After fighting to a draw with Brian Castano on Saturday night in San Antonio, Jermell Charlo didn’t seem bothered in the way many fighters do after a draw. With very few exceptions, fighters believe that any fight they were involved in that was scored closely should have gone in their favor. Though Charlo too believed that he ought to have been declared the winner of the bout, he seemed to reject the notion that it was wholly unjust, or that the result was something to be overly disappointed in.
“This is my first time experiencing something like this. This comes with boxing, baby. Wins, losses and draws,” Charlo told Jim Gray in his post-fight interview on SHOWTIME, before elaborating at the ensuing press conference. “The dude was tough as f---. That's what I wanted. I wanted a warrior, I faced a warrior, and I knew that's what I was getting in there with.”
Charlo and Castano battled in a superb fight for the undisputed super welterweight championship, a fascinating stylistic battle between a power counter puncher and a pressure fighter with true pop. It was by definition the best fight that could have been made at 154 pounds, and in practice it played out the same way. The fighters were evenly matched to the point that a draw was not an unreasonable conclusion to come to in terms of the fight’s result, and not an unsatisfying one either.
Scores were 114-113 Castano, 114-114 even, and 117-111 Charlo.
The only disappointment of the night was the completely bonkers scorecard issued by Nelson Vazquez, 117-111 Charlo, a misreading of the bout so egregious that even Charlo, who felt he won the fight, couldn’t say with a straight face that he won by those scores, acknowledging at the post-fight press conference that it was “kind of a large range.”
Even if you believed Charlo won the fight, you couldn’t possibly arrive at a score of 117-111 without either not actively scoring and simply issuing a randomized card in Charlo’s favor, or just fundamentally misunderstanding what was transpiring in the ring during this particular fight. Both of which would be a real shame, and a disservice to not just both fighters (namely Castano in this case) who deserve an accurate assessment of their work, but to Vazquez himself, for flat out missing what made this fight great.
In order to arrive at a 9-3 round rally in Charlo’s favor, one would have to ignore all or most of Castano’s terrific work in the early rounds that ultimately forced Charlo and his corner to make adjustments later in the fight—which is exactly what Vazquez did, giving just one of the first six rounds to Castano.
Particularly in the early rounds, Castano used his pressure to back Charlo into the ropes with frequency. He was hurt badly in the second round, but recovered and resumed his good work in the third, even seemingly wobbling Charlo in a round that all three judges—even Vazquez—acknowledged he won.
Watching in the moment, some speculated that Charlo simply wasn’t being authoritative enough to combat Castano’s pressure, which reduces boxing strategy to a binary proposition of what one fighter “allows” the other to do. Castano was indeed pressuring Charlo, but he was clever about how and when he rushed him, and kept Charlo guessing with two particular tactics. For one, he continuously used foot feints, falsely promising to move forward to disguise the instances in which he actually did. Equally as important was his hand placement throughout, keeping a high guard that Charlo admitted in his post-fight interview with Gray was the main reason why he didn’t throw his right hand more often. In addition, Castano used a less common technique of catching Charlo’s jab with his left hand and shooting right hands meant either to land or just to gain ground. Rather than trying to jab with an excellent jabber like Charlo, he actually invited him to throw it and used it to his benefit.
In retrospect, Charlo knows he should have, or could have been busier than he was at times, but in the ring, you don’t have the benefit of hindsight when evaluating whether something is a feint or the real thing.
“When you're up there dog, it's not the same as just talking about it, it's way, way different. The reactions, everything is moving different, faster and slower. So it's like, I should have unloaded the clip, I should have just let that shit go,” explained Charlo.
After the ninth round, Charlo’s trainer Derrick James implored him to “step on the gas pedal.” James said he looked up at the jumbotron at the AT&T Center and noticed the unofficial scorecard on SHOWTIME’s broadcast had Charlo down, conversed with his cutman, and decided a change in strategy was necessary.
Which again brings us back to Vazquez. Even James, a naturally biased observer given his role, could observe the fight unfolding and acknowledge the work that Castano had done. So why couldn’t Vazquez?
The beauty and drama of this fight was in the adaptations Charlo made particularly in the last three rounds. Charlo began digging underneath with his punches, ceding less ground and had Castano badly hurt—by his own admission—in the 10th round and also the 11th. But those can’t be appreciated without understanding first what Castano was doing that needed adjusting to. It was a pleasure to watch, even from home. Vazquez had the very best seat imaginable and managed to miss it entirely.
After the fight, both fighters spoke of the changes they’d need to make to be sure there would be a rematch.
“That's why I have a coach that loves to just sit in his big game room and watch fights and replay them back to back to back. He'll be calling me all day, so I'm happy about that,” said Charlo. “I think I could have easily been a little more active. I kind of stayed imposed waiting on what his move was gonna be. This is a get better moment. I can recite everything that went on in there. We'd like a rematch, I don't know when, but I would love to get in there and fight him again.”
Castano was equally as keen on a rematch and offered that improving defensively “will be crucial.”
“We need to make adjustments there, probably not entering straight forward like he did sometimes,” said Castano’s father and trainer Carlos. “There's no huge adjustments that we really need to do. He should be a little more explosive when he goes into the attack, but other than that, we did well and we can probably do it better next time.”
Questions will continue to be asked of Vazquez and his performance, however, unlike the fighters he has the ability to sabotage, he will be able to do so with impunity. Boxing commissions generally lack transparency and part of that strategy is keeping judges and referees mostly siloed and away from media scrutiny. Jermell Charlo will have to answer why he didn’t jab more, Brian Castano will have to answer why he didn’t use more angles, complicated questions to answer.
Nelson Vazquez should have to answer just one simple question, but likely never will: What were you watching?
It sure wasn’t what everyone else saw.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator from Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.