Johnriel Casimero vs. Jonas Sultan: Making the case for all-Filipino fights
MANILA, Philippines – It’s a rarity these days when a boxing fight of any significance takes place between two Filipinos. The reasons why are varied, beginning with the lack of television funding domestically for the sport and the preference of some fans and TV networks to root for their countrymen against foreign opponents. (Sometimes defined as nationalism though, viewed through the context of denying someone an opportunity on the grounds that they are from the same country, it is the exact opposite.)
But that’s exactly what will take place this Saturday when former two-division champion Johnriel Casimero faces Jonas Sultan at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City, Philippines.
The fight is getting less attention than the main event, which is Milan Melindo’s IBF junior flyweight title defense against Hekkie Budler, but there’s a historic angle to this bout: The winner will become the No. 1 contender for IBF junior bantamweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas, potentially setting up the first all-Filipino world title fight since Hall-of-Famer Pancho Villa retained his flyweight championship over Clever Sencio in his penultimate fight in 1925 (or 1938, depending on whether one recognizes the California version of the world flyweight title Little Dado staked against Small Montana).
Throughout history, there had been plenty of meaningful Filipino vs. Filipino fights, like Flash Elorde-Rene Barrientos and Dodie Boy Penalosa-Rolando Bohol; it’s only recently that this has become taboo, and it’s one only observed in the Philippines.
For Casimero, a former junior flyweight and flyweight titleholder who never lost his titles in the ring, facing Sultan and Ancajas is less about national domination than a means to an end, which is to make him a player in the 115-pound division, which is suddenly red-hot after the “SuperFly” card at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
“They’re not really whom I’m preparing for. It’s (Roman) Gonzalez whom I’m really preparing for. But I need to finish off both Jonas Sultan and Ancajas, so I can make Gonzalez fight me,” said the brazen Ormoc City native Casimero (24-3, 15 knockouts) in an interview shortly before Gonzalez was knocked out last weekend in a rematch with WBC beltholder Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
“Good-bye money, nanaman (once again),” Casimero said later, as his dream fight lost its last semblance of viability. “I think I’ll fight the Thai.”
Sultan (13-3, 9 KOs), though lesser known than Casimero, has built himself into a contender in much the same way as his compatriot, traveling to Japan and South Africa to score upset knockouts, and, in his most recent fight in May, he knocked out former flyweight champ Sonny Boy Jaro in eight rounds.
“I know I have a chance to win the fight. I can beat him with my different style,” said Sultan, who hails from Tampilisan, Zamboanga del Norte, Philippines.
“It’s my speed and I can fight with distance or a slugger like that. I can adjust my style with the style of Casimero.”
Casimero, who had previously trained with Sultan at the Omega Gym in Cebu, has been through just about all there is to experience in his 10-year career, from winning in Panama and Mexico, to having to hide under a ring in Argentina to survive a riot. Few things, if any, intimidate him.
“No I don’t think (Sultan is dangerous) ‘cause I know how Sultan fights. Maybe I am a dangerous fighter to him,” said Casimero.
What both have in common, other than their general lack of fear, is a dearth of media coverage domestically, with Casimero’s IBF flyweight title win over Amnat Ruenroeng and his sole defense against Charlie Edwards not being televised in the Philippines, and Sultan not being among the featured fighters on his promoter ALA Promotions’ “Pinoy Pride” cards until now.
Where they part is on the subject of Filipino vs. Filipino fights. Casimero, who had sat across the table from Ancajas earlier this year at the Flash Elorde Awards and called him out, is all in favor, saying, “It’s just business, nothing personal,” and believes domestic rivalries would give fans more reason to be excited, much how it works in the United Kingdom and Mexico.
“I think it’s better, Filipino vs. Filipino to fight for world titles. People will talk more about our fights,” says Casimero.
— Ryan Songalia (@ryansongalia) March 25, 2017
Sultan sees it along the company’s line, sharing his promoter’s view that Filipinos should seek other avenues to world titles, saying, “Maybe more fans will be disappointed if it will happen…because (one side is favoring) me and other (side) is for Ancajas.”
It may be civil war but fans should be happy as long as it lives up to the “war” part.
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