By Jake Donovan

Nordine Oubaali didn’t even know who he was next fighting as recent as a month ago, but has remained the consummate professional ahead of his first career title defense.

The recently crowned bantamweight title claimant endures the challenge of Philippines’ Arthur Villanueva this Saturday, live on ESPN+ from Barys Arena in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. The bout comes with his World Boxing Council (WBC) title at stake, which mandates participants to comply with the sanctioning body’s Weight Management program which require safety weight checks 30, 14 and seven days from fight night.

At the seven-day mark, Oubaali was almost within fighting weight as he checked in at 119.9 pounds. Villanueva was slightly heavier but at 121 pounds still within the tolerable limit.

Boxers cannot weight more than 3% above the contracted weight seven days out from fight night. The maximum limit either could weigh at this point was 122 pounds.

“I’m expecting this to be a huge night of boxing,” notes Oubaali, a two-time Olympian from France whom outpointed three-time U.S. Olympian and former bantamweight titlist Rau’Shee Warren to win the vacant title this past January in Las Vegas. “There’ll be 10,000 people in the venue so it’s a beautiful night for boxing and for Kazakhstan.”

Oubaali has been considerably lighter than Villanueva every step of the way, in fact barely weighing 5% above the 118-pound divisional limit 30 days out when combatants are permitted to weigh as heavy as 10% above the contracted mark. The French southpaw—who turns 33 in August—weighed just 123.4 pounds one month ago, and was a fit and trim 120.8 pounds at the 14-day mark.

Villanueva (32-3-1, 18KOs) takes his third swing at a major title, accepting this opportunity on just over one month’s notice. Despite taking the late assignment, the 30-year old was still able to satisfy all weight checks, coming at the maximum allowable limit of 130 pounds 30 days out, and 123.5 pounds at the 14-day weight check.

All three losses for Villanueva have come versus championship-level competition.  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.

One more win was managed following the loss to Tete before running into former bantamweight titlist Luis Nery, whom starched the Filipino in six rounds for his lone career stoppage defeat. He’s since scored a win and a draw in 2018, entering Saturday’s contest having not fought in more than seven months but still brimming with confidence.

“I’m expecting a very tough fight just like my previous world title fights,” notes Villanueva. “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.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: JakeNDaBox