CARSON, Calif. — Guillermo Rigondeaux was wearing Nike boxing shoes in the ring Saturday night to fight John Riel Casimero, but they might as well have been running sneakers.
They say a zebra can't change its stripes, and at 40 years old, the saying couldn’t be any more true for the two-time Cuban Olympics gold medalist, whose prolific amateur style has never translated to palatable fights in the pros.
Rigondeaux entered into the arena known for staging some of the most memorable fights of this century at the Dignity Health Sports Park and instead danced and delivered a dud, serving as somewhat of an anti-hero that the venue is simply not used to.
Rigondeaux was admonished by fans, principles, and ultimately, the people who mattered the most — the judges — as Casimero was rewarded for his all-action attack to retain his 118-pound WBO title with a split decision win.
Judge Robert Hoyle (Nev.) had it 117-111 for Casimero, as did Daniel Sandoval (Calif.) with a score of 116-112. Rigondeaux was awarded for his efforts with a 115-113 score from Nevada judge Tim Cheatham in the Showtime main event.
CompuBox credited Casimero (31-4, 21 KOs) with 47 punches landed in the fight, compared to 44 by Rigondeaux (20-2, 13 KOs, 1 NC). The combined total of 91 landed punches is the lowest for a 12-round fight in CompuBox history. If CompuBox were counting the total number of steps in the fight rather than punches landed, the clicker would have likely been broken.
"I'm excited to get the win,” said Casimero. “I was worried, because he said he wouldn't run, but he ran the whole time … My expectations were for a knockout. Me and all my fans wanted that. I did my best to knock him out, but he was just running and not fighting."
Casimero wanted to make the fight a rough and tumble affair much to Rigondeaux’s usual disinterest.
Any time Casimero caught Rigondeaux, he did a ballet number and backed off, or if his fleet feet failed him, he forcibly held. To Rigondeaux’s credit, his sniper left hand was still operating at the peak of his powers — he just didn’t use it enough.
The 32-year-old Casimero swung and missed in the opening seconds with a looping left hook, a scene that repeated throughout the night. He simply couldn’t find Rigondeaux until it was a right and left hand that glanced off the back of the head Rigo. A straight left forced the Cuban to put his glove on the canvas to catch his balance against the ropes. Casimero was blood thirsty and hit Rigondeaux with an illegal shot. Referee Jerry Cantu gave Casimero a stern warning.
“I thought I got the knockdown in the first round too,” said Casimero.
The two-division champion Rigondeaux was never really hurt, and rallied with two beautifully timed counter right hands as Casimero marched forth in the second. The boo birds came out during the round in full force as Rigondeaux backpedaled and looked for counters.
By the third round, Casimero promoter Sean Gibbons stood up and screamed as loud as he could several times, “stop running! Stop running!” The crowd agreed with the president of Manny Pacquiao Promotions, and rained down more boos in displeasure.
"Nobody wants to fight with me because I frustrate them in the ring. I landed the punches that I needed to in order to win the fight tonight. This is how I win,” said Rigondeaux. “I have these God-given skills and this is the way I display them. I'm a unique fighter. It's my style and it's the only one I know.”
Rigondeaux waltzing around the ring is nothing new. His fighting style has never been fan or TV-friendly, largely a reason why Top Rank opted not to promote him.
Casimero and Rigondeaux seemingly split the fourth and fifth rounds in tough-to-score and milquetoast rounds.
In the sixth stanza, Casimero might as well have been running at six-speed on the treadmill and trying to catch Rigondeaux. He was successful in his attempt, connecting with two shots in a row.
At the end of the round, Rigondeaux finally felt like fighting, flicking an illegal punch at Casimero.
Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood had the fight scored 57-57 till this point.
With a minute to go in the seventh round, Casimero, frustrated by the lack of Rigondeaux’s engagement, stood in the middle of the ring and begged for the Cuban to fight. Rigondeaux abided and leaped in like a cat with a shot to the body. He escaped the Filipino’s bull rush like a matador at the end of the round, and nodded his head like “is that what you wanted?”
Casimero continued marching forward in the eighth and ninth rounds, undoubtedly clocking in the most steps he’s had to take in a fight. He connected with whatever he could, and when he awkwardly lunged in, Rigondeaux found his openings.
In the tenth, more of the same script ensued. Casimero clipped Rigondeaux with two shots and ate one back.
The most punches Rigondeaux landed in a round was seven, which occurred in the tenth. Casimero landed seven punches in the fifth and ninth rounds, the most action he was credited with.
A hoarse Gibbons kept booing at the top of his lungs and loudly claimed “you’re the real champ” for Casimero and all of Carson to hear. But it was Rigondeaux who got the final say that round with a shot that spun Casimero back into his corner.
When the twelfth round began, instead of a customary standing ovation calling for three more minutes of action, the crowd lustily booed.
Casimero was reinvigorated as ever. Rigondeaux, perhaps feeling he was winning the fight, smiled.
But it was Casimero who got the last laugh.
"I had a three-fight plan. First was Rigondeaux, and I beat him. Next is Nonito Donaire and then finally Naoya Inoue,” said Casimero.
Rigondeaux suffered his first loss since 2017, when he quit in his corner against Vasiliy Lomachenko.
"You can see I'm still better than anyone else in the light weight classes and I'm going to keep fighting,” countered Rigondeaux.
The clash between Casimero and Rigondeaux was an on-again, off-again fight that was finally full systems go Saturday night.
Casimero vs. Rigondeaux was originally announced on April 15. But when Donaire (41-6, 27 KOs) dominated and knocked out Nordine Oubaali for the WBC title on May 29, PBC shifted gears and announced an all-Filipino unification fight between Casimero and Donaire instead, and Rigondeaux was relegated to the undercard. The new main event was announced June 19 but on July 3, Rigondeaux re-entered the picture when Donaire withdrew from the fight because he and his wife/manager Rachel Donaire were both dissatisfied with Casimero’s enrollment in VADA.
In his post-fight press conference, Casimero called Donaire “easy work” and invited him to fight once and for all.
Casimero successfully made the second defense of the WBO bantamweight championship of which he’s held since knocking out Zolani Tete in 2019.
The fight headlined a Showtime telecast which featured a night filled with knockout wins from Rau'shee Warren, Brandun Lee, Juan Carlos Payano, Alan Castano and former Casimero conqueror Jonas Sultan.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com