Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future clashes with Donaire, Inoue - The Ring (2023)

Guillermo Rigondeaux and John Riel Casimero face off after the final pressure of the bantamweight duel. Photo by Stephanie Trapp / SHOWTIME



by Michael Montero|

When Showtime Boxing announced its summer schedule in April, there were several high-profile bouts that quickly caught the attention of fans. However, a sneaky good fight that went unnoticed by many will pit Cuba against the Philippines. Former unified junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux meets current WBO bantamweight champion John Riel Casimero on August 14 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

The thing is that the fight almost never happened.

In June, PBC announced it would change things up. Rigondeaux was out and WBC titlist Nonito Donaire was in, setting up an all-Filipino showdown between himself and Casimero. However, there was a sticking point for Nonito and his manager/coach wife Rachel - drug testing. The details of the PEDS test went back and forth in the two camps for weeks, mostly on social media. It got hot. For Team Donaire, it was the full Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) testing program or no fight. Casimero eventually agreed to the request, but members of his team used very mean and disrespectful language towards Rachel during the trial. This was something Nonito didn't want to forgive and he withdrew from the fight.

So after a brief jolt it went back to the original plan, back to Rigondeaux versus Casimero.

If that fight had happened four years ago, some would have seen it as a mismatch. However, considering where both men are in their respective careers in 2021 and the contrast in fighting styles, this one has all the right ingredients for an intriguing 50/50 fight.

(Video) Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire 2 Full Fight

Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future clashes with Donaire, Inoue - The Ring (1)

John Reil Casimero - The Best of Zolani Tete. Photo by Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Casimero (30-4, 21 KOs), who has also held titles at 108lbs and 112lbs, is currently ranked number two in the bantamweight division by The Ring. The Filipino is on a six-fight win streak, including an upset TKO3 win over Zolani Tete in 2019. Tete was the number one bantamweight title at the time. "He was the toughest opponent I've ever faced," Casimero told The Ring. "He was tall, lanky and long. He was also left-handed like Rigondeaux. He gave me great experience to use in this next fight.”

The win over Tete brought Casimero into rare company, joining Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire Jr. and Donnie Nietes as the only Filipino fighter to hold titles in three or more weight divisions. His most notable work was in fights outside of the Philippines, earning him a reputation as a street warrior among fight fans.

Meanwhile, Rigondeaux (20-1, 13 KOs), currently ranked seventh by The Ring, will be a month away from turning 41 on fight night. Since losing to Vasiliy Lomachenko for the first time as a pro in 2017, he has won three straight games. The Cuban spent his entire pro career at 122 pounds before dropping to bantamweight last February to face Liborio Solis. After a cautious start, "El Chacal" (Spanish for "The Jackal") dropped Solis in the seventh lap and drove down the home stretch to a somewhat dismal points victory. He was a typical Rigondeaux, a fighter who was often accused of being boring but highly skilled and effective.

"The boxing media portrays me as boring," he said, "but the true fans always support me online. Real boxing purists appreciate my style. The Solis fight was my first professional experience at 50kg, but people forget that I won two bantamweight gold medals at the Olympics. I wasn't worried about my stamina, I was in the corner before the twelfth round. I feel comfortable at this weight and want to win titles here.”

Size might indeed matter in this duel, but not in the way some would expect. Although Casimero started out at junior flyweight and has fought in smaller divisions his entire career, he naturally feels stronger than Rigondeaux. "I'm not worried about size at all," he said. “My hiking weight is around 148 pounds. I'm working hard to get to bantamweight. On August 14, I will be the bigger man.”

Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future clashes with Donaire, Inoue - The Ring (2)

Guillermo Rigondeaux meets Julio Ceja with his left hand. Photo by Sean Michael Ham-Mayweather-Actions

(Video) When Naoya Inoue Shocked The Boxing World!

Both men are beaming with confidence in this match, especially the Filipino. "Bet the bottom," he said. "If Rigondeaux stands up and fights me, the fight will end prematurely. I've noticed since fighting Julio Ceja (the Cuban won by TKO8 in 2019) that he's not as elusive as before. I think I can overpower him now and I will be able to stop him. I'm sending you back to Cuba.

Casimero's bravery doesn't seem to bother Rigondeaux. "He has a lot of power and can stop a fight at any time," said the two-time Olympic champion, who is now based in Miami. “But I was in the ring with the strongest players. Let him do his best shot, I'll be in the middle of the ring waiting for him.

“After beating Casimero I want one more big fight to win me back pound for pound. I'm still the lineal junior featherweight champion. Nobody that weight has ever beaten me. Everyone knows I own 122 pounds and now here I am at 118 for all titles.

The 118-pound division is full of international talent. Japan's Naoya Inoue, currently No. 2 pound for pound by The Ring, holds two of the body's sanctioning titles as well as The Ring's bantamweight championship. A three-division holder, Inoue's biggest accomplishment to date was winning the 2019 World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament. He defeated future Hall of Famer Donaire in the final, which was later named Fight of the Year by The Ring.

Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future clashes with Donaire, Inoue - The Ring (3)

Neither Casimero nor Rigondeaux are impressed by bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue.

Despite these high credentials, neither Casimero nor Rigondeaux are impressed by Inoue. "He calls himself 'The Monster,' but I feel more like a turtle because he's scared of me and hiding in his shell," Casimero said. "He's 'The Japanese Turtle,' I'm the real monster." Rigondeaux echoed those sentiments. "Inoue is scared of even looking at my picture," he said, "not to mention mentioning my name and fighting me in the same sentence. If I get the chance to fight him, everyone will see who the real monster hunter is."

As for Donaire, he bounced back from Inoue's defeat with a fantastic KO4 win over undefeated Nordine Oubaali in May. Casimero thinks French was made to order. "I trust Donaire to win but Oubaali was perfect for his style," he said. “Yes, he is a good boxer, but he is also very short. And he fought Donaire the wrong way.

“After retiring from Rigondeaux, I still want to fight Donaire. That way I can retire a second man to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. His strength and experience are still there, but the skills and movements have diminished.”

Rigondeaux, who decisively defeated Donaire in 2013, said he would be willing to do it again if fans wanted to see it. “Congratulations to Nonito for his great performance against Oubaali. Now he has a title and I'm here to fight the best. If he's ready for a rematch, I'm ready. It would be an exciting fight but for now my main focus is of course Casimero.

(Video) FULL FIGHT | Naoya Inoue vs. Nonito Donaire (DAZN REWIND)

Donaire did not fight in 2020. He was due to face Oubaali last December but a positive test for COVID-19 forced the Frenchman to pull out of the fight. Donaire was then matched against Puerto Rico's backup opponent Emmanuel Rodriguez, only for himself to test positive for COVID and abandon the matchup. When he finally fought Oubaali in May, Donaire hadn't been in the ring for a year and a half. Many thought the dismissal would work against the 38-year-old but he looked fantastic, dropping Oubaali three times.

Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future clashes with Donaire, Inoue - The Ring (4)

Despite his advanced age, Rigondeaux is still a physical specimen who prides himself on his discipline and dedication to training. Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

Now, following his own 18-month layoff, the longest of his professional career, Rigondeaux finds himself heading into his fight with Casimero. But like Donaire, he feels the absence was a blessing in disguise. "I've always been disciplined throughout my career," he said. "Even though I'm not fighting, I'm still training. My favorite part of being released was the time I spent with my family and my son. I still find ways to get some exercise on vacation, whether it's running in the sand or swimming in the pool."

"I've used the COVID lockdowns as an opportunity to stop, step back and reflect. Recently I've been active again on social media. I enjoy interacting with my fans there because they have supported my career every step of the way."

“I now feel better than ever about the way I take care of my body. If I can match Bernard Hopkins (who fought at a high level until he was 51), I still have a decade to go. Then tell everyone that El Chacal is going nowhere!”

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this duel is that the two will step into the ring with something they have to prove. The stakes couldn't be higher for these fighters, but for very different reasons.

Casimero has defeated some very good fighters, but none as talented as Rigondeaux, who may one day be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF). In fact, IBHOF coach Freddie Roach said of the Cuban: "He's probably the greatest talent I've ever seen." With a reported amateur record of 463-12, he was a borderline Hall of Famer before even turning pro. A win over Rigondeaux would catapult the Filipino's career to new heights and legitimize him as one of the elite fighters in the smaller divisions.

Meanwhile, whether he wants to admit it or not, Rigondeaux still hasn't worked out all the demons of losing Lomachenko a few years ago. He was dominated by the Ukrainian in his junior lightweight fight in late 2017. He landed just 15 punches before retiring at the end of the sixth round, citing a broken left hand as the reason for the loss. However, it later turned out that Rigondeaux had only suffered a bruise on the upper hand. Many supporters criticized his decision to resign on the bench, using the injury as an excuse.

Now, almost four years later, Casimero is the best opponent he has faced since the Lomachenko fight. A win over the explosive Filipino would not only be a sweet salvation in the eyes of many fans, but would also give Rigondeaux his second legitimate second-weight division world title and all but cement his future Hall of Fame status. Although he claimed part of the WBA bantamweight title with his win over Solis, the WBA recognizes Inoue as their "super" champion. Casimero has held the WBO title for years. This title is recognized by the boxing world as a real championship, not some "interim", "regular", "diamond" or "gold" nonsense.

(Video) John Riel Casimero vs Nonito Donaire | Mano-Mano

Win, lose or draw against Rigondeaux, John Riel Casimero still has a few years left in his career. However, Guillermo Rigondeaux is in the twilight of his boxing life. Despite this, the Cuban looks hungrier than ever. "I hope that when I retire I'll remember boxing fans who really love the sport," he told The Ring, "but that's going to be a long time coming."

Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future clashes with Donaire, Inoue - The Ring (5)

Casimero believes that Donaire and Inoue are in his future.

"So, love me or hate me, I'll still be out there beating everyone's favorite fighters. I want to retire straight champion at 118lbs and 122lbs. I don't see anybody in these divisions who could take my titles away from me."

Casimero sees Rigondeaux as the first casualty of a three-fight series that will see him clean up the bantamweight division.

“After Rigondeaux, I still want an all-Filipino war with Donaire. I want his WBC title. So I want Inoue, this is the biggest fight for me. I intend to destroy the Japanese tortoise. At this point it will apply to all belts.”

Michael Montero can be found on social media via @MonteroOnBoxing. His podcast, The Neutral Corner, can be viewed every Monday on TheRingDigital's YouTube channel and listened to on audio podcast platforms worldwide.


Casimero and Rigondeaux, both confident of victory, look to future clashes with Donaire, Inoue - The Ring (6)

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6. Inoue vs Donaire - WBSS Season 2 Bantamweight Final
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