By Jake Donovan
An injury suffered by his last opponent during their fight helped advance Nonito Donaire to the World Boxing Super Series semifinals.
A pre-fight injury suffered by his next scheduled opponent could give him either a relatively clear path to the finals or yet another delay in a tournament littered with issues.
Event handlers are currently scrambling for a contingency plan for the co-feature attraction to Saturday’s show at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La. Donaire was due to appear in a bantamweight title unification clash with Zolani Tete, who reportedly suffering a shoulder injury and is no longer able to fight this weekend.
Two sources involved in the WBSS card have confirmed Tete’s injury to BoxingScene.com, with the development first reported by Fox Sports boxing insider Mike Coppinger. Messages left with representatives for Donaire and Tete have not yet been returned.
The show’s main event between New Orleans’ Regis Prograis and unbeaten 140-pound titlist Kiryl Relikh remains intact. The chief support remains in flux, with event handlers currently reaching out to tournament alternate Stephon Young—who is slated to face Daniel Lozano on the undercard—to replace the injured Tete, as confirmed to BoxingScene.com by Kalle Sauerland, chief boxing officer for tournament presenter Comosa AG.
Donaire (39-5, 25KOs) and Tete both advanced to the semifinals by very different means in separate quarterfinals wins last fall. Donaire claimed his second major bantamweight title following a 4th round injury stoppage of exiting WBA titlist Ryan Burnett, who suffered a back injury towards the end of round four and was forced to retire in between rounds of their title last October in Glasgow, Scotland.
The win came three weeks prior to Tete (28-3, 21KOs) advancing to the semifinals following a 12-round win over 2016 Olympic Silver medalist Mikhail Aloyan in his opponent’s native Russia last October. With the win came Tete’s third defense of the WBO bantamweight title he claimed two years ago, the anniversary of that win coming earlier this week.
However the milestone will be celebrated, it will no longer come in the ring—and for Tete, it could also mean an unfortunate exit from the tournament altogether.
Plans remain very up in the air at the moment, with the primary objective to keep Donaire on Saturday’s show.
Tournament alternate Young currently scheduled to appear on the undercard, although in a replacement fight of his own. The Miami-based contender was due to face Nikolay Potapov, who was pulled from the card—ironically, as he remains a top contender for Tete’s WBO title—with Young currently scheduled to face Lozano, a fringe contender from central Florida.
Young’s team has not yet been approached with a formal offer as this goes to publish.
Should a Donaire-Young pairing not materialize, the backup plan would be to reschedule the originally planned unification clash once Tete is healthy. The issue there would be for such a fight to find a home, as the second round of the WBSS tournament has already been delayed by at three months after running into several financial and legal issues between organizers and participants.
Several boxers complained of not being paid in full—and in a couple of cases, at all—following their fights in the quarterfinal round for WBSS season two. Most notable among the lot was unbeaten 140-pound titlist Ivan Baranchyk, whose management team threatened to pull its fighter from a semifinals clash with Scotland’s Josh Taylor.
The matter was only recently resolved, as Baranchyk has agreed to go through with the May 18 bout in the first defese of the title he won in a gruesome stoppage win over Anthony Yigti last October. The same show also saw divisional top-seeded Prograis advance to the semifinals in a 12-round win over former 135-pound titlist Terry Flanagan.
Prograis was presented with the opportunity to withdraw from the tournament as well, but chose to wait out the drama as his intention remains to fight for the two 140-pound titles available between the semifinals and finals.
No such drama came of the bantamweight semifinalists, at least not to the degree of threatening to pull out of the tournament. Instead, the bracket was hit with the same dilemma which plagued the semifinals and finals in season one.
Jurgen Braehmer suffered an injury shortly before his scheduled super middleweight semifinals clash with Callum Smith in Germany. Smith would instead face and defeat tournament alternate Nieky Holzken, who was due to appear on the undercard before accepting assignment on just four days notice.
Smith went on to win the super middleweight bracket, but with the moment delayed by nearly four months when countryman George Groves suffered an injury in his 12-round semifinals win over Chris Eubank Jr.
The cruiserweight finals was also pushed back by more than two months. The delay came about after eventual tournament winner Oleksandr Usyk suffered an elbow injury, thus pushing back his planned World cruiserweight championship with Murat Gassiev from May to late June. Usyk pitched a near-shutout in unifying all of the major cruiserweight titles and went on to be hailed 2018 Fighter of the Year.
The same reality existed for the stacked bantamweight bracket, which would have three of the four major titles unified by tournament end. For now, though, there remains the lingering issue of just getting past the semifinals.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox