LOS ANGELES -- While far too many boxers have been subject to the coronavirus, there have only been a small handful of fights where both participants have previously tested positive for the infectious disease.
An even rarer occurrence takes place this weekend, when a title fight features two such participants.
The two-week recovery process separately endured by Nordine Oubaali and Nonito Donaire was long enough to push their oft-postponed WBC bantamweight title fight well in 2021. The initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic ruined plans for their originally intended meeting last spring, with a rescheduled December 12 date ruined when both boxers produced positive tests for COVID-19.
Now fully rested and armed with a TV slot, Oubaali is finally set to move forward with his long-desired return to the United States for his next title defense.
“It’s been a long time that I’ve been waiting for this fight with Nonito Donaire,” Oubaali told BoxingScene.com. “I’m very excited for this next fight. I pray for this COVID to get better. It was two times in a row the fight was canceled. The pandemic was the cause of the cancellation the first time. Then I had it and Nonito Donaire had it right after me.
“Now the fight is back and we’re able to do it in front of fans.”
The bout takes place this Saturday, live on Showtime from Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The event marks just the second time as a pro that France’s Oubaali (17-0, 12KOs) will get to fight in the United States. The first such occasion marked the start of his title reign, outpointing longtime amateur rival and former bantamweight titlist Rau’Shee Warren—a three-time U.S. Olympian—in their Jan. 2019 vacant title fight.
Just two defenses have followed for Oubaali, a two-time Olympian for France who has yet to fight at home since becoming champ. The first successful defense came in July 2019, scoring a 6th round knockout of Arthur Villanueva in July 2019. Five months later, Oubaali defeated previously unbeaten Takuma Inoue on the same Nov. 2019 show that saw Naoya Inoue (Takuma’s older brother) outpoint Donaire (40-6, 26KOs) in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight final and WBA/IBF title unification clash.
Soon after the Nov. 2019 twinbill in Saitama, Japan, the WBC ordered a mandatory title fight between Oubaali and Donaire. Several delays pushed the fight back to last December, only for both sides to eventually withdraw due to COVID. The additional five-month delay was only due to waiting on an available date, as both boxers theoretically could have fought at the start of the year.
“It was only the two weeks that I had to recover from COVID,” explains Oubaali. “I didn’t have the symptoms. I was asymptomatic, I had to isolate for two weeks from my family. The more difficult part for me was not being able to train due to the lockdown. All of the gyms were closed. I could only train for one hour a day. I couldn’t spar.
“I feel good, I am at full strength and ready to resume my career. I pray that my opponent is in the same position. This is a fight I have been looking forward to for a very long time and I’m so happy to be back in the ring after being away all this time.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox