A proliferation of titles plagues boxing. The ticks and leeches who sanction championship belts, who create newer ones in the hope of tapping fresh veins—we should be rid of them. Let’s accept that as true. Further, let’s accept that having as many title belts as there are paint chips at your local Benjamin Moore makes murky the championship hierarchy. The sanctioning bodies (with their regular, super, super-duper, extra-super-duper; their quartz, pectolite, pyrites, and citrine titles) are why there is a hierarchy at all. Boxing is stubbornly subjective, being able to identify the champion of a division—something that supposedly matters to casual followers of a sport with few casual followers—is often submitted as a panacea for its many ills.
But the alphabet syndicate will remain a permanent fixture in boxing so long as fighters aspire to call themselves champions. The title owned by a magazine owned by a promoter—a title once thought to be a corrective to the sanctioning-body morass—no longer reserves any special status. And the ratings and rankings organizations that offer themselves as unbiased alternatives to the financially motivated title racket lack currency.
So how to do it? How does a fighter bring clarity? Jermell Charlo has the answer.
It took him two tries, but Charlo is now the undisputed junior middleweight champion. He picked up the last of the division’s hardware with a tenth-round knockout of Brian Castano at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. That is clarity; the solution to a division fractured by multiple titles is for one fighter to collect them all. Charlo did that, and he did it the right way.
There was a time when junior middleweight was considered one of the better divisions in boxing. For some, that opinion softened as the best 154-pound fighters suffered losses. Hulking Jarrett Hurd, for example, looked indomitable when he knocked out Tony Harrison to win his first title. While he struggled to a split decision win over faded Erislandy Lara two fights later, Hurd added a second belt to his waist that night. But soon after, Julian Williams battered him over twelve uncompetitive rounds. Savaged by Jermall Charlo three years prior, Williams was supposed to disintegrate under Hurd’s pressure; instead, he became a unified champion. Making his first title defense, Williams was knocked out in five rounds by unheralded Dominican slugger Jeison Rosario. The belts were changing hands not because the division was weak but because there was parity in its strength and the best fighters were fighting each other. That championship flux didn’t undermine the division’s quality—it ratified it.
Granted, names are missing from Charlo’s ledger: Lara, for example, Hurd, Williams, but taking issue with Charlo for the men he failed to fight seems disingenuous. His goal was to become undisputed, had Hurd or Lara or Williams managed to hold onto the belts long enough to unify with Charlo, those fights would have happened. A violent process of elimination shook out junior middleweight and, when the sifting was done, Charlo was left behind. What does he gain by seeking out the victims of his victims? How could that pursuit satisfy even those still dubious of his grip on 154 or the quality of his title run?
Especially when considering how Charlo annexed it. He became undisputed in three fights, winning each by knockout. Tony Harrison, who won a disputed decision over Charlo, was knocked out in the eleventh round of their rematch. Rosario, who looked frightening pummeling Williams eight months earlier, was dropped thrice by Charlo and kept on the canvas by a jab in the eighth. Finally, Castano, who put his hands on Charlo like no one before in fighting him to a draw last June, was systematically deconstructed Saturday.
The Harrison and Castano rematches illustrate one of Charlo’s greatest merits: he seeks rematches immediately and he is lethal in them. Strategy can explain that to a degree and certainly accounts for much of Charlo’s success in his second crack at Castano. In their first fight, Castano forced Charlo into exchanges and used them to land shorter punches on the inside. Charlo showed greater discipline in the rematch: he pumped his piercing jab to keep Castano at a manageable range and, rather than allow himself to be backed to the ropes, he moved laterally when Castano closed. But when Castano worked inside, when he caught Charlo on the ropes, when he scored with his left hook, his overhand right, Charlo fired back with full conviction in his power and a palpable disdain for his opponent.
Discussing his win over Saul Alvarez last week, Dmitrii Bivol differentiated between natural punchers, fighters who hurt with everything they throw, and fighters who throw everything to hurt. Charlo is a bit of both. Anyone who can stop an opponent with a jab to the body can punch. But Charlo also throws with ruinous intent. He did not simply answer Castano’s success: he treated every landed blow as a personal insult and responded with the fury that percolates beneath his menacing surface. Castano landed enough punches early to buoy his confidence. By the middle rounds, however, his body betrayed the price of his success. His pace slowed, his punches lost their snap, and he started walking off the discouraging thud of Charlo’s combinations.
Discipline started Castano’s undoing; fire sealed it. In the tenth, a compact left hook, hurled in one of the exchanges that Castano needed if he had any hope of winning the fight, clipped his circuitry. He slowly, almost gently, collapsed—as if using those extra seconds to reconcile with the inevitable. Upon beating the count, Castano was floored by a left uppercut to the body. And with that, Castano, like every champion who has tested Charlo, had his night cut short.
How should a fighter conduct himself? Jermell Charlo has the answer. Better: Jermell Charlo is the answer.