstar Sports, while Inoue is with Top Rank and Teiken Promotions.
A more direct path to at least unification could come with the winner of the August 14 clash between WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero and former 122-pound king Guillermo Rigondeaux.
“This is all about checking off all of the boxes,” notes Donaire. “Beat Oubaali, done. Get the rematch with Inoue, check that one off. Get that WBO belt, mission accomplished. It doesn’t matter what order it happens. The goal is to become undisputed champion.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox