Some words stick with you. The honesty may be flippant, it may be intentional, but whatever it may be, it gives you an insight into the mind of a fighter that you don’t often get in a world of manufactured quotes and cliches you can almost predict before they leave the mouth.
But on this day in 2017, Jermell Charlo was getting real. Owner of a 29-0 record with just one 154-pound belt at the time, Charlo was bristling at having to face Erickson Lubin at Barclays Center in October of that year. He felt that Lubin, then 18-0, hadn’t paid his dues and that he should be facing more high-profile foes. But just like he did six months earlier in dispatching Charles Hatley in six rounds, Charlo drew his line in the sand and decided that when matters weren’t going the way he wanted them to, he was going to simply be a fighter, knowing that sometimes, that was enough for business to pick up.
“I'm not just a businessman, I'm a fighter as well, so sometimes I have to jump back into my fighter mode and say let's beat everybody up,” he told me. “Or I can jump in and say, wait, I'm a businessman as well, I've got one career, one life, one destiny, one legacy and I have to continue to be the head of that.”
Charlo the fighter showed up in Brooklyn and knocked Lubin out in less than a round. Since then, one of the top talents in the sport has fluctuated between business and fighting, dazzling on one night and underwhelming the next. There was the loss to Tony Harrison, a majority decision victory over Austin Trout and the draw with the man he meets a second time this Saturday, Brian Castano.
But when Charlo has been on, like he was in the Harrison rematch and in knockouts of Jorge Cota and Jeison Rosario, he’s been all-fighter and a must see.
This weekend, the question is which version of the 31-year-old shows up. Spoiler alert…he says it’s not the businessman.
“I want to knock this guy out,” saod Charlo. “This is the Jermell from earlier, back when I was fighting four-rounders and I was trying to end those fights. I want to be that guy for 12 rounds now.”
Or less. And if history is any indication, Charlo may get his wish, as he now has something to prove, some questions to answer, and some doubters to silence. That wasn’t the case for most of his career, but when the businessman began showing up for fights, his claim as one of boxing’s best, pound-for-pound, was scoffed at by many.
The latest example was last summer’s meeting with the unbeaten, yet unheralded, Castano, a WBO champion with the same amount of fights (18) as Lubin had when Charlo balked at fighting him. But Charlo didn’t dispatch the Argentinean in a single round. Instead, he got a fistfight, forcing the Texan to rally down the stretch, winning the last three rounds on all three scorecards to save his WBC, WBA and IBF titles.
“I thought I won the first fight, period,” said Charlo. “I hurt him way more. He may have edged a few rounds. I won the early rounds of the fight and the late rounds of the fight.
The coronation of Charlo as the undisputed junior middleweight champion in his home state of Texas would have to wait. Now it’s off to Carson, California, and motivation is not hard to find for him. It’s not easy becoming an undisputed champion these days, and with a dearth of possible SuperFights for him unless he moves up to middleweight or hopes for Terence Crawford to move up from welterweight, beating Castano and seizing all the belts is as big as it gets for him. That’s history, not just revenge.
“Once the story is written and the book is finished, everyone’s going to come back and say that Jermell Charlo did a really good job at 154,” he said. “I held it down. I’m proud of what I’ve done in the division, but I have to get Castano out of the way. I have to show all the fans why I’m the number one guy that’s been the number one guy for so many years.”
In other words, on Saturday, it’s all business for this fighter.
That may be the combination he’s always tried to find.
“I’m locked in a little bit different this time,” he said. “I’m more dedicated than I’ve ever been. I’m hungrier. I don’t know what’s next after this opportunity in my life and I’m glad that God gave me the opportunity to face the same guy and just put on a better performance. This is about me being the best Jermell Charlo.”