Johnriel Casimero won the interim World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight (118 pounds) title over the weekend by stopping a highly-touted Ricardo Espinoza Franco of Mexico in Carson, California.
Although he started slow, Casimero regained his form in the fourth round to eventually stop Espinoza in the final round. The Mexican was definitely no patsy or tomato can, and his record after the fight is still a respectable 23-3 with 20 knockouts.
Casimero, who was also world champion at junior flyweight (108 pounds) and flyweight (112 pounds), is now 27-4 with 18 KOs. By contending for the interim WBO world bantamweight title, the Filipino skipped campaigning for the junior bantamweight (115 pounds) title, which is actually a risky move.
Franco was the larger and younger fighter at 21 years old, opposite the 30-year old Casimero. And with a record of 23-2 with 20 KOs entering the fight, Franco really also had the credentials to emerge the winner. Franco had a three-inch height and reach advantage over the 5’4” Casimero. Also, Franco was coming off a knockout streak in his last 10 fights.
But the Ormoc City native looked like the hungrier fighter after regaining his form from the fourth round, even flooring his Mexican opponent with a solid right hook in the sixth round.
In the 12th and final round, American referee Rudy Barragan was forced to stop the fight as Casimero was mercilessly pummeling his hapless opponent.
By winning the interim WBO world bantamweight title, Casimero has entered a territory that is filled with so much talent. For one, the top dog in The Ring rankings for bantamweight is Naoya Inoue of Japan whose record is 17-0 with 15 KOs. Then there’s compatriot Nonito Donaire (39-5 with 25 KOs) at No. 5 who will be battling Zolani Tete (28-3 with 21 KOs) of South Africa in the semifinal bout of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) for the division. Tete is ranked No. 2 by The Ring in the bantamweight division.
The winner of the Donaire-Tete bout will meet the winner of the other WBSS semifinal bout between Inoue and Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-0 with 12 KOs). Rodriguez is ranked No. 3 by The Ring in the bantamweight division.
I also see our very own Jerwin Ancajas, the current International Boxing Federation junior bantamweight champion, invading the 118-pound division within the next two years. At 5’6”, Ancajas is too big for a junior bantamweight. Remember that Manny Pacquiao, who is around 5’6”, is a welterweight (147 pounds) and won his first world title at flyweight.
Casimero’s performance against Franco also showed that he could go to war over 12 rounds, which is a very important quality of prominent world champions.
Casimero’s entering the 118-pound division, however, has one possible dire consequence — he may end up facing a fellow Filipino at that weight division.
So what I do not want to see even over the long term is Casimero squaring off against Ancajas, Donaire or Carl James Martin, the 19-year old bantamweight from Ifugao whose record is a perfect 12-0 with 11 KOs.
Donnie Nietes (48-1-5 with 23 KOs) is also eyeing his fifth divisional championship at bantamweight and may end up fighting any of the top Filipinos in the division.
Okay, maybe we can do nothing if Casimero, Ancajas, Nietes, Martin and even Donaire are forced to face each other at bantamweight if any of the world boxing sanctioning bodies require that.
But what I definitely want to see is any of those five Filipino boxers dealing Inoue his first defeat.
Definitely, bantamweight is the next big battleground for Filipino boxers.
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