When a fighter puts it all together, it's a joy to watch. In Saturday's rematch against 154-lb. titleholder Brian Castano, Jermell Charlo demonstrated a breadth of talent that only the elite in the sport can hope to possess. The adjustments that Charlo implemented from fight one to fight two are proof of his extraordinary boxing aptitude. It wasn't just a single change that he made, but several major ones, and he did so in just one fight camp. In a complete and comprehensive performance, he stopped Castano in the 10th round to become undisputed champion at junior middleweight.
Before delving into Saturday's rematch, let's do a quick recap on where things went sideways for Charlo in the first Castano fight (where Jermell earned a disputed draw). This will provide some context for his improvement in fight #2. Charlo was far too knockout happy in the first bout, loading up on his counter left hook and taking scores of unnecessary shots waiting for opportunities to throw. He also languished on the ropes, leaving Castano with ample opportunity to get his work in and score points. Although his corner pleaded with him to use his boxing skills more, Charlo kept his jab holstered far too often and didn't have a strong work rate. He was able to hurt Castano a couple of times, but he was outhustled throughout most of the fight and in my estimation didn't do enough to beat Castano.
|Charlo's left jab was a big factor in the rematch|
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
Coming into Saturday's rematch, I had concerns about Charlo's mindset. In pre-fight interviews, he was doubling down on the knockout, and I didn't think that more of the same would be sufficient to defeat Castano.
Well, Charlo did score the knockout on Saturday, but his performance was far more than just connecting with a big shot. He put punches together from the beginning of the fight and was determined to stay active and win rounds. The stoppage didn't come out of thin air. It was a result of the damaging shots that he had landed throughout the fight. The left hook that dropped Castano for the first time in the 10th didn't even land fully flush, but Castano still dropped to his knees; Charlo had already depleted him.
The first sign that things were going to be different in the rematch was Charlo's avoidance of the ropes. Although he did back up through large sections of the fight, he didn't go straight back. He moved in angles, allowing himself room to throw and to evade Castano's onrushes. When he did touch the ropes, he would leap forward to tie-up Castano, which was something I'm sure that Charlo's trainer, Derrick James, had drilled into him for the rematch. Score one point for a successful fighter/trainer partnership!
The next adjustment was punch volume. Charlo was far busier in the second fight, throwing over ten punches a round more than he did in their first encounter. That's a significant improvement. And these weren't throwaway punches either. Charlo would fill dead spaces with his jab and would also follow Castano out with counter punches, not allowing his opponent to rest. It made it harder for Castano to punctuate rounds. Even when Castano would have impressive flurries, Charlo refused to let Castano's momentary success be the determining factor of a given round; he went right back to work to try to win it. It's telling that prior to the 10th, Charlo was up by at least three rounds on each scorecard. He didn't need a late-round comeback similar to the one in the first fight; he was already in the driver's seat.
Charlo's punch variety was also more pronounced in the rematch. His jab was a real factor. He threw his right hand with more regularity, connecting with a number of pulsating counters. Notably, he started the sequence that led to the first knockdown with a right hand to the body. Charlo also mixed in a few tasty left uppercuts. He gave Castano far more to think about than just his counter left hook.
Charlo incorporated the best aspects of the different phases of his career to defeat Castano. He showed that he could use his legs, put rounds in the bank with his boxing skills, counter with power, feature multiple offensive weapons, stymie aggression, and punch his way out of sticky situations. He wasn't afraid of combat, but he understood that he didn't have to resort to it at every moment to win the fight. It was a complete performance.
|Charlo jubilant after dropping Castano|
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
As for Castano, I don't think that he was a sharp as he was in the first fight, but much of that can be attributed to Charlo, who wouldn't let him have his preferred geography in the ring. When an opponent stands in front of Castano on the ropes, Brian can be a devastating offensive fighter, throwing barrages of power punches from all angles. But those occasions were seldom on Saturday. Castano did feature one new wrinkle on Saturday, a lead right from distance that he landed almost at will. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't able to build on that success consistently. His right was very sharp, but he couldn't put many multi-punch combinations together. I also don't think that his feet were as good as they were in their first fight. He seemed more ponderous in the ring.
Castano was still busier than Charlo on Saturday, but he didn't have the same level of effectiveness. Charlo's punches were clearly heavier and had the more significant impact. And despite backing up, Charlo's counters were easy to see; there were very few exchanges along the ropes where it was tough to tell what was landing, which certainly occurred in the first fight.
Charlo's road to undisputed did not follow a straight line. He had to learn along the way. He lost the entire first half of the John Jackson bout and took too long to make adjustments, he was flummoxed by Tony Harrison's cagey movement in their first fight, and he fell in love with his power against Castano in their initial meeting.
Although immensely gifted, he doesn't have the improvisatory genius to cover up for potential shortcomings. He can develop bad habits. He needs to relearn things. A strong corner is imperative for him because strategic and tactical adjustments aren't always easy for him to make.
But he has demonstrated a fundamental desire to add to his craft, to improve his ring performances, and to be an exceptional student. Mastering textbook fundamental boxing from Ronnie Shields, transitioning to a devastating power puncher under Derrick James, and learning how to put everything together in one performance – it’s his application of his skills that has made him an elite fighter. For Charlo, it's not a question of "skills pay the bills." It's how he applies them and when.
Let's hope that we see the Castano 2 version of Charlo more often. When he fights to the top of his ability level, he is a scary proposition in the ring. He possesses greatness, but he does need reminders about what makes him elite. It's not just his power or his warrior spirit or his perfectly timed counters or his ability to take a shot; it's everything. It's the full menu. Jermell Charlo has it all. We just want to see it with regularity.