By Jake Donovan
Their bout may be buried on the non-televised undercard of this weekend’s PBC on Fox telecast, but the stakes have significantly raised for bantamweights Ricardo Espinoza and John Riel Casimero.
Already scheduled to collide on Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., the pair of veteran contenders have learned that their forthcoming showdown will now come with the World Boxing Organization (WBO) interim title at stake. Their bout will serve in supporting capacity to a Fox-televised welterweight showdown between former two-division titlist Danny Garcia and veteran contender Adrian Granados
The ruling came down from WBO headquarters on Tuesday, recognizing its main title—held by Zolani Tete—locked up in the current World Boxing Super Series tournament. As such, a fielded protest by Espinoza’s team to upgrade their previously slated regional title fight was openly embraced by the sanctioning body.
“[T]he petitioner notes that due to the division inactivity the WBO Bantamweight division-rated contenders suffer detrimental damages and opportunity losses, while vying for the WBO Bantamweight Championship Title,” Luis Batista Salas, championship committee chairman for the WBO outlined in a letter sent to all involved parties. “Mr. Tete acquired his title on April 22, 2017; he only defended it on three occasions – November 18, 2017 against Siboniso Gonya, April 21, 2018 against Omar Narvaez, and on October 13, 2018 against Mikhail Aloyan, who was also his first quarterfinal contender of the WBSS Tournament.
“[T]he WBO World Championship Committee recognizes the importance of allowing their champions the discretion to participate in activities they may deem as of career importance, the Committee must also be fair to all of its rated contenders. Now, therefore, be it resolved by the WBO World Championship Committee that given all of the above and in the best interests of all our classified Bantamweight contenders and to benefit the Sport of Boxing as a whole, the WBO Interim Bantamweight Championship be approved.”
The winner of Saturday’s contest will still have to wait out the end of the tournament, as the WBSS has yet to even begin its semifinals. Tete will appear on the April 27 show in Lafayette, Louisiana, as he takes on four-division champion and two-tour bantamweight titlist Nonito Donaire in a title unification clash.
Whomever prevails will take on the May 18 winner between unbeaten bantamweights Naoya Inoue (WBA secondary titlist) and Emmanuel Rodriguez (IBF titlist) in the finals. That bout likely wouldn’t come until the 4th quarter of 2019 given the tournament’s history and current pacing, allowing the winner of Espinoza-Casimero to take on awaiting contenders in the interim—hence the very purpose of such a title.
Espinoza (23-2, 20KOs) enters his first career title fight having won 13 straight, including a 10th round knockout win over Ricardo Nuñez this past March. The bout—which served as the 2019 spring season premiere of Boxeo Telemundo—marked the deepest knockout in the career of the 21-year old knockout artist from Mexico, who’d never scored a stoppage beyond round four prior to his performance.
“We are proud of Espinoza's progress up to date,” Felix ‘Tutico’ Zabala Jr., Espinoza’s promoter told BoxingScene.com of his young charge and the opportunity which awaits him. “He has shown he belongs at the top of the division. We are sure of Espinoza’s ability and experience in title fights to bring him a victory and the WBO title on Saturday.”
Awaiting the young slugger is a veteran boxer with title fight pedigree. Philippines’ Casimero (26-4, 17KOs) enjoyed two title reigns at flyweight before moving up to the 118-pound division in for good in 2017.
He’s won three of his last four starts since vacating the flyweight title following a 10th round knockout of previously unbeaten Charlie Edwards, who’s since claimed a 112-pound belt. Casimero comes into Saturday’s contest with an 8-3 record in full and interim title fights.
That level of experience, however, doesn’t have his opponent shook.
"I am happy to be fighting for a world title,” expressed Espinoza.”I have proven that I am ready for the moment. I want to thank all my team for making this possible and on Saturday night, Tijuana will have a new world champion.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox