In little more than a week, boxing fans will be treated to their second fight for just about everything that says ‘the man’ in a weight class.
It’s the second four-belt unification of the year. Jermell Charlo (34-1, 18 KO) puts his three alphabet straps, Ring Magazine title, and claim to lineal the Jr. middleweight throne on the line against Brian Castano (17-0-1, 12 KO). The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board will recognize the winner as the king of the Jr. middleweights as well.
In other words, this is a world championship fight in the best sense of the world. When the dust clears, this will be a genuine last man standing...
At least until the first challenger steps up to the plate.
While having so many straps and claims on the line can add to the pomp and circumstance, could it also be called the latest in a 21st century trend at 154 lbs.
After all, it wasn’t always like this at the weight.
The Jr. middleweight class was born in the early 1960s and, as has been the case for many in-between weight classes, fought its way to relevance on the back of some early notables like Nino Benvenuti and inevitable waves of stars later on.
It’s recognized world title could be traced on a straight line for a bit. Jr. middleweight managed a single prominent champion for more than a decade until World champion Koichi Wajima was stripped of one of the then-two major sanctioning titles (in his case, the WBC) in 1975.
The lineage of the crown remained through Ray Leonard’s win over Ayub Kalule in 1981. The alphabet straps stayed apart.
There was one effort to crown an ‘undisputed’ king. The clash between WBC stalwart Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran left boxing with a clear, genuine champion but the WBA wouldn’t give their sanction and Duran was shorn of their belt before the fight. It was the closest the division would come until, after the emergence of two more sanctioning bodies, Terry Norris unified the WBC and IBF belts in 1995 with a dominant, if forgettable, decision over Paul Vaden.
That was that for the 20th century; one unification fight over the course of a quarter century.
Unification, like anything in boxing, can require context to measure its lasting significance. There are times when it firmly plants one fighter atop their weight. It’s not always the case. Paul Spadafora and Leonard Dorin fighting for two belts in 2003 wasn’t going to supplant Floyd Mayweather at the top of the lightweight division even if they hadn’t gone to a draw.
It still carries a greater air of significance. What unification signifies to fans is they are seeing two of the best fighters in a given weight class. In a sport where sanctioning body rankings are too often more reflective of business ties than merit, fighting a mandatory number one contender has less guarantee of competitive quality.
Anyone who has scratched their head at recent mandatories like Josh Taylor-Apinun Khongsong or Saul Alvarez-Avni Yildirim understands.
While unification isn’t every day, and can be unnecessary if a unified champion stays that way, Jr. middleweight has seen a shift upward as we get closer to the end of another quarter century.
Arguably the greatest fight in the division’s history, Felix Trinidad-Fernando Vargas, marked the first of what with Charlo-Castano will be the seventh Jr. middleweight unification fight in the last 21 years. The others, including only primary titles from the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO, were Oscar De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas, Winky Wright-Shane Mosley I, Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez, Jarret Hurd-Erislandy Lara, and Jermell Charlo-Jeison Rosario. Wright-Mosley, for three straps, was the only other fight billed as delivering undisputed honors before Charlo-Castano, with less heed given to the WBO in their moment.
Most of these fights have happened in clusters, with Charlo-Castano marking the third unification match in just the last three years and change and the first three happening between 2000-04.
It’s still an improvement over so many of the years before.
It remains to be seen how Charlo-Castano will be remembered alongside its peers. Will we see a dominant masterclass like Wright-Mosley or Mayweather-Alvarez? Will it contend with the violent legacy of Trinidad-Vargas or Hurd-Lara?
We will find out.
The most boxing fans can hope for is that when the stars align in a division, they see the fights to define the best of an era. Unification might not always provide that but whittling down to a moment like Charlo-Castano does and having all of the hardware up for grabs doesn’t hurt. It’s something fans have seen enough of in the 21st century to almost begin to expect it at Jr. middleweight.
Their expectations will be rewarded again next week.
If Deontay Wilder lands the sort of shot against Tyson Fury in their third fight that he did in the first, does Mike Ortega count to ten first or jump the gun as is too often the case in contemporary boxing? Wilder retains a hell of a puncher’s chance but the reaction of the referee could be a factor in how that chance plays out…Josh Taylor moving up to challenge Terence Crawford is a fine idea...Alligator Loki is the sort of TV that just wasn’t available twenty years ago. Kudos to the House of Mouse...Leo Santa Cruz-Gary Russell has been the best fight the PBC could deliver at featherweight for years. It still is.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.