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Casimero a champ without a home
Former light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson has retired but Johnriel Casimero, who defends his 108-pound title against Pedro Guevara in Guevara's hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico on Saturday, is keeping the "Road Warrior" tradition alive.
MANILA, Philippines – It'd be safe to say that no one will ever accuse IBF light flyweight titleholder Johnriel Casimero of being a coddled fighter.
Though the 22-year-old Casimero from Ormoc City, Leyte, Philippines has just 18 fights (16-2, 10 knockouts) to his credit, he has fought abroad four times in countries such as South Africa, Nicaragua and most recently Argentina, where his minor upset victory over former titleholder Luis Lazarte in February touched off a full scale riot, resulting in Casimero taking refuge underneath the ring.
This Saturday's bout against Pedro Guevara (18-0-1, 13 KOs) in Guevara's hometown of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico will be Casimero's fifth such fight abroad. As Casimero has found out, fighting in other countries tends to be more profitable than fighting at home. The risk of being victimized by a hometown decision, biased officiating or worse is omnipresent in his career, but it's the risk he must take to maximize his profitability.
"I much like fighting in other countries because the prize is much bigger, plus I get to carry the country's name," said Casimero, who was upgraded from interim champion status to full champion less than two weeks ago after Ulises Solis was unable to make his mandatory challenge due to injury.
Casimero's promoter Sammy Gelloani admits that Guevara "is a stranger to us" but takes peace in the lack of standout victories on the unbeaten fighter's ledger.
Casimero says he has seen YouTube videos of Guevara (most likely his draw against former title challenger Mario Rodriguez) and feels comfortable with the style, but is always worried about the possibility of bad officiating/judging.
Casimero previously challenged current IBF flyweight titleholder Moruti Mthalane in South Africa, losing by a fifth round TKO. Afterwards, Casimero said he wasn't able to adjust to the Johannesburg altitude with less than a week to acclimatize and fell apart due to exhaustion.
Casimero's situation isn't uncommon. Though the Philippines is a boxing rich country, economic hardship has made it very difficult for Filipino boxers to bring championship fights home where they can exercise the upper hand. Even though some boxing events in Manila charge as little as $3 USD, few draw well and many are hosted by town officials with free admission.
Filipino promoters rely heavily on local television networks to make a profit, but with limits on network budgets, negotiations for world title fights can be difficult.
"I have a hard time dealing with television because the television will just wait for somebody when he's already a superstar. That is the reality," said Gelloani. Gelloani, who also had to promote his previous world champion Marvin Sonsona abroad, says that a proposed July 28 bout featuring Casimero in Cebu was nixed due to financial reasons.
On short notice, Gelloani reached out to his international partner Sampson Lewkowicz, to arrange a fight in Mexico. Mexico, like Japan and Thailand, receives sizable support from local television networks to support world title bouts in their country, which results in more world champions and longer title reigns. Gelloani said that Mexican boxing also has strong financial support from beer companies like Corona and Tecate, which sponsor big title fights and shoulders much of the costs.
The Casimero vs. Guevara bout will be televised in the Philippines by local network TV5 on a delayed basis (Sunday, 1PM PHL time).
"The Philippines are coming up with lots of fighters with potential, and we need the TV [money] to support them," said Gelloani, who estimates that the cost of promoting a world title fight in the Philippines can be around 5 million pesos, or about $120,000 USD. "Sometimes I have to extend or to reschedule the promotion because we are losing money in our way of promotion. Except when TV comes in and supports us, that's the time when we can break even or move forward."
Aljoe Jaro can relate. Jaro is the boxing manager/trainer who recently guided underdog Sonny Boy Jaro to THE RING flyweight championship with an upset over Thai legend Pongsaklek Wonjongkam in Thailand, only to see Jaro lose it in his first defense in Japan. Another charge of his, THE RING's No. 5-rated minimumweight Denver Cuello, has fought most of his bouts of consequence in Mexico.
Jaro says that a Filipino boxer competing in a championship fight can make around $50,000 USD per fight, but only half of that back home. He adds that shouldering the expenses of a title bout where the paid gate isn't likely to be significant is a dangerous risk.
There has been some hope for Philippine boxing of late, as Cebu-based promotional outfit ALA Boxing recently won a battle to bring the AJ Banal vs. Thai boxer Pungluang Sor Singyu for the vacant WBO bantamweight title to Manila on October 20. It wasn't easy, and negotiations took five months. Another of their boxers, WBO light flyweight champion Donnie Nietes, was able to mix in some homeland defenses among his appearances in Mexico.
Staging a Casimero world title fight in the Philippines is a dream of his, says Gelloani. He hopes that by winning against the odds overseas, the networks and sponsors will take note and see something worth investing in.
"Casimero is not a big name yet," said Gelloani. "We are hoping if ever we can successfully defend our title in Mexico, we're hoping that the television will turn their back like, 'Oh I think we have to support Casimero.' So we have to let him be exposed more, we have that prestige of fighting abroad and I think that the television will come after us after this."
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.
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