Derek Bonnett recounts the winding road that has led John Riel Casimero to become one of his country’s few three-weight world champions
John Riel Casimero is boxing’s latest three-division world champion. The Filipino boxer, a professional since 2007, hasn’t taken the easiest road not has he enjoyed the luxury of being a heavy favourite. However, one thing Casimero has shown is he can win when the chips are down as he did with a third-round stoppage of Zolani Tete to capture the WBO bantamweight title on Saturday in Birmingham. He won two of his three belts on the road as a clear underdog and he won them with big knockouts.
Casimero, 30, first caught the attention of fans outside of the Philippines with a 2009 stoppage of Cesar Canchila. Canchila had recently split two fights with Mexican knockout artist Giovani Segura and both were in line for a world title fight. Casimero won their interim light-flyweight bout after dropping Canchila in round eight and twice in round 11 for the stoppage. Surprisingly, Casimero was still trailing on the official scorecards.
As Casimero caught fire, his rise was quickly extinguished after dropping a split decision to future world champion Ramon Garcia Hirales. A rise in weight followed and an immediate title shot at flyweight against Moruti Mthalane, who was coming off a KO victory over Zolani Tete in 2010. Casimero also was stopped in five rounds. The contender now resembled a flash in the pan, but this would surely not be the last the boxing world heard of John Riel Casimero.
Casimero picked up an interim belt at light-flyweight with a foul-filled 10th-round stoppage of Luis Alberto Lazarte in 2012. The Pinoy fighter affirmed himself as the full champion next time out with a hard-fought split decision over future world champion Pedro Guevara. Casimero dropped Guevara in the first round and that proved the difference on one card, affording him the victory. Casimero defended the title twice before losing the strap on the scales in 2014. He faced Mauricio Fuentes still and won by first-round KO, but could not regain the title due to his failure to make weight.
Casimero earned a shot at Amnat Ruenroeng’s flyweight belt in 2015, but found himself in one of the most foul-filled world title bouts since, well, his own fight with Lazarte. Referee Larry Doggett allowed the champion to repeatedly foul the challenger and throw him to the canvas. Casimero was dropped twice, but was never permitted to compete on an even playing field and lost a unanimous decision. A rematch followed almost a year later with Casimero a big underdog. This time, Casimero had a competent referee in Tony Weeks and took the title by fourth-round KO after dropping the Thai champion twice. Casimero defended once, stopping future champion Charlie Edwards in the 10th round.
Casimero vacated the title and moved up in weight fighting both as a super-flyweight and bantamweight. He defeated some usable veterans and dropped a decision to Jonas Sultan in a bout that seems crucial to many underestimating Casimero further.
November 30 may prove to be the crowning achievement of Casimero’s 29-4 (20) career. After two slow frames against reigning titlist Zolani Tete, Casimero saw all he needed and shocked the world yet again. Two right hands to the temple of the South African as he tried to turn away from the challenger had him wobbled and then down. Casimero stepped on the gas and unloaded his punches, but most were only grazing. The pressure kept Tete unsteady though and soon he was face down on the canvas for another ruled knockdown. Casimero resumed the same activity once Tete rose, but referee Steve Gray quickly stepped in. Tete, 31, fell to 28-4 (21).
Prior to the contest, the talk centered around Tete and how he wanted to unify with Naoya Inoue. Tete’s thinking too far ahead proved that the most dangerous opponent is the one you should be focused on. Casimero, now a titlist at 108, 112, and 118lbs, has that option in front of him or a glorious all-Filipino showdown with Nonito Donaire.