John Riel Casimero: The Journeyman Champion

The current WBO World Bantamweight Champion fights again on foreign soil when he faces unbeaten Duke Micah in a 118-pound showdown Saturday, September 26 on SHOWTIME PPV.

John Riel Casimero. Photo credit: Sumio Yamada

In boxing, the word journeyman is often code for ineptitude, a lukewarm euphemism for a tomato can, ham-and-egger, has-been, palooka, and that most scornful of monikers, bum. 

Which is why it might behoove one to exercise a certain level of discretion when applying that label to a fighter like John Riel Casimero. It turns out the word has several shades of meanings. 

In the strictest, non-stigmatic sense of the word, the Filipino bantamweight is a journeyman through and through; there is just no hiding this. Just scan his BoxRec and you’ll find that since 2007, Casimero, 31, has scoured the globe looking for paydays in Thailand, Panama, Argentina, China, Mexico, Nicaragua, England, South Africa, and the United States. That makes 10 countries in all, including his homeland, making him something of an outsourcer’s dream. 

But unlike his other well-travelled peers – and this is the key distinction – Casimero rarely loses.   

A journeyman that does not lose is an oxymoron. 

“You gotta look this up,” said Sean Gibbons, Casimero’s omnipresent and perpetually upbeat American advisor. “10 different countries and 10 wins? I don’t even know if that’s ever been done in the history of boxing.” 

(It’s actually nine wins in 10 countries; Casimero came up short against the formidable Moruti Mthalane back in 2011 in the latter’s hometown of Johannesburg, but who’s counting?). 

“I want Japan!” Casimero, 31, blurted out loud. 

“Yeah, he would’ve loved to take Japan,” Gibbons mused. “He needed another country. He needed Japan for number eleven! He’ll get that opportunity, though.”

“You know when you tell someone you’re going to fight in someone’s country and they sh-- themselves? Gibbons asked. “Well, the champ over here is different…” 

Casimero (29-4, 20 KOs) has proven it time and time again. In a rematch against Thailand’s Amnat Ruenreong, in 2016, in Beijing, Casimero won back his IBF flyweight title with a fourth-round knockout. Four months later, he defended it successfully in London, knocking local upstart Charlie Edwards in the 10th round. 

Most recently, in November, Casimero flew over to England again and knocked out the incumbent Zolani Tete inside three rounds to become the current WBO world bantamweight champion.

Of course, nothing quite compares to that fateful night in the boondocks of Argentina, when Casimero faced the rugged and devious Luis Lazarte. After getting low-blowed, rabbit-punched, head-butted, and even bit twice, Casimero stopped the Argentine in the 10th round to win the interim IBF flyweight title. 

Casimero had barely raised his hands in victory before sordid members of the audience began pelting him and his team with various debris, igniting what was one of the most heinous ring riots in recent memory. Soon, teamsters began crawling into the ring, throwing fists and folding chairs. Gibbons, who made himself an easy target by wearing a T-shirt featuring the bright blue, red and yellow of the Filipino flag, says he suffered a broken rib. Casimero, thankfully, was relatively unscathed. 

“I laugh now, but in the moment, I didn’t think we would really get injured,” Gibbons recalled. “I feel bad now because I got taken out of the arena and I’m thinking ‘oh my god, Casimero’s still out there, they’re probably taking him out back.’ It was crazy.” 

There is lots of business for me right now. WBO World Bantamweight Champion - John Riel Casimero

Now, the Filipino road warrior will yet again defend his title on foreign soil when he takes on the undefeated Duke Micah (24-0, 19 KOs) of Ghana Saturday, September 26 at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. 

The fight is part of an explosive card featuring five world title bouts, live on SHOWTIME pay-per-view (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT), including a first-of-its-kind boxing doubleheader as Jermell Charlo faces Jeison Rosario in a 154-pound world title unification match and Charlo’s older twin brother, Jermall Charlo, defends his WBC World Middleweight title versus top contender Sergey Derevyanchenko.

Admittedly, the Micah fight came out of left field. 

Like most fighters, Casimero was adversely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, he was gearing up to face three-division titleholder Naoya Inoue.The rapacious coronavirus, however, scuttled the original fight date in April. 

“It’s been a roller coaster for him,” Gibbons reflected. “He arrived here on February 7 planning to fight Inoue in April. All that got cancelled. So when the pandemic hit, he’s in limbo, not in his home country. But he’s optimistic and he’s training thinking he’s going to fight in June or July, and that didn’t happen.”

“I have two daughters, and I have not seen them in eight months,” said Casimero, who has been living and training in Las Vegas. 

As negotiations for the Inoue fight slowed to a standstill, Team Casimero decided they needed to reverse course – if only because they felt they were being yanked along like some third-string, last-minute replacement opponent. 

“The man (Inoue) first of all said he had visa problems, then he said he had back problems, then, you know, supposedly, there were financial problems,” Gibbons said. “I think Inoue, he’s not afraid of anybody, but…we thought we’re not going to sit here and jerk ourselves off. 

“We wanted the fight so bad (with Inoue) that Casimero was willing to accommodate weight amenities, as if we were the opponent and we weren’t being treated right. So now it’s like, we’re the A-side here. We ain’t no B-side no more.” 

In other words, Casimero may be a journeyman, but he’s also a champion, and he wants to be treated like one. 

“Forget Inoue,” Gibbons said. “He may not be the best in the world. There’s Luis Nery, there’s Guillermo Rigondeaux, there’s a lot of other bantamweights out there. Inoue may be in the rear view mirror, Inoue may still be there, but Casimero is going to call the shots. He’s not going to sit and get jerked off like he did during this period.” 

Casimero agrees. 

“I need to take care of my business first (against Micah), but maybe my next fight will be Nery or Rigondeaux or Inoue,” Casimero said. “There is lots of business for me right now.” 

“After Argentina,” Gibbons chimed in, “everything else is easy work.” 

For a close look at Casimero vs Micah, check out our fight night page.  

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