On February 10, 2012, the fix was in.
Johnriel Casimero was flown over 11,000 miles and brought into Mar de Plata, Argentina to lose to Luis Lazarte, plain and simple.
The Filipino’s shocking upset of the hometown fighter, the subsequent riot, and the circumstances which led to the IBF banning Luis Lazarte for life were merely part of the snowball effect of a plan gone awry.
But before we dig into this sordid tale, let’s backtrack a bit.
In boxing, there are two ways to fix a fight.
The first is the more direct method of paying another fighter to take a dive or simply drop enough rounds on purpose to lose the bout.
The other way is more above-board–It’s cleaner and usually won’t come back to bite the star in the ass should the fall guy get a little yappy. A promoter simply arranges for a young, hapless fighter with a good record to be shipped in and sacrificed at the altar of the conquering hometown or home country hero.
Whenever an established star needs an easy touch between money fights, or a young prospect doesn’t want to risk an upcoming title shot against a real opponent, the call is made to import an earnest but hopeless pug from some exotic country.
Filipino, Weng Haya, goes to Mexico for Orlando Salido; Russia Sends Petr Petrov to Argentina for Marcos Maidana; Brazil offers up heavyweight pant-load, Marcelo Luiz Nascimento, for Euro dissection; Mexico sends Humberto Mauro Gutierrez to be sacrificed to Japan’s Takahiro Ao.
The tomato can trade is a well-established side industry in the sport and some fighters spend their entire careers on the beat-down circuit, fighting a few meaningless bouts in their home country for short money only to be sent thousands of miles to be beaten to a pulp by the “good guy” for a nice chunk of change.
In boxing, the only thing more marketable than a hotshot prospect with world class skills, is a no-hoper with a solid record and a talent for losing spectacularly.
And the 22-year-old Johnriel Casimero from the Philippines, sporting a 15-2 record while having lost two of his last three, was being brought in to take the fall for Argentina’s Luis Lazarte.
The 40-year-old Lazarte, a former junior flyweight titlist, has a reputation as one of the dirtiest fighters in the game (with five disqualifications in sixty-two pro fights) and is not even a beloved figure in his native Argentina. However, Lazarte is connected and in his hometown of Mar del Plata, he is untouchable.
Sponsored by labor leader, Hugo Moyano, whose power is said to exceed even that of the President’s, Lazarte heads a growing stable of fighters from blue collar Mar del Plata. The shows put on for the amusement of Moyano are usually based out of Club Once Unidos, an all-purpose 2,300-seat arena, often filled with rowdy teamsters and personal friends of friends.
The little security in the arena is mostly for show and act more like ushers than peace keepers. It’s the teamsters who keep the peace, and, needless to say, it wouldn’t be a wise move for some outsider to start a disturbance at the “Club,” where everybody knows somebody who can make problems disappear quickly.
Lazarte had made the “Club” his home and was fighting his seventh consecutive bout (and ninth of his last eleven) there. Not only was the diminutive brawler in his hometown, fighting at “his” arena, but he was also an active member of the teamster’s union, officially listed as a full-time street sweeper–a job he held since before turning pro.
On the night of the Lazarte-Casimero bout for the vacant IBF interim junior flyweight title, the usual crew of cussing, hard-drinking enforcers filled the ringside area.
The hometown fighter came to the ring with a look of determination. This was a big one for Lazarte and his people. At 40 years of age, there wasn’t much career ahead of him and this interim title would be his key to a few more big paydays and, likely, one more run at a world title. For his sponsors, the belt also meant a foothold of power and continued leverage in bringing a decent level of foreign fighter into Mar del Plata.
Once the bell rang, though, the determined, almost heroic-looking Lazarte reverted back to form–flailing, fouling, pulling, and even twice biting Casimero on the shoulder. The TV commentators remarked about there being so little actual boxing that it was almost impossible to score. Casimero fouled back, almost out of necessity, and referee Eddie Claudio from New York worked to maintain order, soaked with perspiration from a bout that was becoming impossible to officiate.
It was in the sixth round, of an increasingly chaotic scene, when Lazarte signed off on the move that would earn him his lifetime IBF ban.
As a point was being deducted from him for hitting behind the head, Lazarte took out his mouthpiece and asked Claudio, loud enough to be heard on TV, “Do you want to get out of here alive?”
Claudio didn’t seem to pick up on it, or didn’t allow it to frazzle him, but the threat was there. Lazarte knew that his people were running the show. The judges, commission reps, officials–even the opponent himself–were mere incidentals.
Whenever outsiders walk into foreign lands in boxing, the implication is that things will run much more smoothly if the hometown fighter gets his way. In some instances, there is real, physical danger involved in the hometown hero not getting his way.
For Claudio, there was no implied threat. When things seemed to be going against the script, Lazarte flat-out told him of the danger involved in upsetting the plan.
And it was no idle threat.
After Casimero dropped Lazarte twice in the ninth, the stoppage in the following round sparked a riot that captured headlines across the globe and nearly provoked an international incident between the Philippines and Argentina.
Teamsters dressed in their green work jackets and hats stormed the ring, flinging chairs and looking to start fist fights with Casimero, his crew, IBF officials, and just about anyone else who got in the way. By the end of the melee, twisted chairs littered the beer-soaked canvas and small battles ensued at ringside while the overrun security worked to get the foreigners back into the relative safety of the dressing room.
Oddly, Lazarte approached Casimero after the fight, apologized for the incident and gave the new IBF interim champ a jersey from Argentina’s national soccer team. In his mind, the issue was dead–until he heard the press accounts and then the official decision of the IBF.
For the record, Lazarte denies any involvement with Moyano beyond that of a sponsor, denies knowing any of the riotous teamsters, and claims that his statement to Claudio was merely something said in the heat of the moment.
For Lazarte, the IBF ban is not necessarily a death sentence for his career, but it will cost him some precious time while his backers look to make nice and peddle influence with one of the three remaining sanctioning bodies.
In the meantime, the 16-year veteran has his street sweeping job, the support of Moyano, and an informal offer to keep working with the young fighters in his stable of Moyano-sponsored pugilists. He also has the life lessons learned from such a mess, right?
“I’m pissed off because they’re [The IBF] picking on me. So many things happen [in boxing] and they break my balls,” Lazarte told Argentina’s Clarin newspaper. “But what can you expect from ignorant people?”
Surely, the local commission has learned an important lesson from the riot and the edict handed down to Lazarte, right? After all, IBF President, Daryl Peoples, also chastised the commission and demanded an investigation into the threat on Claudio as well as the circumstances surrounding the post-fight riot.
“We laugh at the sanctions of the international organizations,” President Osvaldo Bisbal of the Federación Argentina de Boxeo (FAB) told the Clarin. “They have no jurisdiction over us. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nobody to punish for what happened.”
So, with nobody having learned their lesson, the business of boxing goes on as usual.
One wonders if the IBF ban would’ve happened if the television cameras had not picked up Lazarte’s threat. One also wonders how many times past officials have been scared into looking the other way as Lazarte mauled hapless imports.
In previous fights, fouls have, indeed, gone uncalled and slack has been cut for the Mar del Plata native. In a high-profile title defense against Ulises Solis in 2010, the outrage caused by the foul-filled draw forced an immediate rematch. Other bouts, not on the public’s radar, were swept under the carpet, including his title-winning bout against defending champ, Carlos Tamara (also held at Club Once Unidos) where the visiting Colombian was pretty much mugged for twelve sloppy rounds en route to a split decision loss.
Another question to be asked is how the IBF got so cozy with Lazarte’s people in the first place.
Despite his ugly reputation as a true thug in the ring and with only two junior flyweight bouts against club fighters in over three years, Lazarte, after taking on labor leader, Moyano, as a sponsor, suddenly found himself a top ranked junior flyweight challenger to Carlos Tamara’s title.
The true story behind Lazarte, Moyano, and the IBF will never be uncovered, but what we can be sure of is that whenever plans backfire and the sleaze merchants of the sport get dragged into the light, it’s usually the fighters who take the fall for it all.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch him as he infuriates boxing nerds and pudgy mean bloggers across the Universo Pugilistico. Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.