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Filipino Road Warrior John Riel Casimero Shocks Zolani Tete

Matt McGrain

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Filipino road warrior John Riel Casimero moved to 29-4 in Birmingham, England this Saturday night with an unexpected early knockout of long-standing bantamweight titlist Zolani Tete (now 28-4).  Casimero, who has thrown punches in five different countries in his five most recent fights, is never less than a live underdog against any bantamweight, but this latest victory must register as something of an upset – and one with potential reverberations at a pound-for-pound level.

Tete, who plies his trade in the UK under the promotional banner of Frank Warren, has become something of an honorary Brit in recent years boxing six of his last seven contests in Britain, preferring the benefits of the British pound over the comforts of his home country of South Africa.  The arrangement has worked well for the 5’9” puncher (twenty-one of twenty-eight victories coming by way of knockout) but he looked disorganized in out-pointing Mikhail Aloyan, a former crack amateur, over twelve rounds last October.  Famed for an all-action style, Tete appeared sluggish and was even docked a point for holding.

The signs, then, were there, and when he pulled out of a big-money fight with Nonito Donaire with a shoulder injury in April, his problems were compounded. Casimero, meanwhile, dusted no fewer than three opponents while Tete languished.

A fascinating fight unfolded at the bell, Casimero immediately ceding the center of the ring and moving in a stop-start circle, allowing Tete to deploy his southpaw jab to no real affect. The timing of Casimero’s first rushed attack was telling. Tete has a habit of stepping out square with his front foot and sending his weight across with that jab and the moment he did so, Casimero was on him. The strategy was an excellent one. It challenged Tete to risk more or work more in order to make his jab tell and it obscured Tete’s brilliant uppercut. The South African deploys it by shifting back slightly and bringing his man onto the punch but Casimero was banking on his superior speed to make it difficult. His ploy to attack suddenly across Tete’s distributed weight and move in a lateral half-step was removed in intensity from Manny Pacquiao’s chief ring strategy but it also bespoke some technical alterations that held sway. Pacquiao’s relationship with Casimero is one of fighter-promoter but the lineage of his style was there to see.

Casimero nicked the opener and dropped the second keeping his distance and deploying his right to the body, snaking at distance, hands low, awaiting his opportunity to strike. This called for discipline in control of distance and it was in this he sometimes failed in the second, moving across rather than around his deadly foe, an invitation to disaster. Tete also enforced a slow pace whereas Casimero, mobile and occasionally rushing, clearly wanted things to move faster.

It was poised, then, at the beginning of the third with no real herald of what was to come.  Immediately Casimero closed the distance, dipping and leaning away to give himself a split second more on evading the right hand, also throwing his first double-jab. Tete responded to the closer proximity with higher activity but he seemed reluctant to chase; Casimero narrowed his range of movement covering off perhaps a hundred degrees where he had been using three-sixty. Tete, suddenly, was favoring his back-leg for weight distribution rather than his lead leg. This meant that when Casimero launched his latest sortie, he had no weight-transfer available to him to give him that first shade of retreat and he found himself planted. The Filipino followed his jab with two short right hands, stepping round and behind Tete for the second of these and the South African fell immediately to a crouch and then to all fours.

He stood clear-eyed but his legs were betraying him, his physical uncertainty reminiscent of that of Anthony Joshua against Andy Ruiz; unlike that fight however, the coming fighter’s reckoning was near-immediate. The follow up was untidy but Tete’s disorganization was the greater of the two. He stumbled, clutched, fell; Casimero’s response was to pin his man against the ropes and weld punches together. None was telling but Tete was still so hurt from the double-right-hand that had unmanned him he sprawled while attempting to flee. The referee began a second count. Tete regained his feet again but the referee’s stoppage of the beltholder seconds later was born of his inability to defend himself rather than any individual punch.

Seeing Tete so scrambling and desperate so early in the fight was the real shock. He has been stopped before, but a decade ago, and seemed as improved a fighter as walked the earth. Never quite a threat to the pound-for-pound list, he seemed on the verge of getting his chance with a match against bantamweight kingpin Naoya Inoue all but made pending the result of this fight.

Now, it is Casimero who stands ready to match the Japanese. Charming and effusive, he called out “The Monster” post-fight, once he had got his name straight with management in a stage-whispered conversation that will likely get under Inoue’s skin. The smart money says that Casimero isn’t big enough to trouble the world’s number one bantamweight, giving up height and a significant reach advantage against a superior technician. Of course, these were the same objections that were raised in opposition to his defeating Tete, and he has done that, with ease.

Tete, meanwhile, was elevated to Inoue’s most significant test in the minds of many; and while Inoue’s recent barnburner with Donaire was seen by most as a matter of a great old fighter turning in that one last great performance, it has called Inoue’s pre-eminence into question. Perhaps there is an element of illusion to the Japanese phenom? If so, Casimero, who never knows when he is beaten and is unaffected when he is, may be well positioned to take advantage.

Hopefully we get to find out – and soon.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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