Emmanuel Rodriguez will face a Filipino fighter December 19 after all.
Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime announced Friday that Puerto Rico’s Rodriguez and the Philippines’ Reymart Gaballo will square off in the main event of the network’s tripleheader a week from Saturday night. The WBC has agreed to sanction the 12-round, 118-pound battle between Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs) and Gaballo (23-0, 20 KOs) as a fight for its interim bantamweight world championship at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Gaballo replaced Nonito Donaire as Rodriguez’s opponent because “The Filipino Flash” tested positive for COVID-19 recently. BoxingScene.com first reported Wednesday that Donaire’s diagnosis forced him to withdraw from his fight versus Rodriguez and that Gaballo was in line to replace him.
Gaballo is ranked 26th in the WBC’s most recent ratings. Though contenders usually must be ranked within the top 15 to fight for a world title, the WBC has granted Gaballo an exception, presumably because he is an undefeated, formidable replacement for Donaire, particularly on such short notice.
The 24-year-old Gaballo also is the WBA’s number one contender for its “super” bantamweight champion, Japan’s Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17 KOs).
The left-handed Gaballo was supposed to face Chile’s Jose Velasquez (28-6-2, 19 KOs) in the opener of Showtime’s tripleheader December 19. A 10-round bout between bantamweight prospect Gary Antonio Russell (17-0, 12 KOs), of Capitol Heights, Maryland, and Dominican contender Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs), former WBA 118-pound champion, now will open Showtime’s telecast.
The second fight of Showtime’s three-bout broadcast remains the same – Philadelphia-based welterweight Jaron Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) against South Africa’s Chris van Heerden (28-2-1, 12 KOs) in a 10-rounder. Ennis initially was scheduled to oppose Puerto Rican veteran Thomas Dulorme, but van Heerden replaced Dulorme (25-4-1, 16 KOs) last week, once Dulorme tested positive for COVID-19.
Rodriguez replaced Nordine Oubaali, Donaire’s original opponent, last month because the undefeated French southpaw contracted COVID-19 and was forced to temporarily stop training.
Las Vegas’ Donaire (40-6, 26 KOs), who is the mandatory challenger for Oubaali’s WBC 118-pound championship, and Rodriguez were supposed to fight for the WBC bantamweight championship for which Rodriguez and Gaballo now will compete. The WBC designated Oubaali its champion in recess once he pulled out of the Donaire fight and ordered Oubaali to either make an optional title defense by February or face the Donaire-Rodriguez winner in his next fight.
If Oubaali would’ve beaten an optional opponent by the WBC’s February deadline, he would’ve had to face the Donaire-Rodriguez winner in his following fight to fulfill his mandatory obligation. Rodriguez, a former IBF bantamweight champ, is the WBC’s fourth-ranked bantamweight, three spots beneath the number one-rated Donaire.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.