When Jermall Charlo entered the ring on the night of December 5th against Julian “J-Rock” Williams, those who know boxing were expecting a good fight. Of the three Showtime fights that evening, (Cuellar/Mares and Joshua/Molina being the other two), Charlo/Williams perhaps promised the most.
In many ways, the fight delivered. It was fast paced, full of action, and competitive…to a point.
The point that ended the competition was a full-on, roar of a statement by Jermall Charlo.
Charlo had been on a steady ascent since his first professional contest in 2008.
His team has been careful with him. Raising his level of fighter at a slow, but persistent pace. It was easy to see his talent, but it’s been somewhat more difficult to ascertain just how good he is.
In September of 2015, Charlo took the IBF Light Middleweight title from the unlikely, 42-year-old belt holder, Cornelius Bundrage.
While “K9” Bundrage owns a very respectable career, few would have considered Bundrage more than a B+ fighter, if at that. Bundrage has some solid wins on his resume (Kassim Ouma, Sechew Powell), but it was his good fortune in taking on a calcifying Corey Spinks, who he blazed through in 5, that allowed him to take the title against in 2010.
The superior skilled Charlo made short work of the middle-aged man before him, scoring a 3rd round KO to earn his first belt. Charlo followed up that win with a short evening just three months later with a 4th round TKO over an overmatched Wilky Campfort.
Charlo got serious in his next fight against former Light Middleweight Champion, Austin Trout, who would be his first top grade opponent. Trout was on the comeback trail after consecutive losses to Canelo and Erislandy Lara, and had won four consecutive fights. While Charlo scored a clear unanimous decision on the cards, the savvy Trout kept the fight tight throughout, with Charlo’s heavier hands making the difference.
This was certainly a good win for Charlo, but there was a sense that Trout was no longer the same fighter who dominated Miguel Cotto in a sizable upset back in 2012. So, there were still questions about Charlo.
Questions that we suspected would be answered on December 10th against the hard-hitting, hungry, and very talented, Julian “J-Rock” Williams. What we might not have anticipated was the emphatic nature of those answers. Charlo scored an early knockdown in the 2nd by putting Williams down with a stiff left jab. It’s rare enough to see a top-flight fighter go down from a jab, it’s even more unusual to see one genuinely hurt by it. This was a sign of what was to come.
Williams cleared his head in the corner and got back into the fight over the next two rounds. The fight had become competitive in the ring and on the cards at ringside. Then it the 5th, Charlo hammered Williams with a devastating uppercut that took Williams off his feet a second time. Williams gamely got up, but was still buzzed and Charlo never gave him time to recover, sending him down one last time with a flurry Williams would not rise from.
It was a true statement fight by Charlo. While the smart money may have been on Charlo pre-fight, few would have been surprised had Williams won.
Now we must ask, what now for Charlo? Just five days before the Charlo/Williams fight, I wrote a lengthy piece on who the contenders are in the sport to break beyond its culty confines and into the head space of the casual fan. I did not include Charlo. This now looks like a mistake.
Not only because of his skill, power, and exceptionally rendered victory, but also because of what he did after the fight. While there had been words between the two fighters before they faced off in the ring, it wasn’t anything all that notable beyond the usual hype. So, when Williams stepped to Charlo after being vanquished, you might have expected Charlo to be forgiving after giving his opponent such a pounding. Charlo wasn’t having it. Waving Williams off within five feet of his threshold.
Fans took notice and booing commenced. In the post-fight interview, Charlo attempted to apologize, but as the boos continued to rain down, he dropped the polite façade and retook his defiant pose. It was a pretty good “say goodnight to the bad guy” kind of moment. Like the manner of the result of the fight, it was unexpected, and as much as the win mattered (which is to say a lot), so maybe did the close of the fight.
Charlo made a statement with his fists and his mouth on that night. The kind that makes boxing folk take notice for sure. But also of the sort that may portend bigger things for Charlo as well. Boxing needs great fighters, but it also needs characters. Fighters you love to love and those you love to hate. If Charlo is as good as I suddenly think he is, and as flippantly surly as he showed himself to be in victory, he might just be able to muscle his way onto the A list.
It's still a bit early to say where Charlo stands in his career. December 10 was effectively his coming out party. One where he had his cake, ate it, and then threw what was left into the face of the guy he beefed with over the cut of the slices.
He made an impression.
There are some excellent potential fights out there for Charlo. Canelo, Lara, Andrade, to name just three. Fight fans will be looking forward to those possibilities in a different way than maybe they had before. Charlo took to a higher level against Williams. Both as a fighter and as a marketable commodity.
What’s next, will be fascinating.