This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s June 21 edition.
Nonito Donaire Jr. caused quite a stir on Father’s Day when he announced a blockbuster fight with fellow Filipino world champion Johnreil Casimero.
Though we’ve had a few title fights involving Filipino fighters in recent years—something that would have been avoided a decade ago—this is the first time that two Filipino world champions will face each other in a unification bout. The Donnie Nietes vs. Alson Palicte fight in 2018 was for the vacant WBC 115-pound title, while Jerwin Ancajas also once beat Jonas Sultan in one of his title defenses of his IBF crown.
But this one is different. Donaire just won the WBC 118-pound belt after stopping Nordine Oubaali on May 29 to become the oldest ever champion in the division at 38, while Casimero, who is six years younger, earned the WBO version with a stoppage win over Zolani Tete on Nov. 20, 2020.
On Aug. 14, 2021, only one of them will remain a champion and whoever it will be will be a boost to Philippine boxing.
This wasn’t always the case, though. Ten years ago this was unthinkable and I think Donaire would have been ostracized had he entertained such thoughts of fighting fellow Pinoy champions. I once asked why our champs avoid each other while the Mexican greats figured in trilogies. I was told that we rarely have champions, we shouldn’t pit them against each other.
That’s no longer the case, though. We’ve had a reigning world champion in the lower division for close to a decade and in the 118-pound division, we have three—Casimero, Donaire and Reymart Gaballo, the WBC interim champion.
If you want to be the best in your class, you have to fight your fellow champions.
This early, I’m curious how this will play out to the Filipino fans and how the two will conduct themselves in the promotion. Lately, Donaire has been the statesman, not resorting to any trash talking while Casimero has played to the crowd, even belittling Japanese great Naoya Inoue. (It sells fights.)
Will he do the same? I think it’s a given that the Filipino crowd will be tuning in, there’s no need to sell the fight to them.
As for me, this is going to be a real case of wishing for the better man to win, since the winner will most likely get a date with Inoue, who just beat Pinoy Michael Dasmariñas in three rounds.
Donaire showed he could go toe-to-toe with Inoue in 2019, while Casimero has been chasing that lucrative fight.