LAS VEGAS — Jermell Charlo wasn’t supposed to be in this fight.
Charlo’s twin brother, Jermall Charlo, was initially in line to take on Canelo Alvarez. In the first of a three-fight deal with PBC, the Mexican superstar fully expected to take on the WBC middleweight champion. Jermall hasn’t fought since June 2021, however, in a hiatus that has been used to address his mental health. Although he has made progress in his recovery, he didn’t feel he was ready to face Alvarez in June and turned it down.
That led to the opportunity for Jermell to step in, and he readily accepted it. It’ll be an Alvarez vs. Charlo matchup after all, but not the one that was anticipated.
“I’ll step up to any challenge,” Charlo said Tuesday at the MGM Grand. “Regardless of if it’s my brother’s foes or whoever it is, I’m down to take on whatever I got to do.”
On Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, Charlo will move up in weight and attempt to best Alvarez for his four titles at 168 pounds and become the undisputed super middleweight champion. Alvarez (59-2-2) is the biggest name in boxing and will easily become the toughest opponent Charlo (35-1-1) has faced in his career.
Charlo is accomplished in his own right. He holds all four titles at 154 pounds and is the undisputed light middleweight champion, which makes this the first matchup ever of undisputed four-belt champions. Still, he’s a heavy underdog against Canelo. He knows most are counting him out — he was met with boos from spectators when he took the stage for “Grand Arrivals” in the MGM Lobby on Tuesday — but that hasn’t shaken his confidence.
The 33-year-old says he isn’t intimidated by greatness. He watched as Terrence Crawford dismantled Errol Spence Jr. to become the undisputed welterweight champion in July and proceeded to talk trash from the stands. Even more than natural competitiveness, it comes from a yearning to prove he belongs among the titans of the sport. That desire isn’t something he’ll allow to be quelled by doubters.
“I’m not worrying about what everybody’s saying,” Charlo said. “I’m just staying focused on what I’ve got to do and enjoying the moment as it comes.”
Charlo is vying to join the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and, ironically, Canelo, by jumping up two weight classes to become champion. Canelo is the stockier fighter and has fought up to light heavyweight at 175 pounds, but Charlo doesn’t view the difference as all that significant. Canelo came into stardom at light middleweight, after all, and only recently started to push into heavier weight classes.
“It takes a lot of developing your body and being able to endure,” Derrick James, Charlo’s trainer, said Tuesday. “At the same time, I look at it as two 154-pounders because Canelo used to be 154 and he just moved up.”
Jermell Charlo is 35-1-1 in 37 career bouts. (Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)
Moving up two weight classes was a transition for Charlo, but it wasn’t much of a struggle. He’s naturally heavier than 154 pounds and said it’s harder for him to cut down to that number than it is for him to bulk up.
That said, Charlo will still be the smaller fighter against Canelo. James didn’t push Charlo to get all the way up to 168 pounds. That could cost him in terms of power and durability, but they chose to prioritize speed, athleticism and endurance. And although Canelo will have the advantage when it comes to girth, Charlo believes it’s just as significant that he’s the lankier fighter. He has a three-inch height advantage, and his reach is 2.5 inches longer.
Obviously, fights aren’t won by measurements. Canelo has conquered a slew of opponents who were taller and longer than him. His power is devastating, his defense is impeccable and his counterpunch may be the best in the sport. Charlo will have to perform at his peak to come out on top.
“He has the tools to do it,” James said. “He has the speed. He has the skills. He has the athleticism. All those things are coming together, and we’ve helped build and develop a great strategy around everything he can do. So, he’ll go out there and put it to work.”
Charlo says he respects Canelo, but he doesn’t fear him. He bears no doubt about his capability to beat the all-time great.
“Because I’m that type of guy,” Charlo said. “I can do what I want. I feel like I handled my business in the world of boxing at 154. Stepping up and taking on Canelo is easy to me. I’ve already conquered everything else. I feel like I’ve got to challenge myself. So, I’ve prepared for it and I’m ready.”
Charlo is widely recognized as one of boxing’s elite fighters, but he lacks a signature win. He’s had impressive moments, for sure. After suffering his first professional loss to Tony Harrison in 2018, he avenged it by knocking Harrison out in 2019. Following a controversial draw with Brian Castano in 2021, he left no doubt when he knocked Castano out in 2022.
Those were quality opponents, but they’re not Canelo. A win over this type of foe would cement Charlo as an undeniable star.
“I believe he’s going to do it, first of all,” James said. “It’ll launch him into another solar system when it comes to boxing.”
It could line up future super fights — perhaps a clash with Crawford in the ring rather than merely talking back and forth — and usher Charlo into a new tier of wealth and fame. Before any of that comes, though, he has to handle his business this weekend. When asked what that could do for his career, Charlo paused for a moment before responding.
“They’ll never have to worry about me being an underdog again,” he said.
(Photo of Charlo and Alvarez: Esther Lin / Showtime Sports)