John Riel Casimero’s bantamweight title reign ends with a whimper.
In a unanimous verdict, the WBO Executive Committee voted in favor of stripping Casimero of his WBO bantamweight title for failure to defend on the second straight occasion. A two-week process to review the curious case of the three-division titlist following his being removed from a planned April 22 mandatory title defense versus Paul Butler ended in a 21-0 vote determining that is conduct unbecoming was grounds to relieve the Filipino of his title reign.
“The Committee unanimously recommended to the WBO Executive Committee to strip John Riel Casimero’s WBO World Bantamweight Championship Title for failure to comply with the conditions set forth in its “Resolution,” Luis Batista-Salas, WBO Championship Committee chairman noted Tuesday evening in a ten-page ruling (including the committee vote results), a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “The WBO Executive Committee unanimously voted in favor of adopting the WBO Championship Committee’s recommendation and therefore declares the WBO Bantamweight Championship Title “Vacant.”
“WBO Interim Bantamweight Champion Paul Butler is elevated from Interim Champion to “Full Champion Status.” The WBO World Championship Committee recommends to the WBO Ratings Committee that John Riel Casimero be rated at the number one (1) position in the WBO Bantamweight Ratings and subject to complying with the applicable rating criteria.”
The matter was presented before the 24-member WBO Executive Committee on April 19, when Casimero was deemed ineligible to proceed with his rescheduled April 22 title defense versus Butler in Liverpool, England. The fallout left Casimero without honoring a single mandatory title defense since winning the belt in a November 2019 third-round knockout of Zolani Tete in Birmingham, England.
Casimero was caught using the sauna ahead of the fight, which is strictly forbidden during fight week in accordance with the medical guidelines of the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC).
The rule in written form was challenged by Casimero’s legal team on April 20, as the stipulation itself does not exist anywhere in the provided 84-page document of rules and regulations that presently exist on the BBBofC website. An argument was also raised that not only has Casimero previously used the sauna for fights in England without incident, so too has Butler included his drastic efforts to shed weight ahead of a June 2016 title eliminator where he ultimately missed weight but was disqualified for complaints of blurred vision and compromised health.
Butler ultimately paid a fine for the infraction but was otherwise permitted to fight before the aforementioned health hazards were brought to surface.
Weakening Casimero’s argument is that sauna use is a noted prohibition according to most industry experts familiar with UK boxing rules and also stipulated on a sheet provided to the boxer’s immediate camp upon checking in ahead of fight week.
Butler (34-2, 15KOs) was approved to face late replacement Jonas Sultan, whom he soundly outpointed over twelve rounds in an approved interim WBO bantamweight title fight. Butler accepted such terms with the understanding that there existed the potential of being elevated to full champion, which turned out to be the case.
The fight was rescheduled primarily because Butler was not as willing to accept such an alternative the last time around. The two were due to meet last December 11 in Dubai, only for the fight to be canceled when Casimero failed to show up for the weigh-in. There was wide speculation of Casimero being well over the 118-pound limit, though it was later cited—and subsequently supported by medical proof—that a bout with gastritis prevented him from defending his title.
Butler was offered the opportunity to face former IBF bantamweight titlist Joseph Agbeko for the interim WBO title at the time, but refused and thus dropped out of the show as well.
All parties involved were prepared for the worst-case scenario this time around.
The ruling will be appealed by Casimero’s new manager, Egis Klimas who senses something greater is at play.
“This is insane and completely BS, someone here has to put dirty hands on this,” Klimas tweeted in immediate reaction to the ruling. “First time I am ever seeing fighter being stripped because of using sauna. What’s next???
“But let me dig little deeper into this, maybe we will find out something fishy or stinky to this story.”
Klimas and co-manager Jose Manuel de la Cruz had three top-level attorneys—John Hornewer, Pat English and Steve Pacitti—all look into the matter, though it still wasn’t enough to salvage Casimero’s title reign.
Casimero previously made two successful defenses of the title, both in a voluntary capacity. His first fight following the pandemic came in a third-round knockout of Ghana’s Duke Micah in September 2020. The fight came in lieu of a canceled three-belt unification clash with unbeaten WBA/IBF champ Naoya Inoue, which was scheduled to take place April 2020 in Las Vegas only for the initial wave of the global health crisis to shut down those plans.
His second—and final—title defense came in a twelve-round decision win over former lineal junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux last August 14 in Carson, California.
The unwatchable fight was previously announced during Showtime’s spring and summer schedule reveal last year, only to be replaced by a more appealing two-belt unification clash with legendary countryman Nonito Donaire, the four-division champion who’d just regained his old WBC bantamweight title. The fight fell apart almost as soon as it was agreed upon following a very public dispute over drug testing protocols.
Casimero eventually went back to original plans with Rigondeaux, though proving to be his last with longtime confidant Sean Gibbons, the head of MP Promotions who also promotes Sultan.
The rescheduled title defense with Butler was nearly scrapped after reports surfaced of Casimero’s alleged role in a complaint of lewd and lascivious acts last June involving a reportedly underage girl in his native Philippines. The matter is still under investigation, though Casimero—who has denied any wrongdoing—was at least able to provide enough proof to the WBO that it would not affect his ability to move forward with his mandatory title fight obligation.
Ultimately, the decision to use a sauna in a country prohibiting the practice—and the foolish choice to have his team film and air the matter live for outside forces to use as evidence against him—cost him the title.
Butler now enters his second bantamweight title reign, having previously—and briefly—held the IBF belt following a June 2014 split decision win over Stuart Hall. Butler relinquished the title in favor of a bid to compete for a title at junior bantamweight, though coming up miserably short in an eighth-round knockout loss to Tete in March 2015. His lone other loss came in a May 2018 bantamweight title bid versus then-unbeaten Emmanuel Rodriguez, losing a twelve-round decision.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox