Johnriel Casimero and his team made the most of an undesirable situation, ahead of what is the most desirable fight of his storied career.
Travel delays left the three-division and reigning bantamweight titlist unable to honor a commitment to a press conference held in Japan to formally announce his eagerly anticipated clash with pound-for-pound entrant Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16KOs). Their three-belt unification clash will take place April 25 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, though now with fight week having to serve as the first time the two come face to face.
Instead, Casimero and the team at Manny Pacquiao Promotions (MPP) held an impromptu press conference in Manila, complete with a cardboard cutout of Japan’s Inoue sharing the dais with the local hero.
“We couldn’t make it to Japan (due to) visa problems,” noted Sean Gibbons, president of MPP who helped put together the last-minute presser—and arranged for a life-size figure of Inoue to be made available to the media. “So, we are happy that Mr. Inoue “The Monster” was able to make it here today.”
The session will mark Casimero’s last local appearance before heading to Miami for a full training camp.
Casimero (29-4, 20KOs) called for a unification bout with Inoue—regarded by many as on the short list of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world—almost immediately after securing a bantamweight title following a 3rd round knockout of Zolani Tete last November in Birmingham, England. The 13-year pro from Ormoc City, Philippines—who turns 31 this month—became a three-division titlist with the feat, having previously held major belts at junior flyweight and flyweight.
The win over Tete was the third of a terrific 2019 campaign in which he secured an interim title with a 12th round knockout of streaking contender Ricardo Espinoza. Wedged in between his interim title and full title victories was a 10th round stoppage of veteran contender Cesar Ramirez last August.
As grand as was his run last year, the squat bantamweight is in for a tall order versus Inoue. Of course, the same can be said in reverse, although the charismatic Filipino sought to literally dismiss any such advantage.
“Johnriel got a chance to look at him eye-to-eye,” quipped Gibbons of the mock staredown, as the 5’4” Casimero eyed the life-size cutout of the 5’5” Inoue. “He feels that after looking at him, now he’s the real monster. So, on April 25 we are going Monster hunting.
“This is the best two bantamweights in the world… fighting in the prime of their careers.”
Amazingly, the well-traveled Casimero will fight in Las Vegas for the first time in his career. The aforementioned win over Espinoza marked his lone other stateside appearance, with Inoue having also previously fought just once in the U.S., coming in a 6th round knockout of Antonio Nieves in September 2017.
The bout was just one of two career fights away from Japan for Inoue. The lone other road trip came on neutral ground, traveling to Glasgow, Scotland for a two-round thrashing of then-unbeaten bantamweight titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez last May. The win came in the semifinal round of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament, which he would go on to claim top honors following a title-unifying 12-round win over Fil-Am superstar Nonito Donaire last November.
Following the tournament win came the news that Inoue had signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank and ESPN, under which he debuts in April. The unbeaten prodigy—who turns 27 in April—was ordered to face Casimero’s countryman and mandatory contender Michael Dasmarinas, but was able to work out a deal where he instead faces Casimero in a far more desirable fight.
It’s an upgrade openly welcomed by the fighter who landed the lucrative assignment.
“See you Inoue,” stated Casimero. “You are The Monster. But me, I am the real monster!”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox