Is Casimero a changed man?
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Interim WBO bantamweight champion Johnriel Casimero is an enigma. He is as mysterious as he is puzzling. Throughout his pro boxing career, Casimero has been sometimes brilliant and sometimes disconcerted. It’s difficult to pin down what’s in Casimero’s head because there appears to be a constant buzz in his brain.

For a time, Casimero had concurrent promotional or managerial contracts with three different parties. To this day, former WBA superlightweight champion Morris East claims he has a live contract to represent Casimero. East, born in Olongapo to an American serviceman and Filipino mother, trains fighters out of Floyd Mayweather’s gym in Las Vegas. It took former two-time world champion Gerry Penalosa to sort out Casimero’s conflicting contractual obligations. Now, there’s peace of mind in Casimero’s camp with MP Promotions head Sean Gibbons calling the shots and Nonoy Neri as his chief trainer.

As a boxer, Casimero has gone through ups and downs. In 2014, he was stripped of the IBF lightflyweight title on the scales for weighing in 113 3/4 pounds when the limit was 108. Casimero went ahead to battle Colombia’s Mauricio Fuentes and dropped him thrice to score a first round stoppage. If Fuentes won, he would’ve been declared the new champion.. But since Casimero won, the throne remained vacant.

In 2015, Casimero wasn’t himself when he faced Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng for the IBF flyweight crown in Bangkok. He was floored in rounds two and seven before losing via a unanimous 12-round decision. A year later, they met in a rematch and this time, Casimero knocked out the Thai in the fourth round to wrest the title. If his head’s in place, Casimero could be devastating. If it isn’t screwed on, he could be extremely vulnerable.

In 2017, Casimero took on countryman Jonas Sultan in an IBF superflyweight title eliminator in Cebu. He seemed disinterested in the bout, probably thinking Sultan wasn’t in his class. A win would’ve arranged a world title crack for Casimero. Instead of living up to his potentials, Casimero fought listlessly and dropped a unanimous decision that wasn’t even close. Sultan went on to challenge IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas and lost.

One thing about Casimero is if he wants to put on a show, he’ll execute in grand fashion – the same way he disposed of hometown hero Luis Lazarte in 10 rounds in Argentina in 2012, the way he blasted Charlie Edwards into submission in 10 rounds in England in 2016, the way he halted Cesar Canchilla in 11 rounds in Nicaragua in 2009 and the way he dismantled Ricardo Espinoza in 12 rounds in Carson City last April. That’s what Gibbons hopes Casimero will display in his interim WBO title defense against Mexico’s Cesar Ramirez at the San Andres Sports Complex in Manila this Saturday.

A former IBF lightflyweight and flyweight champion, Casimero is a win away from earning a crack at the WBO bantamweight throne where South Africa’s Zolani Tete now sits. It’s a fight that’s in Casimero’s sights. If he beats Tete, Casimero will join Sen. Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire Jr. and Donnie Nietes as the only Filipino fighters to win world titles in at least three weight divisions. A win over Tete will also avenge Casimero’s fifth round knockout loss to another South African Moruti Mthalane in Johannesburg in 2011.

If Casimero fights the way he’s supposed to, the sky’s the limit. “Casimero has learned from his mistakes and now works with Nonoy as his trainer,” said Gibbons. “He knows what’s at stake in his fight on Saturday.” Ramirez, 31, is no slouch. He has an 18-3 record, with 11 KOs compared to Casimero’s 27-4, with 18 KOs. Ramirez is in town with his manager Francisco Bracamontes and trainer Victor Martinez. 

Gibbons said this Saturday’s fight will be free to the public, thanks to Sen. Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. “We’re honored to have Mayor Isko’s support for this event,” said Gibbons. “The Mayor is amazing and an inspiration to the people of Manila. Mayor Isko is a fighter and the people’s champion. He’s bringing life back to Manila and we’re happy to have our boxing event in the city and we’re looking to do more events in Manila to give back to the city.” Mayor Moreno will attend the fighters’ weigh-in at the Bonifacio shrine near the Manila City Hall at 1 p.m. on Friday and witness the fireworks in San Andres on Saturday.

For Saturday’s hostilities, matchmaker Art Monis assembled a 74-round, eight-fight card where WBO Oriental bantamweight titlist Vincent Astrolabio will defend his belt against Kevin Aseniero in the chief aperitif. Astrolabio started his career with a 10-0 surge and last April, stopped Patrick Liukhoto in Jakarta to claim the WBO Oriental title. His record is 13-3, with 9 KOs while Aseniero’s mark is 9-2-1, with 5 KOs. 

Two former amateur standouts are also in the bill. Rio Olympian and two-time SEA Games gold medalist Charly Suarez, 31, makes his 10-round debut against journeyman Virgil Puton. It will be only Suarez’ third pro outing while Puton is seeing action in his 32nd. Puton, 30, hasn’t won in his last six fights, two of which were draws. Five of those fights were held abroad – three in Japan and one each in Timor-Leste and Russia. The other amateur luminary is Chriztian Pitt Laurente, 19. Like Suarez, Laurente has a 2-0 record, with 2 KOs. He’s up against debuting Nikko Perez in a four-rounder. Laurente was a gold medalist at the Children of Asia Championships in Russia in 2016 and took the silver medal at the Asian Youth Championships in Bangkok early last year.

JOHNRIEL CASIMERO
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