Welcome back to the big time, Jermell Charlo.
Or at least the fringy levels of the big time for now anyway.
Not quite two-and-a-half years after he blasted out Tony Harrison to reassert a 154-pound title claim and erase his only smudge, the dynamic Texan was at it again with a 10th-round finish of Brian Castano on Saturday night that unified the recognized junior middleweight/super welterweight belts and rendered moot the disputed draw the two men had battled to last summer in San Antonio.
The 31-year-old is now in possession of the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO jewelry in the weight class and suddenly has myriad options to consider before the next time he gloves up and steps in a ring.
Some are the low-hanging and middling fruit frequently fed to unified champions in the way of mandatory defenses and similar sanctioning milieu. Some are pie-in-the-sky super fights that would surely be nice for the resume and the bankbook but won’t happen unless other dominoes fall.
And at least one ought to be put on the back burner and set to a steady simmer in order to bring out its full and competitively delicious flavor about 18 or 24 months down the road.
Let’s start with the hors d’oeuvres.
If you’re looking for Charlo to reestablish his territory at 154 and tackle a recognizable, albeit probably overmatched foe, perhaps Liam Smith would pique your interest.
The man known as “Beefy” performed a resuscitation on his own career a few weeks back in New York City with a punishing defeat of Jessie Vargas on the Taylor-Serrano show at Madison Square Garden.
It’s been a long way back from a body-shot loss to Canelo Alvarez and subsequent defeats against Jaime Munguia and Magomed Kurbanov, and the 33-year-old Englishman would be a popular choice for a career cash-out in which he could put his penchant for combat and body punching up against the champion’s athleticism and fight-changing power.
He’s ranked fifth or better by the WBA, WBO and WBC and the prospect of Charlo crossing the Atlantic to play the villain in Smith’s Liverpool hometown is tantalizing to envision.
Move up a level and you have a compelling choice between a No. 1 contender and an interim champion.
Second-generation Aussie phenom Tim Tszyu is ranked first at 154 by the WBO and California-born Sebastian Fundora is a freakishly tall bomber in possession of the WBC’s silly second-tier strap.
Still, regardless of your viewpoint on the voracity of their claims, there’s little doubt either man would provide a willing and potentially able adversary if matched with Charlo.
They sat side by side on the Showtime broadcast over the weekend while each campaigning to get the first crack at the undisputed champion. Both men have been on Charlo’s mind in recent months and both have done everything needed in the meantime to secure the fight.
And though neither would be favored to win it, there’d be just enough doubt – they’re a combined 40-0-1 with 28 KOs, after all – to make it a worthwhile watch for as long as it lasted or stayed competitive.
Another rung up from the top-ranked challenger level is the rising welterweight level.
Would-be 147-pound rivals Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. have had their names connected with Charlo’s in various contexts recently, with Crawford going so far as to tell ESPN he plans on “f—king up” the 154-pounder after he dispenses with unification business in his own neighborhood.
A duel with Spence is a little harder to envision given he and Charlo’s friendship, but it wouldn’t be the first time good buddies have dispensed with pleasantries after a suitcase full of money’s been offered.
As good as he is – and in spite of the comfort edge he’d have at 154 – Charlo is probably an underdog to one or both potential challengers, though fights with either or both would give him a chance to define his career in a way that two dozen Harrisons, Castanos and Erickson Lubins never could.
Still, when it comes to ultimate career definition, the best might be saved for last.
Xander Zayas is 19 years old, stands 5-foot-10 and has beaten 13 straight opponents while suffering barely an adverse moment across 40 total rounds. He’s been as light as 145 3/4 and as heavy as 153 1/4 and could be the ideal future foil for Charlo if both find themselves at 154 or 160 in a couple years.
Most who’ve seen Zayas suggest he’s the brightest prospect in the sport and it probably won’t be too, too long before his promotional apparatus decides to test him against a sturdier level of foe.
If he keeps growing and keeps winning – and Charlo follows through with his own intermittently suggested plan to jump to 160 – it could be the biggest fight in the game come 2024 or 2025.
In fact, Randy Gordon is already giddy at the prospect of it.
“(It’s) a dream fight for me in around 18-24 months,” the former NYSAC commissioner and Ring editor said. “Zayas will then be 22 and around 20-0. Why not? Zayas has to step up one day.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No title fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Charlo)
2022 picks record: 13-5 (72.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,222-397 (75.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.