Consider the middleweight division on notice: Here comes Jermall Charlo
The first step of any endeavor is fraught with doubts and dangers associated with the unknown, which will be the case when Jermall Charlo, 25-0 (19), ventures into middleweight waters for the first time tonight. Charlo begins his journey on a big stage as the main support for the Mikey Garcia-Adrien Broner fight on Showtime (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) against Argentine toughman Jorge Sebastian Heiland, 29-4-2 (16), who should give a spirited, if not threatening, challenge. Charlo needs a mesmerizing performance to boost his chances of enticing the winner of the Gennady Golovkin-Saul Alvarez middleweight championship fight to stick around for his challenge. This is, of course, easier if Charlo creates a buzz that compels fans and TV networks, given the rest of the middleweight division has either been vanquished by the two top stars or lack the skills, experience, or exposure to create pay-per-view demand. Charlo even addressed that issue in the final press conference, “I think my power will translate immediately. Knockout power is something that’s God-given. I’m focused on getting to where they can’t avoid me.”
I was startled when Charlo gave up his IBF junior middleweight belt after only three defenses. Admittedly he looked weight-drained in his last defense over Julian “J Rock” Williams, in a fifth round stoppage victory but I thought a nutritionist could enable Charlo to squeeze in two or three more defenses. No one looked threatening to Charlo at the weight but perhaps it is the right decision for the 27-year-old to make this move in his physical prime for a best possible challenge to the dominant reign of Gennady Golovkin. Or “Canelo” Alvarez, if he were the one to emerge from that super-fight victorious. One thing is for sure: Charlo has been fast-tracked for such a challenge, with the winner of his fight against Heiland ascending to mandatory challenger for Golovkin’s WBC belt. The sanctioning body surprisingly gave Charlo an immediate No. 2 ranking, despite his holding the IBF 154-pound title and not theirs, without Charlo having to fight anyone to earn that spot.
The tenacious Texan has a great mix of athleticism and an ingrained boxing intuition only developed by taking up boxing before one’s teens. Charlo grew up in a boxing family (his father was a professional and his brother Jermell is a WBC world champion at 154 pounds), boxing at age eight, ending his amateur stint with a 65-6 record. Represented America at big international tourneys but an untimely toe injury scuttled his Olympic dreams. A great physical specimen, even at middleweight, standing 6-foot with a perfectly proportioned musculature and speed of foot and hand to burn. Sports two-fisted power and uses both, punching foes into inaction with creative combinations and a lightning jab. Best weapon is that hard and accurate jab; he also understands the importance of that weapon, using it to blind opponents to his impressive hand speed and a varied arsenal of punches.
When asked to describe his style by writer Jon Reynoso, Charlo opened up, stating, “Whenever I’m the ring, I always make sure that my fans are enjoying it and being entertained by me. My style is more about technique but I still go in like a bull when I want. I keep things different, so my opponents don’t know what to expect for the remaining rounds.” According to trainer Ronnie Shields, that was becoming harder to do physically, “It was just time. Charlo was just so lean and it was such a struggle to get to 154 pounds. I mean, he could do it but it was a real struggle. He could have made the weight again and he would have stuck around for a fight at 154, if a Canelo Alvarez or a Miguel Cotto fight had happened. It would have been worth it but those fights didn’t happen, so it was time to move up.” Charlo claims he is prepared, “I’m ready to steal the show and put on a great show. I know (Heiland) came here all the way from his hometown to shut my career down and everything that I’ve worked hard with, so I’m prepared for everything he has to offer. It’s going to be a great night of boxing.”
Charlo moves up a weight class after delivering a “Knockout of the Year”-type performance against Julian Williams, last December, but continues to fight out of Houston, working with highly respected Ronnie Shields. Charlo admits there is an added intensity and learning curve with the new weight. “I’ve been training since the end of January to prepare myself for the move up to middleweight. I’m feeling stronger; I’m feeling smarter and, overall, I’m feeling better.” The opposition also motivates Charlo, “Heiland is a tough fighter and I know he plans on bringing his A-game on July 29th. He’s just as hungry as me. We both want to be in a place to fight the best in the division but I never overlook the opponent in front of me. It’s been a great camp, so far, and I’m ready for this fight. It’s time to make my mark, so I can become a two-division world champion. I plan to take care of business at 160 just like I did at 154.”
Showtime have partnered with promoter Lou DiBella for the co-main event, to ensure it is as intriguing as possible. While Heiland is not exactly a household name, he brings a blue-collar work ethic and shared the ring with the best, as an in-demand sparring partner, who defeated multiple world title challenger Matthew Macklin. DiBella became sold on Charlo early and is working hard to sell fans that this is a chance to get in on the ground floor of a future star, let alone a champion, “This is a great opportunity for Showtime viewers to witness Jermall Charlo’s ascent in the middleweight division in an ordered title elimination bout. Huge fights could be ahead for him. This will be two fearless boxers, with something to prove and everything to gain, going at each other.”
I feel a lot of empathy for Heiland, an honest fighter, in every sense, who has been held captive for two years by WBC as the No. 1-rated challenger for Miguel Cotto as well as Alvarez, who now has to beat Charlo to get a big payday. I suspect that even if Heiland beats Charlo, not a likely scenario, the WBC will drag its feet on ever ordering a fight against the Golovkin-Alvarez winner, given that duo’s financial power. Still, Heiland is excited and hungry for any opportunity, “I’m thrilled to be facing a great fighter like Jermall Charlo. I’ve waited a long time for a chance like this, so I will give it my all. I am fearless and I promise that this bout will be an all-out war because my career and livelihood are on the line.”
The rough-hewn Argentine southpaw is based in the vast metropolis of Buenos Aires; he enters the fight on an eight-fight winning streak (seven by knockout), although the opposition was below average after a victory over former world title challenger Matthew Macklin, which elevated him to prominence. The 30-year-old fights in America for the second time, stopping trial horse Angel Hernandez the first time, but is used to the underdog role, proving he can overcome a home country advantage in stopping Macklin, in front of a raucous crowd in Dublin, Ireland. At the very least, Heiland is a quality measuring stick, whose awkwardness and work rate will inform Charlo of any deficiencies at middleweight. Heiland has no time for naysayers, “I don’t feel like the underdog because I have confidence in my job. I have my experience and had great training camp back home. I came here prepared for a battle and I am on a course to be the winner, so if you guys consider me the underdog, I really don’t care.”
Charlo is only going waist-level into middleweight waters against Heiland but his pedigree and performances at 154 pounds suggest Charlo is up to the task, even against the elite of the division. When faced with a beatable foe, the goal is to look explosive, delivering a public challenge and loud message to the fans, as well as the stars of the division that you cannot be avoided. That is Charlo’s stated goal, “The pressure is on me to look good and perform great. My main focus is to get to the next level and all the pressure is on me to perform at my highest level.” Odds are that Charlo will deliver, so, unless Golovkin and Alvarez have a “Fight of the Year”-type bout that demands a rematch, Charlo has every opportunity to cut in the front of the challenger line with a highlight reel stoppage of Heiland. Or, at the very least, Heiland is the first step in a title charge against contenders Daniel Jacobs and David Lemieux or WBO titlist Billy Joe Saunders.