By Jake Donovan

Stiffer challenges lie ahead for Nordine Oubaali, though his team always sensed that heading into his first fight as a defending titlist.

The unbeaten two-time French Olympian successfully defended his bantamweight title for the first time after forcing Philippines’ Arthur Villanueva to retire in his corner in their ESPN+ title fight Saturday evening from Barys Arena in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Oubaali was afforded a showcase-level fight in his first fight since claiming the title in a thrilling 12-round win over Rau’Shee Warren this past January.  The vacant title fight was a rematch of sorts, with Oubaali ending Warren’s third Olympic run with a points win in the second round of the 2012 London Olympics.

His own second bid at scoring a medal would end one fight short, dropping a 12-round decision to eventual Bronze medalist and current featherweight prospect Michael Conlan. Designs on a third Olympic tour instead gave way to a pro career which has remained perfect through his debut in March 2014.

It remained as such on Saturday, as Oubaali comfortably boxed early on versus Villanueva (32-4-1, 18KOs), who entered his third major title bid. The 30-year old Filipino came up short in previous bids versus McJoe Arroyo and Zolani Tete, along with suffering his lone career stoppage at the hands of unbeaten former bantamweight titlist Luis Nery.

At least it was his only stoppage until Saturday.

Oubaali was steady with his jab and straight left hand, the latter rocking Villanueva on several occasions. The overmatched challenger was rocked in rounds three and four but managed to make it out of the round on each occasion.

It would remain the case through six rounds, though not before Villanueva was forced to taste the canvas in the bout’s lone knockdown. Oubaali intensified his attack, connecting with a straight left and a right hook to send his challenger to the canvas.

Villanueva was quick to rise to his feet, beating the count but spending the rest of the round fighting behind an earmuff defense. Oubaali remained on the attack, prepared to close the show in the rounds to come.

Referee Lupe Garcia would do the job for him. The third man approached the corner of Villanueva at the start of round seven, only to learn through the challenger’s handlers that he was done for the night.

The official time was 0:01 of round seven.

Oubaali advances to 16-0 (12KOs) with the win, which marked his second consecutive career fight outside of his native France. It was his third fight overall on the road, the first coming in his pro debut in China moure than five years ago.

Having gone the distance in his previous two road games, Oubaali now has his first stoppage win away from home—which he hopes will lead to even bigger adventures.

“My first title win was for the WBC belt,” noted Oubaali of his conquering of Warren earlier this year. “Now I want all the belts.”

Next up could be a title consolidation clash versus interim titlist Takuma Inoue. Such a fight would provide perfect segue to Oubaali’s ultimate target, a showdown with Takuma’s older brother and unbeaten three-division tltist Naoya Inoue, who will face Nonito Donaire in the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament finals later this year.

The winner of the tournament will be recognized as the best bantamweight in the world, although Saturday’s winner has a different perspective.

“Nordine Oubaali… number one in the world!” the defending titlist shouted after the win.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox