Johnriel Casimero is boxing’s ultimate road warrior
MANILA, Philippines – Many fighters may loathe the idea of traveling to their opponents’ hometowns to defend a world title. For Johnriel Casimero, that’s become an accepted fact of life. The IBF flyweight titleholder has held two titles in as many weight classes and, since reaching the world stage in 2009, has fought nine of his 12 bouts outside of his home country of the Philippines.
He’s faced a post-fight riot in Argentina, been overcome by the altitude in South Africa and was repeatedly body-slammed in Thailand. Of all that, there’s only one thing he misses about a hometown title defense.
“The food is not so good abroad. It’s better here,” said Casimero (22-3, 14 knockouts).
Casimero will fight in his ninth different country on Saturday when he defends his title against upstart prospect Charlie Edwards at the O2 Arena in Londonin support of Gennady Golovkin vs. Kell Brook. The fight won’t be a part of the HBO broadcast and Casimero’s own handlers aren’t sure if the fight will be televised back home in the Philippines. (His title-winning fourth round knockout of Amnat Ruenroeng in May wasn’t televised either.)
Despite traveling across the world, Casimero’s team isn’t concerned about jet lag. They say Casimero has been staying in the hotel, except for press engagements, and resting otherwise.
“Casimero has a lot of experience to fight in other countries. He’s fought in Panama, Argentina, Mexico, Thailand, China, South Africa. I think Casimero fights better in other countries,” claims trainer Jun Agrabio. Casimero has also fought in Nicaragua and, of course, the Philippines.
The 26-year-old from Ormoc City, Philippines says he is in better shape for this fight against Edwards (8-0, 3 KOs), than he was for his knockout of Ruenroeng, which came 11 months after a bitter decision loss, which was marred by roughhousing and body slams by Ruenroeng. When Casimero finally got his shot, he scored two knockdowns in the fourth round, standing over the previously unbeaten Thai to taunt him as he took his revenge.
Aldrin Van Santa Ana, who handles Casimero’s dieting and supplements, plus some conditioning work, says Casimero had looked in top form during sparring, including stopping tough featherweight Edward Mansito (14-4-2, 8 KOs) during one session.
“Casimero’s very prepared, prepared more than ever. We had a good training session for the past few weeks. Charlie should be prepared for the hard shots that’s coming to him,” said Santa Ana.
Edwards, 23, has been a pro for less than two years and has gone the 10-round distance twice but is fighting in his first 12-round fight. The 2011 European Championships bronze medalist is stepping way up in competition but Casimero’s promoter Sammy Gello-ani has cautioned his fighter against taking his opponent lightly, reminding him that Casimero had just 13 fights under his belt when he knocked out the more-experienced Cesar Canchila in 2009 to win the interim WBO 108-pound title.
“Initially the first impression I had noticed from Johnriel is, ‘Oh, only eight fights?’ The boy is confident to himself but I told him, ‘You became a champion at 13 (fights) also, so you cannot discount the possibility that the guy has something to offer. Especially the fight is in his backyard,’” said Gello-ani.
“I will really show my power and my abilities. There really is going to be a knockout,” added Casimero.
Casimero and company are hoping to get past Edwards and then go for another optional defense in November or December before moving up to 115 pounds to seek a fight against a fighter actually on the HBO broadcast: Roman Gonzalez, THE RING magazine flyweight champion and pound-for-pound king, who is stepping up to fight Carlos Cuadras for the WBC junior bantamweight title in Los Angeles.
“I want to fight Roman Gonzalez,” said Casimero. “After my fight if I win, I [want to] fight Chocolatito,” said Casimero.
“He wanted Gonzalez because Gonzalez will fight toe-to-toe. That’s what he wants; a fighter who will really stay and get inside, that’s what he prefers,” said Gello-ani.
But before looking to the future, Casimero must handle business now. That’s a point of which Gello-ani doesn’t want Casimero to lose sight.
“I told him don’t be too confident because, when you are on top of the ring, anything can happen. We are looking into big fights later after this,” said Gello-ani.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to THE RING magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.
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