By Rory Hickey: Earlier this year, Jermell Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KOs) had a fight lined up with Tim Tszyu (23-0, 17 KOs) to defend his undisputed championship at 154 pounds. Then Charlo injured his hand, and his plans changed. Jermell Charlo’s twin brother, Jermall, was rumored to be negotiating with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (59-2-2, 39 KOs), boxing’s cash cow, for a fight in the fall. Despite all of the speculation, the official announcement for Jermall vs. Canelo kept not happening.
So Jermell Charlo saw an opportunity, and ironically Jermell’s injured hand eventually allowed all the cards to fall in place for him to make an all-in type move. On September 30th, Jermell Charlo will move up two weight classes and face Canelo Alvarez for Canelo’s undisputed championship at 168 pounds.
In an interview during Showtime’s pay-per-view coverage of Terrence Crawford vs. Errol Spence, Jermell Charlo explained why he scrapped plans to take on Tszyu in favor of facing Canelo. “I know Tim Tszyu is a challenger, but he does nothing for my career. He still needs to build up himself and build up his career — and I’m cool with that. But I was down to fight him anyway. But we ran into the hand injury and prepared ourselves and got better, and now it’s like: ‘We get an opportunity like this. We’re going to take that.”
Depending on your feelings about Jermell Charlo, he is either daring to be great by moving up in weight and taking on Canelo Alvarez, or he is ducking legitimate challengers at 154 pounds to take a giant payday. Charlo is either giving fans a dream fight between himself and Canelo Alvarez or potentially ruining two huge bouts. A junior middleweight bout between Jermell and Tim Tszyu and a super middleweight bout between Canelo and David Benavidez (27-0, 23 KOs).
When the fight became official, it was easy to be skeptical about Jermell’s chances against Canelo. But during the first press conference, when the two men stood face-to-face, Charlo hardly looked like the man moving up in weight. Charlo is two inches taller than Canelo Alvarez, and Jermell has broad enough shoulders that you could see him looking like a proper super middleweight on Saturday night. Jermell Charlo started at a higher weight than Canelo Alvarez did when each turned pro. Plus, Charlo has about a 2.5-inch reach advantage over Canelo Alvarez.
There have been numerous instances in boxing history of fighters moving up multiple weight classes both successfully and unsuccessfully; Damian L. Delgado Averhoff detailed this in his article on ESPN. As is usually the case when a fighter moves up multiple weight classes, the biggest unknown is how well Jermell Charlo will take the punching power of a full-fledged super middleweight like Canelo Alvarez. But Charlo likely will get up to 168 pounds with ease, and given the length of time he has been in training (remember, he was preparing to fight Tim Tszyu earlier this year when he suffered his hand injury), the two-weight class jump might not be as drastic as it may seem. Jermell Charlo has no shortage of talent, having defeated every fighter he has ever faced, avenging his loss to Tony Harrison via knockout and knocking out Brian Castaño after their first fight ended in a draw.
Canelo Alvarez is favored to beat Jermell Charlo, but whispers about whether or not Canelo is slowing down have gotten louder lately. While Alvarez is only 33 years old, his bout against Charlo will be his 64th professional bout. Canelo turned pro three months after his 15th birthday, and his Hall of Fame career has been a quinceañero gift to the boxing world.
During his Hall of Fame career, Canelo Alvarez has taken the baton from Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the biggest star in boxing. Canelo has followed Julio Cesar Chavez in the 1980s and 1990s and Oscar de la Hoya in the 1990s and 2000s as boxing’s most popular Mexican fighters who exude the so-called Mexican style that makes their country people proud. Canelo has defeated eighteen world champions in his career. But every boxer has a shelf life, and Canelo Alvarez may be getting closer to the end of his career.
He smartly opted against taking a rematch with Dmitry Bivol at 175 pounds, a weight class that is a stretch for Canelo to compete in successfully. He instead opted to face Gennady Golovkin for a third time. The fight was more lucrative financially, but Canelo was less impressive against a 40-year-old Golovkin than anticipated. This past May, Canelo went the distance against John Ryder, an opponent most observers expected would be dispatched within a few rounds.
Canelo Alvarez has heard these whispers about his demise. In the lead-up to his bout with Charlo, Alvarez said, “It’s good that people are saying I’ve lost a step. It’s fine. I know why I didn’t look as good in my last two fights. I know why, and I’m different now. I’m preparing now for a different type of fighter”. Canelo has had such an illustrious career that it is difficult not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But what is true of all athletes, especially fighters, is the point when they do not have it anymore can appear suddenly and stunningly. In 2008, Canelo’s former promoter and fellow Mexican superstar, Oscar de la Hoya, was the clear favorite in his fight against a man moving up multiple weight classes, Manny Pacquiao. But Oscar de la Hoya got dominated in a star-making performance for Pacquiao that sent shockwaves through the boxing world and the Golden Boy into a managerial role. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Fifteen years later, Canelo Alvarez should be wary of Jermell Charlo’s athleticism and defensive skill. Being the bigger puncher will serve Canelo only if he can find openings to land clean punches on Charlo. From the other corner, while Charlo has been a powerful puncher at 154 pounds, it is tough to imagine any single shot by Charlo rocking Canelo. A Charlo upset victory on Saturday night will likely happen by beating Canelo to the punch and then getting out of range before Canelo can land a counterpunch. Jermell Charlo’s hopes for a win rely on some combination of effective movement, frustrating Canelo, and Canelo showing his age.
Will this fight be as competitive as a Canelo-Bivol rematch, or a Canelo-David Benavidez matchup would be? The oddsmakers do not think so, with Canelo currently sitting as a 4-1 favorite over Jermell Charlo. Canelo has struggled against skilled, athletic fighters- albeit mostly early in his career, against the likes of Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout. With his three most recent performances against Dmitry Bivol, Gennady Golvkin, and John Ryder, it is also fair to ask whether Father Time is catching up to Canelo on the scorecards.
Even with Jermell Charlo’s skill level and doggedness, though, it is tough to envision him joining Terence Crawford as one of only two men to be undisputed champions in two different weight classes on Saturday night. Part of what makes boxing great is that the only person who needs to believe it will happen is Jermell Charlo himself. It will make Saturday night another exciting night in Las Vegas.