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Casimero edges Rigondeaux in a fight to forget

John Riel Casimero
Morgan Harlow/Getty Images
John Riel Casimero fails to spark Guillermo Rigondeaux into life but does manage to secure a decision victory on a strange night in Carson

As far as mid-tier fight venues in America go, few are as beloved as Southern California’s Dignity Health Sports Park, once known as the StubHub Center (and before then, as the Home Depot Center). Affectionally deemed “The War Grounds” by the sport’s hardcore cognoscenti, the plein-air arena has become a byword for the kind of pugilism that generates gasps, standing ovations, and raucous hosannas — the kind, in short, that produces lasting memories. Who could forget the two duels that took place there between Israel Vasquez and Rafael Marquez in the late aughts? Or the hair-bristling violence Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov committed on each other in 2013? Or, more recently, Nonito Donaire’s swift, age-defying destruction of Nordine Oubaali earlier this spring?

So it was that many were holding out hope that the bantamweight contest between Filipino titleholder John Riel Casimero and Cuban whiz Guillermo Rigondeaux might benefit from such association, that somehow this matchup, the latest to materialize at the hallowed amphitheater, could produce a scrap on par with some of the great barnburners of the past. But, alas, there is no sport quite like boxing that abuses and preys on the optimism of its fans. 

For 12 listless rounds that would have tried the patience of a veteran Carthusian monk, Casimero and Rigondeaux put on a stinker of a main event that generated as much action as a traffic jam on the 405 interstate highway. Few punches were thrown and even fewer landed. Indeed, according to CompuBox statistics, the pair set the record for fewest total connected punches in a 12-round contest with 91. Suffice to say, no one will ever remember Casimero-Rigondeaux. You are likely to have a far more revelatory experience watching Andy Warhol’s eight-hour 1964 film of the Empire State Building captured in one stationary shot.

While neither fighter had much of a case for winning, the scorecards ended up favoring the presumed aggressor. Judges Robert Hoyle (117-111) and Daniel Sandoval (116-112) both had it for the Filipino, while Tim Cheatham (115-113) gave the nod to the Cuban southpaw.

The blame cut both ways. The hard-hitting Casimero often looked amateurish, especially as it pertained to cutting off the ring of which he was clueless; at times it seemed as if Casimero was tethered to Rigondeaux, like the string on a kite. As for Rigondeaux, in backpedalling the entire fight, he holstered his offense to a greater degree than usual, which is saying something. Of course, of the two, only Rigondeaux might be said to have contempt at the idea of willingly catering to the fans.

It was all downhill from the opening round. Midway through, Casimero landed an illegal blow on the back of Rigondeaux’s head, causing the Cuban to momentarily touch the canvas. As referee Jerry Cantu came over to indicate that it was not an official knockdown, Casimero reeled off a few more illegals punches on his still-kneeled foe. As it would turn out, that was probably the most interesting scuffle to take place that night.

After shaking off the vulnerable start, Rigondeaux rebounded in the second round by connecting on several stiff counter straight lefts, by far the best punch in his otherwise limited arsenal. But Rigondeaux’s offensive spurt quickly fizzled, and soon he was back to his regressive, noncommittal habits. It only took until the end of the third round for the crowd to start booing.

“I’m surprised,” Casimero said postfight. “He was running always. No punching.”

Casimero’s handler Sean Gibbons was less diplomatic and had even called for the local commission to hold up Rigondeaux’s purse.

“In my 35 years of boxing that was the most embarrassing fight I had ever seen,” Gibbons said. “It didn’t happen because of [Casimero]. It happened because of Guillermo Rigondeaux. I don’t even know how the guy can walk around and say he was in a fight. It was horrible. I was speechless when I heard ‘split decision.’ I almost fell out of the frickin’ ring.”

Bantamweight Emmanuel Rodriguez may need to pour a few libations for the boxing gods, considering all the bad luck he has had in his past few fights.

On the undercard (TGB Promotions), Rodriguez had to settle for a No Contest after a clash of heads with Washington D.C.’s Gary Antonio Russell left Rodriguez reeling on the canvas, his nose bloodied from the blow. Referee Sharon Sands, seeing that Rodriguez was incapacitated, waved the bout off 16 seconds into the opening round (set for 12).

This was the latest setback for the Puerto Rican contender. Rodriguez suffered a controversial decision at the hands of Reymart Gaballo of the Philippines last year, in a fight many believed he had deserved to win. In 2019, he was brutally stopped by the lethal Japanese champion Naoya Inoue.

Cincinnati bantamweight Rau’shee Warren showed uncharacteristic vim in stopping Damien Vazquez of Las Vegas in a pair of rounds (set for 10).

Warren, a three-time Olympian, is not known for his power, but he made it a point to display it in this fight, dropping Vazquez twice in the opening round, both times with the right hook. In the second round, Warren mixed it up a bit, slipping the jab, before connecting on a textbook-worthy counter left hand straight down the middle. Vazquez went down again, prompting referee Ray Corona to wave the bout off at the 2-18 mark.

John Riel Casimero (118lbs), 31-4 (21), w pts 12 Guillermo Rigondeaux (117 1/2lbs), 20-2 (13); Gary Antonio Russell (116 3/4lbs), 18-0 (12), nc 1 Emmanuel Rodriguez (118lbs), 19-2 (12); Rau’shee Warren (117 1/2lbs), 19-3 (5), w rsf 2 Damien Vazquez (117 1/4lbs), 15-3-1 (8); Brandun Lee (141 1/4lbs), 23-0 (21), w rsf 1 Ezequiel Fernandez (138 1/4lbs), 28-5-1 (3);

Juan Carlos Payano (119lbs), 23-5 (11), w rsf 5 Raymond Tabugon (117 1/4lbs), 22-13-1; Alan Castano (155 1/2lbs), 14-1 (9), rsf 3 Christian Aguirre (165lbs), 8-8 (4); Jonas Sultan (119lbs), 17-5 (11), w ko 7 Sharone Carter (118 1/4lbs), 12-5 (3); Benjamin Stanoff (160lbs), 1-0, w pts 4 Maycon Oller De Silva (156 1/2lbs), 0-2.

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