The older man kept moving.
To his left, back along the ropes, circling to his right. Guillermo Rigondeaux, even at the age of 40, shuffled around the ring an infuriating amount of time as John Riel Casimero looked for any punch that might touch the former champion. It was vintage Rigondeaux.
On Saturday night in Carson, Calif., the Cuban veteran engaged on his own terms. He punched when he wanted. But Rigondeaux certainly didn’t win over those in the crowd at the Dignity Health Sports Park. And more importantly, he didn’t earn the favor of the judges.
Casimero retained his WBO bantamweight belt in a split-decision win, 116-112, 113-115, 117-111. The one who pressed the action was ultimately rewarded.
“I’m focused on [the] knockout, but Rigondeaux always runs,” Casimero said in his post-fight interview on Showtime. “Rigondeaux just always run. No fighting.”
It was a historically boring fight. The 91 combined landed punches was the lowest for a 12-round bout in CompuBox history. Neither fighter landed more than seven punches in a round.
From the outset, it had the trappings of an ugly fight. Casimero (31-4, 21 KOs) was warned in the first round after he hit Rigondeaux (20-2, 13 KOs) in the back of the head and then while he was on the canvas recovering from a slip.
Rigondeaux had some success with a couple of straight left hands in the second round. By the third round, the crowd had seen enough. Boos started to boom throughout the arena as Rigondeaux continued to circle around the ring. Casimero, 32, even stood in the middle at various moments asking the Cuban Olympic champion to engage.
Rigondeaux was content to slip to his right as Casimero flailed away with left hooks that punched through the air. After such an occurrence in the seventh round, Rigondeaux grinned, shook his head up and down and kicked up his heels, a matador happy with his misdirection. In his mind, the strategy was working. He thought his 44 punches were enough to show his mastery over Casimero, who landed just 15.8% of his 297 punches and connected on a mere six of 130 jabs.
“That’s the necessary amount of punches that I needed to win this fight,” Rigondeaux said. But the fears of Rigondeaux’s trainer, Ronnie Shields, turned out to be correct. It wasn’t enough action to win rounds. The Cuban legend suffered just his second career loss, with the other a shocking stoppage loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko in December 2017.
Casimero has his sights set on the other champions in the division — fellow countryman Nonito Donaire, who initially agreed to fight Casimero before he pulled out and was replaced by Rigondeaux, and Japanese star Naoya Inoue, who Casimero issued the middle finger at the end of his post-fight interview.
As for Rigondeaux, the future is much more uncertain, especially after a frustrating performance for just about everyone involved except for him. But the way he fought on Saturday night was how he defected from Cuba, won two Olympic gold medals and became a champion — even if people can’t stand to watch.
“It’s my style,” Rigondeaux said. “It’s the only one that I know.”