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Casimero plays last card

By Joaquin Henson
Wed, 04 Dec 2019

Johnriel Casimero who likes to be called “Cuadro Alas,” played his last card----an ace----in battling defending WBO bantamweight champion Zolani Tete of South Africa and had the winning hand to wrest the crown on a stunning third round stoppage at the Arena Birmingham in West Midlands, UK, last Saturday night.

Casimero, 30, said in his roller coaster career with its ups and downs, he knew this was a do-or-die situation. In 2014, he lost his IBF lightflyweight crown on the scales after weighing 5 3/4 pounds over the limit. In 2017, Casimero was listless and disinterested in bowing to unheralded Jonas Sultan in an IBF superflyweight title eliminator. But since hooking up with MP Promotions this year, he’s been a changed man.

Against Tete, Casimero waited for the right opening to step into the South African’s strike zone then detonated a right hook to the temple. Tete went down, got up at five and was never the same. He grabbed Casimero’s legs and stumbled to the floor but referee Steve Gray called it a slip. Tete fell again and Gray ruled a second knockdown. Tete courageously rose at six on rubbery legs. Casimero charged in for the kill and after landing a solid left hook to the jaw, Gray waved it off at 2:14 of the third.

In the first two rounds, Tete controlled the pace with his right jab to keep Casimero at bay. Casimero circled Tete patiently, studying his prey, stalking, watching. Tete had a five-inch height and eight-inch reach advantage so Casimero had to figure out how to come closer to connect. Tete, a southpaw, looked huge when the bell sounded and Casimero estimated he had to be at least 140 pounds after weighing in at 116.25 the day before. The extra poundage made Tete slower and an easier target.

For over two months, Casimero labored in Las Vegas, training under Nonoy Neri and Ting Ariosa with Memo Heredia supervising his strength and conditioning program. “Isang baraha na lang naiwan sa akin, last card ko na,” said Casimero. “Three times a day kami nag-training sa Vegas. Pahinga lang kung Linggo at sa pagod ko, ‘di na ako lumabas ng bahay. Binigyan ako ng pagkakataon ni Sen. Manny (Pacquiao) na mag-bagong buhay. Tinyaga ko na lang. Naumpisahan ko na, tatapusin ko ito.”

Casimero said he wasn’t surprised when Tete crumpled to the canvas. “Sapol kasi,” he said. “Tinamaan ko sa utak. Akala niya, sa sikmura ko siya tatamaan. Bigla kong inatake sa ulo. May lakas si Tete at naramdaman ko yung left straight niya sa katawan. Alaga rin ako sa mga unang rounds. Maganda ang technique niya, mahaba, mataas, may lakas. Tingin ko, mas complete fighter si Tete kaysa kay (Naoya) Inoue.”

Casimero said with discipline, he didn’t find it difficult to make weight. “Dito muna ako sa bantamweight,” he said. “Maraming plano si Sir Sean (Gibbons). Baka labanan ko si Inoue o kaya yung WBC champion (Nordine Oubaali of France).”
Gibbons, who is MP Promotions head, was mesmerized by Casimero’s demolition job. He had predicted a late stoppage win by Casimero on a body shot, specifically in the 10th round so the early knockout was a shocker. “I was stunned like everybody else,” said Gibbons who witnessed the carnage at ringside. “I was speechless. I couldn’t believe what happened. Casimero was just warming up then suddenly, it was over. Casimero looked like Senator in there. They call Inoue the monster but Casimero’s the real monster.”

Gibbons said English promoter Frank Warren was stunned to silence. “He didn’t give Casimero a chance,” said Gibbons. “Oddsmakers didn’t give Casimero much of a chance, too. Tete was a 2-1 favorite. I've always known Casimero to be a warrior. He’s fought four fights this year. He could do a fifth fight before the year ends. That’s how he is. Hats off to Memo for giving him the program to get strong and make weight. I’ve never seen Casimero as explosive. He’s going to clean up his division.”

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

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