Three Filipino fighters made waves within a one-week period recently by claiming clear-cut victories abroad, proving their mettle as unshakeable road warriors. It’s not easy winning over hometown opponents, particularly if the fight goes the distance, but IBF lightflyweight champion Johnriel Casimero defied the odds in scoring a unanimous 12-round decision over mandatory challenger Luis Alberto Rios at the Magapolis Convention Center in Panama City last March 16.
Casimero, 23, has won his last three outings overseas, making a name for himself as a conquering invader. Fans will recall that in February last year, he survived a riot in the ring instigated by truck union drivers after halting Luis Lazarte in Buenos Aires. That was for the interim IBF lightflyweight crown. Casimero was later elevated as regular titleholder when Ulises Solis was dethroned for failing to defend the throne within the prescribed term. In his first defense, Casimero braved hostile conditions in carving out a split 12-round decision over Pedro Guevara in Sinaloa, Mexico, last August.
In Panama City, Casimero paid no attention to the boos and jeers. He was in the ring to do a job, never mind in what city. Casimero was on attack mode from the onset and Rios couldn’t stem the tide. The scorecards reflected Casimero’s dominance. New Mexico judge Levi Martinez and Puerto Rican Nelson Vazquez had it 119-109 both for Casimero while Tucson’s Joe Garcia saw it 118-108, also for the Filipino. New York referee Benjy Esteves Jr. had no difficulty working the bout as it didn’t look like Rios was inclined to mix it up. Rios only wanted to survive the distance and prayed that the homecrowd would sway the judges to score it his way.
Casimero’s manager Sammy Gellon-ani and Uruguay matchmaker Sampson Lewkowicz won the purse bid for the fight but couldn’t land a deal to stage it in the Philippines. The combined purse for both fighters was $132,000 (P5.3 Million) and there were no takers to even put it on TV here. Lewkowicz eventually found a co-promoter Carlos Gonzalez of Panama to hold it in Panama City.
On the same card, Sarangani’s John Mark Apolinario held former WBA lightflyweight champion Roberto Vazquez of Panama to a split 12-round draw in a duel for the interim WBA bantamweight crown. Last November, they battled to a majority 12-round draw. Apolinario, 23, did enough to earn the verdict but the judges wouldn’t oblige. Martinez had it 116 1/2-112 for Apolinario while California’s Carla Caiz scored it 116-112 for Vazquez. Puerto Rican judge Nelson Vazquez saw it 115-all. Apolinario has a 17-2-3 record, with 4 KOs, and is looking forward to a third meeting with Vazquez to settle their rivalry once and for all. Vazquez was stopped by Drian Francisco in the 10th round at the Cuneta Astrodome four years ago.
Last March 9, Oriental minimumweight champion Merlito Sabillo of Bacolod City halted Luis de la Rosa at 2:52 of the eighth round to claim the interim WBO 105-pound title in Cerete, Colombia. De la Rosa had won seven in a row before facing Sabillo and was a hot favorite to beat the visiting Filipino before his hometown fans. The Colombian’s only loss had been to Mexico’s Raul Garcia by a split decision for the interim WBO crown in 2010.
Sabillo, 29, pounced on De la Rosa from the start, opening a cut with a left uppercut in the first round. Both fighters traded heavy blows and the outcome was in the balance when Sabillo, a lefthander, connected with a right hook to floor the Colombian in the eighth. De la Rosa beat Chicago referee Genaro Rodriguez’ count but was decked once more, this time by a left straight. De la Rosa got up on wobbly legs and Rodriguez signaled an end to the carnage.
Sabillo, who fights in the ALA stable, raised his record to 21-0, with 11 KOs. If WBO minimumweight champion Moises Fuentes decides to relinquish his crown to focus on campaigning in the lightflyweight division, Sabillo’s interim status will be made regular. The victory established Sabillo’s never-say-die attitude as he weathered storm after storm to gut out the knockout win under severe pressure. De la Rosa just couldn’t hold off Sabillo’s relentless onslaught.
* * * *
The third Filipino road warrior to make waves was Bebot Elorde’s protégé Joe Maxian who stopped Tsukasa Saito in the seventh round to win the WBC Youth lightweight title in Tokyo last March 15. Saito entered the ring toting a 16-1 mark but Maxian wouldn’t be denied a decisive triumph despite the Japanese’s glowing reputation. Last August, Maxian was in the same Korakuen Hall ring and was halted by Rikki Naito in the second round so he wasn’t expected to steal the thunder from Saito. The loss to Naito followed Maxian’s six-round defeat to Rosalito Campana on points.
Maxian, 21, proved up to the task. The 5-8 bomber, who stopped Thailand’s Thepsamuthr Duanaay Mukdahan in the second round for the interim WBC Youth superfeatherweight title in Puerto Princesa two years ago, blasted Saito into submission to improve his record to 9-2, with 7 KOs.
The three road wins assuaged the pain suffered by Filipino challenger Renan Trongco who lost a unanimous 12-round decision to IBO minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler of South Africa in Kempton Park, Gauteng, last Feb. 16. Trongco, 24, had a chance to turn the tables on Budler in the seventh round when he hurt the titlist with a four-punch combination but couldn’t follow up on the advantage.