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Casimero defies odds to win WBO title

By Joaquin Henson
Mon, 02 Dec 2019

Ormoc City slugger Johnriel Casimero made believers out of skeptics as he defied 2-1 odds to stop defending WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete of South Africa at 2:14 of the third round in the Arena Birmingham, West Midlands, England last Saturday night.

Even MP Promotions head Sean Gibbons, watching at ringside, was surprised at the early ending as he had predicted a 10th round stoppage with a body shot. Casimero was a +195 underdog, meaning a $100 bet would win $195 while Tete was a -250 favorite, meaning a $250 wager would earn only $100. But Casimero took the oddsmakers to the cleaners, sending Tete down for a pair of mandatory eight-counts before referee Steve Gray called off the massacre.

Tete controlled the action in the first two rounds, keeping Casimero at bay with his long right jab. Casimero appeared to be bothered by Tete’s five-inch height and eight-inch reach advantage, circling the lanky South African southpaw while figuring out how to penetrate his defense. Tete was content to fight from long distance and didn’t seem eager to engage. Casimero patiently looked for an opening to step into Tete’s strike zone and it came in the third round.

Wearing bleached blond hair like Manny Pacquiao when the Senator halted Lehlo Ledwaba, also of South Africa, to win the IBF superbantamweight crown in Las Vegas in 2001, Casimero closed the gap to find Tete suddenly vulnerable. He landed a short right hook to the chin and Tete crumpled to the canvas. Tete got up at the count of five but was visibly shaken. Casimero went in for the kill and Tete grabbed for dear life, stumbling down as Gray ruled a slip. Still on rubbery legs, Tete couldn’t move away from the rampaging Casimero and took another mandatory eight-count. He stood up at six, dazed and confused. Casimero rushed in, pushed Tete to the ropes and landed a left hook with the South African completely defenseless. Gray then waved it off.

At the weigh-in the day before, Casimero scaled 117.25 pounds and Tete, 116.25 to make the bantamweight limit of 118. On fight night, Tete, who reportedly had weight issues, looked a lot bigger than Casimero, probably outweighing him by 10 pounds. Ballooning overnight made Tete slower and easier to hit.

Casimero rolled to Arena Birmingham in a lime-green, top-down Lamborghini convertible and reported for work oozing with confidence. Gibbons said Casimero had an “amazing” camp in Las Vegas, working with trainers Nonoy Neri and Ting Ariosa, conditioning coach Memo Heredia and a slew of Filipino fighters, including Marlon Tapales and Jhack Tepora. While Casimero struggled with weight in previous fights, he was on point this time.

Johnriel Casimero watches in the neutral corner as Zolani Tete struggles to get up after a knockdown. Photos by Sumio Yamada.

Casimero joins Pacquiao, IBF superflyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas and IBF minimumweight beltholder Pedro Taduran as the only reigning Filipino world titlists. He is also in the elite cast of Filipino fighters to win at least three world crowns in different divisions with Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire, Jr. and Donnie Nietes.

Gibbons said he knew from the start Casimero would dethrone Tete. The key was to solve the height and reach issues early. “With fast feet and timing, Casimero had to put pressure, pressure, pressure,” he said. “Tete and I go back many years when I did fights for him in Mexico against Juan Carlos Sanchez in 2010, Juan Alberto Rosas in 2011 and Roberto Sosa in 2012. Tete’s a nice fellow. He was nice enough to ask me how Jerwin is doing (Ancajas will stake his crown against Chile's Miguel Rodriguez in Mexico on Dec. 7). I told Tete if he needs help after losing to Casimero, I can get him a fight. No problems with Tete’s camp, they’re good people.”

Tete lost two of the three fights that Gibbons arranged. He stopped Sanchez in the fifth round but bowed to Rosas on a majority decision and to Sosa on a split verdict. Tete’s loss to Casimero snapped a streak of 12 wins dating back to 2013. Seven of Tete’s previous 12 bouts ended inside the distance and one of the knockouts was an 11-second demolition of Siboniso Gonya in 2017, marking the quickest stoppage in world title history. Before Tete’s feat, the quickest knockout in world championship history came in 1993 when Gerald McClellan took out Jay Bell in 20 seconds of a WBC middleweight title fight in Puerto Rico.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.

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