The three best fighters in the Philippines fought it out for the vacant WBO International Featherweight Championship, with Joshua Franco winning by split decision. Vergil Ortiz and John Riel Casimero both scored knockdowns in the fight, but neither was able to secure a victory.
Saturday was a boxing fan’s dream, if they had enough screens to see everything. Vergil Ortiz Jr. overcame an early scare from Egidijus Kavaliauskas to improve to 18-0 with 18 knockouts and put himself in contention for the welterweight world championship. And, when a second battle between Joshua Franco and Andrew Moloney went wrong, costing Franco his secondary 115-pound championship, Franco emerged as the obvious winner from Saturday’s trilogy fight against Moloney, ready to face the division’s other top competitors.
The 118-pound championship battle between John Riel Casimero and Guillermo Rigondeaux was much less thrilling, but Casimero was able to retain his title. Following that performance, the major issue for Casimero is if he’s ready for the other bantamweight titleholder, Naoya Inoue or Nonito Donaire.
A competitor with the name of perhaps the most famous boxer in the sport’s history made his debut in addition to the evening’s major bouts. Nico Ali Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, had a strong debut on the Franco-Moloney 3 undercard with a first-round KO. Did the battle provide adequate insight into Ali Walsh’s long-term potential as a fighter?
Mike Coppinger, Ben Baby, and Jeff Wagenheim, on our panel, lay down the most significant things we learnt on Saturday.
Vergil Ortiz survives his first major setback and shows his toughness.
Vergil Ortiz Jr. was knocked down early in his bout with Egidijus Kavaliauskas, but he came back and won his 18th knockout in 18 fights against the former world championship challenger. Getty Images/Kevin Estrada
Wagenheim: Ortiz didn’t simply pass the most important test of his career. He was named to the honor roll.
He managed a major step up in competition when he faced Kavaliauskas, whose only previous defeat was to champion and pound-for-pound great Terence Crawford, who needed one more round to win. Ortiz knocked down Kavaliauskas five times on route to maintaining his 100% knockout rate (18 KOs in 18 victories).
It was, though, what didn’t go so well that revealed the most about Ortiz. He did not panic when he was staggered in Round 2 and to a lesser degree in Round 3. He did get a little too aggressive at times, appearing to want to quickly hand out to his opponent what he had been dealt, which may be risky in certain situations. But it worked for Ortiz, who got his first knockdown before the end of the third round.
From then on, the battle was all his, and his conquest was calculated rather than explosive. Coming from a young boxer, it was remarkable. Ortiz utilized his powerful jab to both strike and neutralize Kavaliauskas’ attack. Slowly, he dismantled the Lithuanian. Ortiz then rushed for the finish with a barrage of diverse and well-placed punches after he had Kavaliauskas injured. It was an excellent performance.
Is he prepared to face Crawford? I’d like for the 23-year-old to gain some more experience, but his emotions and performance are screaming for something huge. Ortiz mentioned Crawford’s name, as well as Errol Spence Jr.’s and Manny Pacquiao’s, after the bout. To put it another way, he wants a huge battle. Let’s hope he’s able to acquire one.
John Riel Casimero claims to be prepared to face Naoya Inoue, but is he really?
John Riel Casimero failed to land blows against Guillermo Rigondeaux, prompting concerns about how he would perform against Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire, who are both 118-pound world champions. EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/ETIENNE LAURENT
Following his victory against Rigondeaux, Casimero had some harsh words for Inoue.
It was, in fact, a finger — the kind that can only be seen on specific cable TV stations. The 32-year-old Filipino obviously has strong emotions for Inoue, the Japanese unified 118-pound champion.
Despite Casimero’s victory against Rigondeaux in his title defense, there seems to be a gap at bantamweight between Inoue and Donaire at the top and Casimero in the second tier.
Inoue and Donaire seem to be on a different level than other bantamweights, including Casimero, based on what we’ve seen lately from them, especially their amazing bout in November 2019.
And, to be honest, regardless of how Casimero-Rigondeaux played out, that divide was unlikely to alter. Donaire turned back the clock to defeat Nordine Oubaali in a huge knockout win back in May, and Inoue continues to impress.
Casimero, on the other hand, did not do well in Saturday’s battle. Casimero only landed 47 blows against Rigondeaux, but the judges awarded the fight to the reigning champion due of his willingness to push the action. While some may disagree, prizefighting should, to some degree, reward activity.
Casimero won, although he failed to come up with a good game plan for Rigondeaux when he should have been ready. Casimero mentioned Rigondeaux’s habit of running around the ring before the fight. Despite this, Casimero repeatedly failed to remove the ring and let the 40-year-old Cuban defensive genius to continue shifting to his right. Casimero never had a response for Rigondeaux, who didn’t feel like firing punches either.
Casimero demonstrated on Saturday that he has the tenacity to pursue his goals. If he gets the bouts against Inoue and Donaire that he wants, he’ll need that mentality and passion.
Joshua Franco came out on top in his three-fight series with Andrew Moloney. Getty Images/Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc
At 115 pounds, Joshua Franco is ready to face the greatest.
Coppinger: Franco won his greatest bout of his career on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, putting the trilogy match with Moloney to rest. The 25-year-old displayed a new dimension to his game, including a jab that set up his power shots, improved footwork, and more skill.
It comes as no surprise. Robert Garcia, one of the greatest in the game, trained him instead of joining his prized fighter, Ortiz, for his TKO victory against Kavaliauskas in Frisco, Texas.
Franco drew the cream of the crop at 115 pounds, one of boxing’s finest weight classes, with this emphatic win. It’s a division with a “Big Four” who are undoubtedly among the world’s top 20 pound-for-pound competitors. Franco thinks he is deserving of a chance against Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Kazuto Ioka, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who make up the four.
It’s difficult to argue that he hasn’t earned the chance, but it’s less clear that he’ll be able to beat one of them. Franco demonstrated on Saturday that he can most likely compete with the greatest. His greatest chance will most likely come against Thailand’s Rungvisai, a wild-swinging puncher, but Rungvisai’s power is so deadly that he once knocked out future Hall of Famer Chocolatito in the fourth round of their second fight.
Franco will have a chance against anybody if he can box authoritatively on his feet as he did against Moloney. However, there’s a huge difference between doing it against a competent opponent like Moloney and doing it against one of the sport’s best.
For a long time, Nico Ali Walsh’s potential will be difficult to assess.
Coppinger: It’s much too early to assess Ali Walsh’s potential. He’s obviously unpolished and a work in progress. Top Rank’s skilled matchmakers will undoubtedly bring Muhammad Ali’s grandson forward at a snail’s pace, and we witnessed the first step of that glacial process on Saturday night in Tulsa.
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Ali Walsh was difficult to judge against Jordan Weeks, a no-hoper who was there to get knocked out in the first round. He performed exactly what he was supposed to do in the first frame: he let his hands go and got his opponent out.
Ali Walsh has the sort of charm that would make his grandpa happy, as shown by his performance on Saturday night. He’s pleasant and generous, and he has a theatrical flare.
He gestured for the audience to cheer him on as he dropped Weeks, knowing the finish was close. Of course, they agreed with him. For a long time, we won’t know how good Ali Walsh is. For the next few years, Top Rank will most likely equal him at the most gentle of inclines in competition and develop him into an attraction. This is their specialty.
We’ll find out whether Ali Walsh can really fight at some time. But that day isn’t going to come any time soon.