The World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) bantamweight tournament was supposed to determine the best 118-pounder in the world. For the record, Japanese superstar Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue topped the tournament after recently beating Nonito Donaire Jr. in the finals to unify the IBF and WBA crowns.
The WBSS tourney, however, left out arguably the best bantamweight champ in the world. Well, this is how WBO bantamweight king Zolani ‘Last Born’ Tete sees it and the champ has vowed to clear any doubt when he defends his title opposite Filipino John Riel Casimero this Sunday (Manila time) in London.
There are three occupants in the bantamweight throne today: WBA-IBF champ Inoue, WBC titlist Nordine Oubaali of France and WBO king Tete. The WBC throne was vacant when the WBSS tournament started last year and this explains why Oubaali, who won the WBC title only in January, was a no-show in the tournament.
On the other hand, Tete was originally part of the tournament. Tete was supposed to meet Donaire in the semifinals in April but withdrew at the last minute because of a shoulder injury. American Stephon Young replaced Tete and was dispatched in 6 rounds by Donaire.
Among the current crop of bantamweight kings, Tete (28-3, 21 knockouts) enjoys the longest reign. He has been the WBO bantamweight champ since April 22, 2017, when he defeated Filipino Arthur Villanueva. Tete had made three successful defenses before he injured his shoulder.
While Tete was recuperating, the WBO arranged a battle for the ‘interim’ WBO belt between Casimero and Ricardo Franco on April 20. Casimero picked up the interim belt with a devastating 12th round knockout of Franco. Casimero has since made one successful defense of the interim diadem, stopping Cesar Ramirez in 10 rounds on August 24 in Malate, Manila.
With Tete back in active duty, the South African is bent on proving that he is the real king of the bantamweights. Tete is looking at beating Casimero on Sunday and battling Inoue next year in a unification bout.
Of course, it may not be that wise for Tete to look that far ahead. Casimero, 28-4 with 19 knockouts, has plans of his own. The former light flyweight (108 lbs.) and flyweight (112 lbs.) champion is on a roll, having won his last four fights by knockout. Casimero last tasted defeat in September 2017, when he dropped a decision to countryman Jonas Sultan in Cebu.
The southpaw Tete stands a towering 5’9,” boasts of a 72-inch reach and an elongated right jab. In a display of power, Tete needed just 11 seconds and one punch to demolish challenger Siboniso Gonya in November 2017.
Villanueva, the last Filipino to fight Tete, struggled offensively as Tete’s jabs and straight shots kept him at a distance. Tete knocked down Villanueva in the 11th round to seal a methodical, lopsided decision victory.
“Masayadong mahaba ang kamay ni Tete at may lakas din ang suntok ni Tete, lalo na yung left uppercut,” Villanueva told this writer.
Then again, Tete is coming off a period of inactivity because of the shoulder injury. He has not fought since October 2018 and will be inactive for over a year when the bell rings for the Casimero fight.
In stark contrast, Casimero has never looked better going into the Tete fight. Casimero has struggled with his weight in the past but looks in tremendous shape these days. For the Tete fight, Casimero trained in Las Vegas and added to his camp conditioning coach Memo Heredia, a former member of Juan Manuel Marquez’s team.
Casimero packs power and, despite standing only 5’4,” is never shy to mix it up on the inside. Casimero is also no stranger in fighting on foreign soil, having boxed in Argentina, China, England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, South Africa, Thailand and the United States.
Undefeated British flyweight contender Sunny Edwards, whose brother Charlie Edwards was knocked out by Casimero in September 2016, believes Tete-Casimero is a 50-50 fight. The fight is close because Tete is expected to show some ring rust while Casimero is on a roll. Sunny Edwards described Casimero as a “dangerous, powerful and explosive” challenger.
Casimero may be the underdog, but nobody expects Zolani to have a casual tete-a-tete with him once they square off in the ring.