After Saturday night’s junior middleweight tripleheader in Brooklyn, boxing fans are left wondering one thing about the 154-pound division. Who is the best fighter?
That hadn’t been the case for a while. Erislandy Lara, the 34-year-old Cuban fighting out of Houston, had long been considered the most elite junior middleweight in the world before Saturday night.
If fans weren’t convinced he should have won the decision against Canelo Alvarez in 2014, it really didn’t matter all that much to the overarching question anyway. After all, Alvarez-Lara, a disputable split decision win for Alvarez, wasn’t even contested at 154.
Rather, Alvarez used his considerable bargaining power to negotiate a 155-pound catch weight contest, something the Mexican has done quite frequently over the last few years.
But with Alvarez braving middleweight waters after, and Lara standing pat in the junior middleweight division, it was at least clear who the resident king of the division was on paper after the fight.
Lara, while not an exciting fighter, was quite easily the best of the bunch. The crafty southpaw’s timing, accuracy and manipulation of distance as a prizefighter is on par with some of the all-time great junior middleweights ever, and he has used that acute skillset to remain undefeated in six fights since.
But Jermell Charlo has laid waste to his last three opponents now, and over the last two fights, Charlo has appeared downright unbeatable.
Against Charles Hatley and Erickson Lubin, Charlo was a menacing marauder. Gone are the days of Charlo boxing carefully from a distance, replaced now by a fierce competitor who seeks to lay waste to his would be title usurpers. Charlo is more Gennady Golovkin now than he is a fighter like Lara, and fans love him for it.
Charlo might just be the best junior middleweight on the planet.
Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely we will get to see whether that is the case. Charlo has been adamant about his desire to fight big name opponents whether at junior middleweight or middleweight, but every time someone brings Lara’s name into the conversation Charlo defers to other opportunities.
Showtime’s Jim Gray went so far as to offer Charlo a shot at either of the other two winners on Saturday night’s tripleheader. Charlo, Lara and Jarrett Hurd all successfully defended their versions of junior middleweight alphabet titles on Saturday night, and Gray was determined to get Charlo to commit to either Lara or Hurd as his next opponent.
Charlo emphatically chose Hurd, who had stopped Austin Trout during the evening’s previous bout.
Charlo and Hurd would be a fantastic scuffle. Where Charlo is decidedly more skilled and has the much better resume as a fighter to date, Hurd’s gigantic, lanky and powerful frame appears a tough out for any fighter in the division. What he lacks in footwork and form, Hurd makes up for in power and gumption. He basically walked down Trout over the course of their fight to stop the tough veteran on his stool at the end of Round 10.
But the winner of Charlo-Hurd would not usurp Lara as the No. 1 ranked junior middleweight in the world, and the winner could not be outright considered the best fighter in the weight class.
Rather, Lara-Charlo is the only fight at the present that could determine who is the best fighter in the division. In fact, according to Ring Magazine, the two squaring off would crown the true junior middleweight champion.
But Charlo does not appear interested in the fight.
Citing the longtime relationship the two fighters share as a result of having trained and sparred together under trainer Ronnie Shields in Houston, where the two were stable mates before Charlo departed camp to work with Derrick James in Dallas two years ago, Charlo says the proposed Lara-Charlo bout is a nonstarter.
“I don’t really think that’s what they want,” Charlo said, referring to the promotional brain trust at Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. “We just really stay away from [questions about Lara]. Right now, they got other people built up, and we can take that [other fight] and unify there. Guys are moving up [in weight]. I’m looking real good. I might be moving up as well.”
Having witnessed the two spar each other a handful of times at Plex in Houston, I can tell you that’s a real shame for fight fans. After all, boxing is a sport driven by high profile matchups between the sport’s most elite competitors.
While the two have long been considered excellent by common junior middleweight division standards, they are at the present the two most elite fighters at 154. The bout would honor the winner with the kind of prestige and acclaim that neither has enjoyed to date, and the event would offer fight fans the most compelling 154-pound matchup in recent history.
Lara-Charlo isn’t really on the table right now, but it damn well should be.