A stellar era in the Jr. middleweight division gets its next chapter Saturday (Showtime, 9 PM EST) with one of the best fights on paper so far in 2022.
How can we be sure of that?
It was one of the best fights on paper in 2021 and met every expectation. For twelve fiery rounds, 31-year old lineal and WBA/WBC/IBF unified titlist Jermell Charlo (34-1-1, 18 KO) and 32-year old WBO titlist Brian Castano (17-0-2, 12 KO) took the measure of one another.
When it was over, there was plenty of debate about the official verdict, with many feeling Castano had done enough to upset the odds. It doesn’t matter how strongly one feels about the verdict the first time.
No one won on July 17, 2022.
They’re doing it again and a second consecutive draw feels unlikely. This time, the question of the best Jr. middleweight in the world should get an undisputed answer. The answer will resonate just long enough for the challengers to the victor to take their places in line for next.
In the words of the great George Carlin, if it’s undisputed what’s all the fighting about?
One of the things that has made Jr. middleweight one of boxing’s gems in recent years is there’s been lots of fighting to go around. As Saul Alvarez slowly receded from the division, a cast that at various times has included Jermall Charlo, Julian Williams, Jeison Rosario, Erislandy Lara, Austin Trout, and Jarrett Hurd has provided fans memorable battles for more than a half decade.
This second crack at unifying all the alphabet straps in the class is a culmination of the era but not its end. In a year where we’ve already seen a Fight of the Year contender in Sebastian Fundora and Erickson Lubin, there is more to look forward to then this weekend.
The reload is coming.
Given how expensive it is to pay sanctioning fees to multiple bodies, there is always the very real chance the belts will stay unified long enough to get the victor’s press release off. If the belts did stay unified, the current rankings of the sanctioning bodies give a glimpse of some of the possible futures for the division.
So does activity one class below.
The big question at welterweight is will they or won’t they. “They” are IBF/WBC/WBA titlist Errol Spence (28-0, 22 KO) and WBO titlist Terence Crawford (38-0, 29 KO). Long circling each other, hopes are high we will finally see them collide before the year is out.
Crawford has already said he intends to pursue Charlo if he defeats Spence. The assumption being made is Charlo will win this weekend. If he does not, Crawford may slide Castano into his list of goals. In the lead to his win over Yordenis Ugas, Spence also hinted there could be a check big enough to put friendship aside to face Charlo.
Could we see a clash between a pair of undisputed champions in 2023? There is a good chance we could and if this weekend is a culmination, that could well be the climax of an era.
Before we get there, the mandatory/lead contender picture in the class provides several intriguing options. Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KO) won an interim recognition from the WBC for his win over Lubin. Fundora-Lubin was on Showtime and he shares the PBC umbrella with Charlo. He’s earned a shot at the winner this weekend and is arguably the most deserving contender out there. Standing some 6’5, Fundora is one of boxing's most interesting young talents given the weight class he competes in.
Also appearing on Showtime already this year, Tim Tszyu (21-0, 15 KO) holds the top spot in the WBO rankings. His father was an undisputed champion once and no son has joined their father as an undisputed champion since Cory Spinks unified welterweight as a chip off former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks’ block.
The WBA rankings are led by Israil Madrimov (8-0, 6 KO) and while the Uzbek’s pro career is limited, it includes wins over Vladimir Hernandez and Michael Soro. He’s a genuine talent who is only getting better. Finally, the IBF rankings are topped by Russia’s Bakhram Murtazaliev (20-0, 15 KO). While Murtazaliev’s opposition has less notable names than the other lead contenders, his position leaves the door open to change his resume in the biggest way possible.
Just outside the lead spots, Saturday’s winner could expect to hear challenges from former titlist Tony Harrison (29-3-1, 21 KO). Harrison is 1-1 with Charlo. No one loves a tie.
Ties can only be broken one at a time and this weekend the two best Jr. middleweights in the world will let the leather fly to end their current impasse. When the dust settles, Jr. middleweight won’t be any the less for it with new chapters ready to be written.
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.