The final Showtime boxing event of 2020 has a new date along with its entire lineup taking new shape from original form.
Former four-division titlist Nonito Donaire aims for his third bantamweight reign as the legendary Fil-Am boxer faces Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez atop a Showtime tripleheader, which airs live December 19 from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The bout is the first for both boxers since their respective runs in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) bantamweight tournament in 2019.
Donaire was due to challenge France’s Nordine Oubaali, a two-time Olympian and reigning bantamweight titlist in a bout that was first announced this past July with Showtime’s initial year-end rollout. Oubaali was forced to withdraw from the contest due to testing positive for COVID-19.
“The preparation for me to get back in the ring has been a rollercoaster just like everyone else," said Donaire, who fights for the first time since a narrow 12-round loss to pound-for-pound entrant Naoya Inoue in the WBSS bantamweight finale last November. "I wish Oubaali a speedy recovery, and I'm excited that Emmanuel Rodriguez wanted this fight. I always come to bring a fight and entertain.”
The show also features red-hot rising welterweight Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis, who gets a replacement opponent of his own. The unbeaten contender from Philadelphia will face South Africa’s Chris van Heerden, who accepted the fight on short notice after originally scheduled Thomas Dulorme also tested positive for COVID-19 and was removed from the show.
Rounding out the tripleheader, Philippines’ Reymart Gaballo faces Chile’s Jose Velasquez in an interim bantamweight title fight.
Donaire (40-6, 26KOs) has won titles at flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight over the course of his Hall of Fame level career. Such a fight can still take place in 2021, though requiring Donaire win here after adjust his training camp to adapt to his new foe.
A fight with Oubaali was ordered shortly after both boxers fought on the same show last November 9 in Saitama, Japan. Oubaali turned away the challenge of Takuma Inoue, scoring a 12-round decision over Naoya’s younger brother in a bout many figured to be far more competitive than the main event. Most experts had the elder Inoue blowing past Donaire, though their slugfest was anything but a walk in the park.
Despite the loss, Donaire drew rave reviews for his performance. The bout was hailed by several outlets along with the Boxing Writers Association of America as the 2019 Fight of the Year.
“In my last fight, everyone counted me out. But I showed my heart and determination and that I can still stand up against the sport's best. I'm always working on ways to keep my body in shape, my reflexes on point and power still there. I can't wait to show what else I can do in the ring on December 19."
A second bantamweight title reign came with Donaire’s 4th round injury stoppage of Ryan Burnett in their November 2018 WBSS quarterfinal clash, with his sights now set on a hat trick at the weight.
The same tournament saw Rodriguez (19-1, 12KOs) suffer his lone career defeat, a 2nd round stoppage to Inoue last May in Glasgow, Scotland. The loss also ended a title reign which began on the road with a 12-round shutout of Paul Butler in May 2018. Five month later, Rodriguez escaped with a 12-round split decision win over top bantamweight contender and then-unbeaten Jason Moloney before succumbing to Inoue in the WBSS semifinals.
A weight discrepancy saw Rodriguez lose out on a chance to face former titlist Luis Nery last November, contributing to what will amount to a 19-month layoff come opening bell. Rodriguez was always due to appear on this show, assigned as an alternate in the event that either main event participant couldn’t proceed with the bout. With that, the 28-year old from Manati, P.R. ultimately saved the show.
“This is a dream come true to fight a legendary fighter like Nonito Donaire,” said Rodriguez. “It will be a great challenge, but I’ve worked too hard and put in too much time in the gym to allow myself to lose this fight on December 19.”
Showtime viewers will also get another look in the continued development of one of the sport’s most promising young talents.
Philadelphia’s Ennis (26-0, 24KOs) saw a chunk of his career stalled due to ongoing promotional issues which remain unresolved in court. The dilemma has proven far more challenging than any test he’s yet faced in the ring, with Ennis riding a 16-fight knockout streak. The last five have made its way to a Showtime platform in some capacity, including a 6th round knockout of Juan Carlos Abreu in this very venue this past September.
“I can’t wait to get in there to make a big statement,” said Ennis of fighting for the third time in 2020 and for the fifth time in the past 16 months. “I am ready to show out and put on a crushing performance. This is one step closer to the bigger names and my world title shot.”
A stiff test was expected in Dulorme, a former title challenger who was expected to at least go rounds if not present serious issues. Ennis will now have to solve the crafty style of van Heerden (28-2-1, 12KOs), a 33-year old southpaw from Johannesburg, South Africa who is now based in Santa Monica, California.
“Sometimes it can take years for that one moment to come around and change your life,” said Van Heerden of the late-assigned opportunity. “I have waited seven years for this opportunity to do my part and inspire my country of South Africa. Even with three weeks’ notice and coming in as the underdog, I am taking advantage of the opportunity that has been placed in front of me in these challenging times.
“I'm the veteran and will use my experience to win this fight. Fighters fight. We need to be prepared to step in when the opportunity presents itself and seize the moment. I’ll be ready on December 19.”
Van Heerden has won five straight since an 8th round stoppage loss in September 2015 to Errol Spence Jr., a prospect at the time who has since emerged as the best welterweight in the world and a unified titlist.
Gaballo (23-0, 20KOs) was once linked to a secondary bantamweight title fight with former champ Juan Carlos Payano earlier this summer, though those plans failed to materialize. Instead, he will end a year-long layoff with a shot at the same title in the opening bout of this show.
“I’m very excited for this fight,” said Gaballo, who has scored four straight knockouts. “I can’t wait to step into the ring again. I’ve been training in Miami since March and I’m planning to take advantage of this opportunity.
“I have a very tough opponent, but I’m going to show everyone what I can do and make sure I’m victorious.”
Velasquez (28-6-2, 19 KOs) carries a deceptive record, having won 20 straight since stumbling out to an 8-6-2 career start. The 31-year old from Quellon, Chile scored his most impressive win to date in his lone other U.S. appearance, a come-from-behind 9th round knockout of then-unbeaten bantamweight prospect Melvin Lopez last October in Miami.
“This is one of the best training camps I've ever had," said Velasquez, who has since added a stay-busy win this past January in his Quellon hometown. “I've been training in Miami with my brother and trainer Pedro Velasquez and everything has been perfect. I'm facing a hard puncher who's going to fight hard. He's going to come forward and be aggressive, and that's exactly how I like to fight. It's going to be a great war for the fans.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox