Forgive me for not digging into oddsmakers’ betting files, but I think I’m safe in assuming that Jermell Charlo hasn’t been an underdog in a boxing ring for a long time; certainly not as a professional.
Yet as the undisputed junior middleweight champion prepares to jump up to 168 pounds to face undisputed super middleweight king Saul “Canelo” Alvarez this Saturday, that’s just the role the Texan is in.
And it sounds like he’s enjoying it.
“Now is the right time for this fight,” Charlo said during a recent media workout. “We’re in our primes and at our best. I wanna shake the doubters off and prove to the world why I’m in this position. There’s a reason I made it this far. I’m gonna show what I’m made of. Everything I’ve done since I was eight years old, I’m putting it all on the line now.”
Now 33, that means Charlo has been putting on gloves and stepping between the ropes to fight for a quarter of a century. Twenty-five years is a long time to do anything, especially when not reaping the rewards of that time and energy. Some would say he has – he’s made his money, collected his belts, and has long been seen as one of the top talents of his era.
But people like Charlo are built differently than most. His DNA doesn’t allow him to be easily satisfied with the things that make most step off the gas and enjoy the view for a while. For Charlo, there’s always something more, another mountain to climb. This weekend, if he upsets Alvarez, that could be his Mount Everest, the peak he’s been aiming to conquer since he was a child.
Undisputed. Twice. That’s history.
“If I accomplish this massive goal, it’ll be hard to top,” Charlo admits. “I’ll be in the record book with the greats of boxing for a long time.”
Then all the work will have been worth it. More importantly, it will prove that by having his ego taken down a notch or two over the years, he’s come to a point where all that matters now is what he does in the gym and the ring. Everything else is just noise.
“You win the fight in the gym,” said coach Derrick James. “You’re not pulling a rabbit out of your hat. You have to go in the ring having done it the right way.”
All reports are that he is doing just that for the biggest fight of his career. Not that his work ethic has been questioned, but Charlo has fallen victim to the noise that always gets louder around those whom a lot is expected from. I’ll never forget talking to him before his 2017 title defense against then-unbeaten Erickson Lubin, and it was almost like he was disgusted with the matchup.
“You've got a young guy, 21 years old, 18 fights,” Charlo said of Lubin, who fights on Saturday’s card in Las Vegas. “In my heart, I don't believe that this fight should be a fight that he deserves at this moment. When I was 25, I was barely getting a chance to fight for a title. I didn't win my first world title until I was 26. So, in my mind, I'm like, 'How is this kid getting an opportunity like this?' And then I'm asking the same question about myself - how did this kid get this opportunity to face someone like me when I should be fighting (Miguel) Cotto?' 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. 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.
“I feel like I'm Jermell Charlo, I fought a lot of fighters, I have a great resume in the boxing world, me and my brother have been doing a helluva job training and keeping up with our name, and I believe right now we should be fighting guys with names,” he continued. “If you don't have a name, you shouldn't even be in the ring with me. I feel like I'm the name and Lubin is not.”
On fight night, Charlo took care of business in a fashion that painted his words prophetic as he knocked Lubin out in less than a round. As for the big names to come…to be frank, there really haven’t been any.
Austin Trout. Tony Harrison. Brian Castano. Good fighters. Not big names. Losing to Harrison (he avenged it) and going to a draw with Castano (he won the rematch) didn’t help. But not getting those big fight opportunities may have steeled him for what was to come. And when his brother Jermall wasn’t going to be ready for Alvarez, the Mexican superstar took the next best option – the twin brother.
Here it is. The big fight. The whole boxing world watching. The name bigger and brighter on the marquee than ever before. Charlo doesn’t need to talk about big fights or ask for them anymore.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life and now it’s time to put on for my city,” he said. “Put up or shut up and do what I do. I’m facing one of the best fighters in the world, so you have to be excited for this moment.
“We’ve done so much sparring and conditioning,” Charlo continues. “I’m working on the mental as well, because I know it’s not only about the physical. I’ve been training 14 weeks and making sure I do everything I need to.”
Twenty-five years and 14 weeks. A life’s work coming down 36 minutes or less of fighting. That’s a lot of weight to bear, especially since Charlo, as the B-side, won’t likely get any favors from the judges in a close round where everything Alvarez does will be greeted with a roar from the crowd. So now he doesn’t just have to win, he has to make an impression fighting two weight classes above his own. But Charlo knows all of this. He’s known it since he signed the contract. And if it bothers him, he’s not letting it show. But it’s probably not bothering him because people like Charlo aren’t like the rest of us. They know the greatest reward comes with the greatest risk, and that’s all he’s been asking for.
Now he’s got it. Time to deliver.