In a thrilling shootout, Jermell Charlo stopped Jeison Rosario in the eighth round on Saturday to win a third belt at 154 lbs. Despite being dropped three times in the fight, Rosario cut an imposing figure whenever he was marching forward. Featuring heavy hands and a relentless body attack, he forced Charlo into tying up a number of times throughout the bout.
In my opinion, the fight turned in the sixth round when Charlo connected with a left hook/right hand combination for his second knockdown of the match. That sequence badly hurt Rosario, who spent the seventh round going through the motions with ineffectual pressure. At the beginning of the eighth, Charlo landed a simple jab to the head and jab to the body, with the last punch being partially blocked. However, that punch to the gut sent Rosario to the canvas, where he briefly convulsed and never got close to beating referee Harvey Dock's count.
|Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott|
Perhaps Charlo's last punch hit the perfect spot, but more likely it was that Rosario was a spent bullet; the grueling nature of the fight, not to mention his significant weight cut, had depleted all of his energy reserves. The ending looked similar to last year's Kovalev-Yarde fight, where Kovalev stopped the proceedings with a jab. After both of these knockouts, the losing fighter stayed on the canvas for several minutes. Although Charlo and Kovalev do have excellent jabs, it was not the punch itself that led to such devastating consequences, but what came before it, both the fights themselves and the losing boxers' fight preparation.
Jermell's win was not a certainly or a formality. He had to earn it. Employing a risky strategy against a big puncher who knew how to impose his size on a smaller fighter, Jermell had little margin for error. He counted on two factors for the victory: his belief in his power punching and the sturdiness of his chin.
As mentioned earlier, Charlo had to tie up on a number of occasions. Some of that could be attributed to simply resetting the action, but there were a few occasions, specifically after body barrages, where Charlo looked like he had truly felt Rosario's power, and that had made him uncomfortable. But unlike many fighters who fall apart against punchers, Charlo acted like a seasoned veteran. He stopped the action and bought time. He didn't hold or clinch excessively, but he did it strategically, and he wasn't too proud or too macho to use those tactics. They helped win him the fight.
From the opening seconds of the fight, Charlo made it clear what his game plan would be. He was winging hooks with full force and trying to knock out Rosario with almost every shot. He wasn't going for a points victory or doing the things necessary to put rounds in the bank. He and trainer Derrick James believed that the knockout would be their best way to win the fight. In a battle of chins, they thought that Jermell's would prevail.
Charlo lost a number of rounds in the fight, as his employed strategy would normally dictate. Most rounds he threw less than 40 punches, a meager total in the 154-lb. division. But perhaps even more telling was the geography of the fight. Charlo invited pressure from Rosario. He backed up slowly toward the ropes, looking for opportunities to land counter left hooks and right hands. He absorbed a ton of big shots while waiting for openings. That style only works if the fighter's knockout power is real and he has the chin, conditioning and ring smarts to withstand heavy fire.
Despite stopping seven of his last nine opponents, Jermell’s knockout percentage is only right above 50%. (And keep in mind that his recent stoppages have been against world-class opposition. Usually when a fighter faces better opponents, his knockout rate drops.) Yet, our eyes do not deceive us. His power is legitimate, threatening and devastating. His recent string of stoppages has coincided with his switch to Derrick James as his trainer. Jermell's style with James differs markedly from how he was developed as a pro under Ronnie Shields. With Shields, Jermell was known for his legs and jab. He was a classic boxer-puncher who won fights more with his athletic and technical skills than his power. But with James, Charlo has focused on holding his ground, sitting down on his shots and inflicting damage.
Derrick James also trains Errol Spence, one of the most dynamic power punchers in the sport. For whatever reason, there are few trainers who make punching their forte. Some trainers favor aggression, defensive responsibility, tactical brilliance or overall well-roundedness. But James is one of the few notable American trainers who believes in punching more than any other factor in a fight. It's not that he ignores issues of defense or strategy, but he believes at the end of the day that the guy with the more devastating offensive arsenal is the one who wins fights. It leads to high-risk game plans like Spence against Kell Brook and Shawn Porter, and Charlo against Tony Harrison in the rematch and Rosario.
And James's philosophy is more than just "hit hard." His fighters stay calm under duress. They expect incoming fire. They don't run out of the pocket in a frenzy of panic. James's fighters understand that the moments when opponents engage in battle is where damage can be inflicted. That's when a fight can be decided. He's not a proponent of the "hit and not be hit" style of boxing. He believes in "hit harder and hit better." It takes a special kind of boxer and individual to thrive in James's preferred style. Most don't have the whiskers or the desire to try it. But it creates thrilling, entertaining fights and to this point James's success speaks for itself; he now has two of the top fighters in the sport.
Jermell Charlo has quietly put together one of the better resumes in the sport. With wins over Rosario, Harrison, Trout, Lubin and Martirosyan, he has tested himself against many of the best in a deep division. The one mark against him on his record, a debatable loss to Harrison, was avenged with a memorable knockout last year. Yes, there will be opponents he won't be able to knock out and he will struggle to win enough rounds in those fights; however, he has ridden his new style to the top echelon of the sport. He's must-see television and has genuine star power.
And unlike many in boxing, he's had to make his own luck. He believed he needed to make a trainer switch, and that he would be more successful as a puncher. He adapted his style mid-career. These are hard changes to make, and he deserves full credit for envisioning his career in a way that few others did.
While watching Jermall Charlo's impressive victory over middleweight contender Sergiy Derevyanchenko on Saturday, I thought to myself a couple of times, I'm watching one of the most complete fighters in boxing. Jermall flashed almost every conceivable offensive weapon: a sturdy left jab, lead left hooks, hard right hands, uppercuts to the head and body, hooking off the jab, left jab/left uppercut combinations. He offered all the goods.
And it was more than just his punching. Why Jermall performed better against Derevyanchenko than Gennadiy Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs did is that he is also a better athlete. At numerous points in the fight, Derevyanchenko attacked Charlo behind an overhand right, and Charlo was able to take a brief step back and counter with blistering uppercuts to the body, the perfect shot to thwart that particular foray. It was his ability to move just enough where he could hurt Derevyanchenko without getting hit in return that may have won him the fight. Golovkin and Jacobs couldn't feature the same type of clever movement in close quarters.
|Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott|
Now it wasn't as if Derevyanchenko was shut out in the fight, far from it. He knew exactly what he needed to do to win and from about the fourth round on he executed his game plan ably. Charlo was just a little sharper and a little more versatile with his attack. Charlo ultimately won the fight with scorecards that didn't necessarily reflect the competitiveness of the bout (116-112, 117-111 and 118-110), but he deserved the victory. He had to be exceptional to defeat that version of Derevyanchenko, and mostly, he was.
Despite his third defeat, Derevyanchenko remains a tough opponent. His limitations from the outside are of course an issue, but he has wonderful inside fighting skills and more importantly he knows that once he's at close range, he won't stop firing. That's where he makes his money, and he fully understands his strengths and weaknesses. The only knock on his performance from Saturday is that he overcompensated from his poor starts in recent fights. He had been knocked down in the first round against both Jacobs and Golovkin. On Saturday he seemed wary about engaging too early in the fight and was a little too cautious as a result. He was already down three or four points by the time he committed to his attack. Once he did, he was essentially even with Charlo; however, a fight is 12 rounds, and Derevyanchenko still hasn't found a way to win enough of them to beat a top opponent.
For Charlo, there are still minor quibbles one can make. To my eyes, the only thing strategically he could have done better was to tie up every so often, like his brother did against Rosario. As a puncher, he was looking for opportunities to land hard counters. But there were certain exchanges where he took a few more shots than needed. Tying up would have reduced the potency of Derevyanchenko's attack to a degree.
Charlo also overshot his left hook in close quarters. The punch was much better when Derevyanchenko was at range. Now, some credit needs to be given to Sergiy's ability to fight low and avoid the hook, but Charlo was never able to use the punch as a weapon on the inside. But ultimately, it's tough to be perfect against such quality opposition and Charlo, in my opinion, put together the best performance of his career.
The Charlo brothers headlined their first pay per view event on Saturday and they shined. Both had been displeased with their treatment earlier in their respective careers, believing that they had star power, but for some reason were being neglected in favor of other fighters. At this point, it's clear that they were correct with their self-belief. However, one must note that they came up in a division teeming with young talent and that their management and representation had numerous accomplished fighters at around the same age group.
Essentially, they have earned their status in the sport. Perhaps they were right in believing that other fighters were being handed opportunities at a younger age than were deserved, but the Charlos have now backed up their frustration with excellent ring performances.
Less than two years ago, the Charlos headlined their first major show. It was supposed to be their coming out party, but both disappointed on the night. Jermell was defeated by Tony Harrison and Jermall certainly could have lost in a challenging, technical fight against Matvey Korobov. Twenty-one months later, the Charlos were now finally ready for their big moment. They thrived in wonderfully entertaining fights.
That experience from 2018 has led to both fighters further dedicating themselves to the sport. Jermell didn't believe that his loss to Harrison was legitimate. He now fully understood that scorecards won't always be friendly, and it's much more advantageous to settle things in the ring without relying on the judges. As for Jermell, he knew how challenging that Korobov fight was. He wasn't technically sharp that night and it was one of the few times in his career (with the Trout fight being the other) where he seemed the lesser fighter during significant portions of the action. He had to get sharper.
Jermell and Jermall were both very good prospects coming up. I would rate them around the A-minus level. They were talented, but they weren't necessarily sure things to become elite fighters. Every generation has a lot of A-minus prospects, but most of them don't make it as far as the Charlos have. The brothers are great examples of how motivation, desire and self-belief can help get to the next level. Their lack of self-satisfaction is evident: they want more for themselves, and they know that the level they are at is still far beneath what they can achieve in the sport.
These intangible factors often are what separate the great from the very good. Both are highly skilled talents, but there's a lot of talent in the sport, and talent is not enough at the top level of boxing. It's Jermell's willingness to soak up punishment to land shots. It's Jermall's ring awareness to neutralize a hard charging opponent. It's their desire to understand the sport and an opponent on a fundamental level. It's having 100% belief in a trainer and the game plan. Lots of guys have hand speed and flashy skills. But to get to where the Charlos are, it takes much more than that. Perhaps the Charlos’ greatest quality is their lack of self-satisfaction. It fuels them. And I wish more fighters possessed that trait; then we'd see a better sport.