Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future showdowns with Donaire, Inoue
When Showtime Boxing announced their summer schedule in April, it featured several high-profile bouts that quickly grabbed the fans’ attention. However, one sneaky good fight that flew under the radar for many will match Cuba against the Philippines. Former unified junior featherweight titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux will take on current WBO bantamweight titleholder John Riel Casimero at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California on August 14.
Thing is, the fight almost never happened.
In June, PBC announced that they were switching things up. Rigondeaux was out and WBC titleholder Nonito Donaire was in, setting up an all-Filipino showdown between him and Casimero. However, there was a sticking point for Nonito and his manager/trainer wife Rachel – drug testing. The two camps went back and forth for weeks, mostly on social media, over PEDS testing particulars. Things got heated. For Team Donaire, it was the full Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) testing program or no fight. Casimero ultimately acquiesced to the demand, but members of his team had used some very nasty, disrespectful language with Rachel during the negotiation. This was something that Nonito refused to forgive, and he withdrew from the fight.
So, after a brief shake up, it was back to the original plan, back to Rigondeaux vs. Casimero.
Had this bout taken place four years ago, some would have considered it a mismatch. However, given where both men are at in their respective careers in 2021, and the contrast of fighter styles, this one has just the right ingredients for an intriguing, 50/50 matchup.
Casimero (30-4, 21 knockouts), who has also held titles at 108-pounds and 112-pounds, is currently rated number two at bantamweight by The Ring. The Filipino is riding a six fight winning streak, including an upset TKO3 victory over Zolani Tete in 2019. Tete was the number one rated bantamweight at the time. “He was the most difficult opponent I’ve faced,” Casimero told The Ring. “He was tall and awkward and long. Plus, he was a southpaw like Rigondeaux. He gave me great experience that I can use in this upcoming fight.”
The win over Tete put Casimero in very rare company, joining Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire Jr. and Donnie Nietes as the only Filipino fighters to win titles in three or more weight classes. His most notable work has been in fights outside of the Philippines, giving him the reputation of a road warrior among fight fans.
Meanwhile Rigondeaux (20-1, 13 KOs), currently rated number seven by The Ring, will be a month shy of 41-years-old come fight night. Since losing for the first time as a professional to Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2017, he has reeled off three straight wins. The Cuban had spent his entire pro career at 122-pounds until last February, when he moved down to bantamweight to face Liborio Solis. After a slow start, “El Chacal” (Spanish for “The Jackal”) dropped Solis in the seventh round and coasted down the stretch to a somewhat dull points win. It was vintage Rigondeaux, a fighter often accused of being boring, yet highly skilled and effective.
“The boxing media are the ones who portray me as boring,” he said, “but the real fans are always supporting me online. The true boxing purists appreciate my style. The Solis fight was my first experience at 118-pounds professionally, but people forget that I won two gold medals at bantamweight in the Olympics. I was not concerned about my stamina, I was standing in the corner going into the twelfth round. I feel comfortable at this weight and want to win titles here.”
Size may indeed play a factor in this matchup, but not in the way some might expect. Although Casimero started at junior flyweight and has fought in smaller divisions for his entire career, he feels that he’s naturally stronger than Rigondeaux. “I’m not worried about his size at all,” he said. “My walking weight is around 148 pounds. I work hard to get down to bantamweight. On August 14, I will be the bigger man.”
Both men are beaming with confidence heading into this match up, especially the Filipino. “Bet the under,” he said. “If Rigondeaux stands and fights with me, the fight will end early. I noticed beginning in his fight with Julio Ceja (a TKO8 win for the Cuban in 2019) that he’s not as elusive as before. I think I can manage him now and I will be able to stop him. I’ll send him back to Cuba.”
Casimero’s bravado doesn’t seem to faze Rigondeaux at all. “He has a lot of power and can end a fight at any moment,” said the two-time Olympic gold medalist who now calls Miami home. “But I have been in the ring with the hardest hitters. Let him bring his best punch, I will be standing center of the ring waiting for him.”
“After I beat Casimero, I want another big fight to put me back on the pound for pound list. I am still the lineal champion at junior featherweight. Nobody at that weight has ever beat me. Everyone knows that I own 122-pounds, and now I am here for all titles at 118.”
The 118-pound division is loaded with international talent. Japan’s Naoya Inoue, currently rated No. 2 pound for pound by The Ring, holds two of the sanctioning body titles, as well as The Ring bantamweight championship. A three-division titleholder, Inoue’s greatest achievement to date was winning the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament in 2019. He defeated future hall-of-famer Donaire in the finale, which would go on to be named Fight of the Year by The Ring.
Despite those lofty credentials, neither Casimero nor Rigondeaux are impressed with Inoue. “He calls himself ‘The Monster,’ but I feel he’s more like a turtle because he’s scared of me and he hides in his shell,” Casimero said. “He’s ‘The Japanese Turtle,’ I’m the real monster.” Rigondeaux echoed those sentiments. “Inoue is scared to even see my picture,” he said, “let alone mention my name and a fight with me in the same sentence. If I ever do get the chance to fight him, everyone will see who the real monster hunter is.”
As for Donaire, he bounced back from the Inoue loss with a fantastic KO4 win over previously undefeated Nordine Oubaali in May. Casimero feels that the Frenchman was made to order. “I give Donaire credit for the win, but Oubaali was perfect for his style,” he said. “Yeah he’s a good boxer, but he’s also very small. And he fought the wrong fight against Donaire.”
“After I retire Rigondeaux, I still want to fight Donaire next. That way I can retire a second guy who will be in the hall of fame. His power and the experience are still there, but the skills and movement have eroded.”
Rigondeaux, who beat Donaire decisively in 2013, said he’d be willing to do it again if the fans wanted to see it. “Congrats to Nonito for his great performance against Oubaali. Now he has a title, and I am here to fight the best. If he is willing to do a rematch, I will be ready. That would be an exciting fight, but right now my primary focus is on Casimero of course.”
Donaire did not fight at all in 2020. He was originally scheduled to face Oubaali last December, but a positive COVID-19 test forced the Frenchman to pull out of the fight. Donaire was then matched against replacement opponent Emmanuel Rodriguez of Puerto Rico, only to test positive for COVID himself, cancelled that matchup. By the time he finally did fight Oubaali in May, Donaire had been out of the ring for a year and a half. Many felt the layoff would work against the 38-year-old, but he looked fantastic, dropping Oubaali three times.
Now Rigondeaux finds himself coming off his own 18-month layoff, the longest of his pro career, heading into his fight with Casimero. But much like with Donaire, he feels that the time away has been a blessing in disguise. “I have always been disciplined throughout my career,” he said. “Even when I’m not fighting, I’m still training. My favorite part about the layoff was the time I spent with my family and my son. I still find ways to work out while on vacation, either by running in the sand or swimming laps in the pool.”
“I used the COVID lockdowns as an opportunity to take a break, step away and reflect. I recently became active again on social media. I enjoy interacting with my fans there because they have supported my career every step of the way.”
“I feel better now, with the way I maintain my body, than I ever have before. If I can keep up with Bernard Hopkins (who fought at a high level to the age of 51), I still have another decade left. So tell everyone that El Chacal is not going anywhere!”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this matchup is that both men will enter the ring with something to prove. The stakes couldn’t be higher for these fighters, but for completely different reasons.
Casimero has defeated some very good fighters, but none as accomplished as Rigondeaux, who will likely end up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) one day. In fact, IBHOF trainer Freddie Roach has said of the Cuban, “He’s probably the greatest talent I’ve ever seen.” With a reported 463-12 amateur record, he was a borderline hall of famer before even turning pro. A win over Rigondeaux would catapult the Filipino’s career to new heights, legitimizing him as one of the elite fighters in the smaller divisions.
Meanwhile, whether he wants to admit it or not, Rigondeaux hasn’t yet exercised all the demons from the Lomachenko loss a few years back. He was dominated by the Ukrainian in their junior lightweight fight in late 2017. He landed only 15 punches before retiring at the end of the sixth round, citing a broken left hand as the reason for the loss. Yet it was later revealed that Rigondeaux had only suffered a contusion on the top of the hand. Many fans criticized his decision to retire on the stool, viewing the injury as an excuse.
Now, nearly four years later, Casimero is the best opponent he has faced since the Lomachenko fight. A win over the explosive Filipino would not only serve as sweet redemption in the eyes of many fans, it would give Rigondeaux his second legitimate world title in a second weight class, all but solidifying his future hall of fame status. Although he claimed a piece of the WBA bantamweight title with his victory over Solis, the WBA recognizes Inoue as their “super” champion. Casimero has held the WBO title for years. That title is recognized by the boxing world as a genuine championship, no “interim”, “regular”, “diamond” or “gold” nonsense.
Win, lose or draw against Rigondeaux, John Riel Casimero has several years remaining in his career. However, Guillermo Rigondeaux is in the twilight of his boxing life. Still, the Cuban sounds hungrier than ever. “I hope I will be remembered by the boxing fans who truly love the sport when I retire,” he told The Ring, “but that will be a long time from now.”
“So, love me or hate me, I will still be around beating everyone’s favorite fighters. I want to retire as the lineal champion at 118-pounds and 122-pounds. I don’t see anyone in those divisions who can take my titles from me.”
Casimero sees Rigondeaux as the first victim of a three-fight series where he will clean out the bantamweight division.
“After Rigondeaux, I still want an all-Filipino war with Donaire. I want his WBC title. Then I want Inoue, that’s the biggest fight for me. I plan to smash The Japanese Turtle. By that time it will be for all the belts.”
Michael Montero can be found on social media via @MonteroOnBoxing. His podcast “The Neutral Corner” can be seen every Monday on TheRingDigital YouTube channel, and heard on audio podcast platforms around the world.