MANILA, Philippines — Former IBF lightflyweight and flyweight champion Johnriel Casimero of Ormoc City takes on Tijuana’s Ricardo Espinoza in a scheduled 12-round bout for the interim WBO bantamweight crown at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, this morning (Manila time) but the focus of interest is in the main event where two-time world titlist Danny Garcia battles Adrian Granados to prove his worth as a prospective Manny Pacquiao opponent.
Las Vegas international matchmaker Sean Gibbons said it’s “all or nothing” for Casimero whose career has been stalled by weight, attitude and managerial issues. Casimero’s lack of discipline was evident when he was stripped of the IBF 108-pound title on the scales for weighing 5 3/4 pounds over the limit in a defense against Mauricio Fuentes in Cebu City in 2014. The fight went on as scheduled with the condition that if Fuentes won, he would become the new champion but if Casimero won, the throne would be declared vacant. As it turned out, Casimero knocked out Fuentes in one round.
In 2017, Casimero was a win away from fighting for the IBF superflyweight title and faced countryman Jonas Sultan in an eliminator. Casimero took Sultan lightly, didn’t train with conviction and was outworked in losing a decision. Since the Sultan loss, Casimero has scored two straight KO wins, weighing a hefty 125 3/4 in disposing of Mexico’s Jose Pech in the second round in Tijuana last July and scaling 118 in halting Japan’s Kenya Yamashita in six rounds at the SM City North EDSA Skydome last February.
Against Espinoza, Casimero can’t afford to take it easy. Casimero, 30, is known as a road warrior with spectacular wins in Argentina twice, Mexico thrice, Panama once and London once. Three of his victims were previously unbeaten Charlie Edwards, Amnat Ruenroeng and Pedro Guevara. No doubt, he has the skills of an outstanding talent. But his history of problems puts a question mark on whether he’ll be ready for a tough customer like Espinoza.
“I have proven that I am ready for the moment,” said Espinoza whose record is 23-2, with 20 KOs, including five in the first round compared to Casimero’s slate of 26-4, with 17 KOs. “Tijuana will have a new world champion.” Espinoza’s promoter Tutico Zabala said, “We are proud of Espinoza’s progress up to date … he has shown he belongs at the top of the division … we are sure of Espinoza’s ability and experience in title fights to bring him a victory and the WBO title.”
Espinoza, 21, has won his last 13 fights, 10 by KO and is coming off a 10th round stoppage of two-time world title challenger Ricardo Nunez of Panama last March. The downside is of his 23 wins, 14 were over fighters with losing records, including German Cota (0-33-3), Cristian Vizcarra (3-18-1), Carlos Lopez (1-13-1) and Jorge Lopez (6-17-1). Feeding Espinoza a steady diet of patsies will work against him.
WBO championship committee chairman Luis Batista Salas ruled last Tuesday that the fight would be for the interim WBO bantamweight crown. The current WBO titlist Zolani Tete of South Africa is involved in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) unification process and will meet “super” WBA counterpart Nonito Donaire, Jr. in Louisiana on April 27 with the winner advancing to take on the survivor of the May 18 duel between IBF ruler Emmanuel Rodriguez of Puerto Rico and “regular” WBA beltholder Naoya Inoue of Japan in Glasgow. WBC champion Nordine Oubaali is not involved in the WBSS tournament.
Salas said the WBSS unification process will end late this year. “The WBO championship committee recognizes the importance of allowing their champions the discretion to participate in activities they may deem as of career importance (but) the committee must also be fair to all of its rated contenders,” he said. “In the best interest of all our classified bantamweight contenders and to benefit the sport of boxing as a whole, the WBO interim bantamweight championship is approved.”
Gibbons, who will be at ringside for the fight, said former WBC lightflyweight champion Rodel Mayol will work Casimero’s corner. “He’s in great hands,” said Gibbons, now acting as Casimero’s manager. “Casimero arrived in L. A. last Thursday and has worked the week with Rodel. Keeping him company in L. A. are Jhack Tepora and Marlon Tapales who are also trained by Rodel. They all live in one house in L. A. This is the opportunity I bring to our Filipino fighters.”
Espinoza is rated No. 1 by the WBO and Casimero, No 6. The WBO decided to sanction an interim fight because Espinoza would’ve had to wait until next year for his mandatory title shot with Tete involved in the WBSS. One other Filipino is in the WBO’s top 10 bantamweight ratings – No. 8 Arthur Villanueva. In the IBF, the Filipinos in the top 10 bantamweight ratings are No. 1 Michael Dasmarinas, No. 8 Kenny Demecillo and No. 10 Ben Manangquil.
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