Nordine Oubaali has dropped out of a bantamweight world title defense against mandatory challenger and four-division champion Nonito Donaire because he is ill with Covid-19, not because he had issues securing a visa to travel from his native France to the United States.
BoxingScene.com reported Thursday that visa issues caused Oubaali to withdraw from the Donaire fight, but contracting COVID-19 has prevented him from training recently.
“Oubaali is positive for Covid-19. That is why he is out of the fight. It has nothing to do with his visa,” Bob Yalen, the CEO of Oubaali adviser MTK Global, told BoxingScene on Friday. “This is strictly for the health and safety of the boxer. He has the virus and he has not been able to train effectively for the past two weeks. Nordine was really excited about the fight. He was all fired up for the fight.”
With Oubaali sidelined, “The Filipino Flash” will instead face former bantamweight world titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, but on Dec. 19 rather than the original date of Dec. 12.
Yalen said the WBC would reclassify Oubaali as its bantamweight champion in-recess, paving the way for Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs) and Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs) to fight for the vacant 118-pound title. Yalen said that Oubaali would be allowed to take an interim bout once he is healthy enough to fight, after which he would assert his rights as the in-recess champion to fight the Donaire-Rodriguez winner.
“Because Oubaali can’t be ready to fight Donaire in time because of the virus, and because we didn’t want to hurt the show or anything, what we did was agreed to let Donaire fight Rodriguez for the vacant WBC title and agreed that Oubaali will fight the winner of that fight.”
Yalen said that about two weeks ago Oubaali began to feel weak and was having a hard time in his training sessions.
“His trainer and brother, Ali, noticed that Nordine felt weak one day and said, ‘Hey, let’s tone down training for the day,’ ” Yalen said. “But when it happened the next day and then three days in row they knew something was wrong. He got tested and it was positive for COVID.”
Yalen said Ali Oubaali previously had the coronavirus and had recovered, but that his brother needed to rest and was unable to go through full workouts even though he showed only mild symptoms.
“He’s just not at 100 percent and with the fight being less than six weeks away and not being able to train effectively we had to make this decision,” Yalen said. “We don’t know how long it will take for him to get back to 100 percent but he very much wants to fight Donaire or Rodriguez, whoever wins their fight.”
Oubaali (17-0, 12 KOs), a 34-year-old southpaw, was to have made his third defense against Donaire since winning the vacant WBC title by unanimous decision over Rau’shee Warren in January 2019 on the Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner undercard at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas’ Donaire, who turns 38 on Nov. 16, has won world titles in four weight classes – flyweight, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight – and is seeking to begin a third bantamweight title reign. He is coming off participating in the 2019 fight of the year last November, a hard-fought decision loss in a bantamweight unification fight with Naoya Inoue in the final of the World Boxing Super Series.
Rodriguez, 28, of Puerto Rico, won the vacant IBF bantamweight title by decision over Paul Butler in May 2018 in London and successfully defended it by split decision over Jason Moloney in the quarterfinals of the World Boxing Series in October 2018 before losing the belt by second-round knockout to Inoue in the semifinals in May 2019.
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.