By Thomas Gerbasi
Jermall Charlo has heard it all so far when it comes to the man he will be meeting in the ring this Saturday night in Las Vegas, IBF junior middleweight champion Carlos Molina.
He’s crafty, he’s experienced, he can make you look bad, and if he wants to, he can stink the place out.
“If I come in fresh, and come in spraying nothing but Lysol all over him, I can’t lose,” he laughs. “His game plan is to make me look ugly, so the more confident and the more comfortable I feel in there, I won’t have a problem with it going to the scorecards.”
Charlo, just 23 years old and 17 fights into a pro career that began in 2008, sounds both confident and comfortable leading up to his biggest fight yet. But don’t read that as cocky and laid-back, because that just wouldn’t be accurate. And if you want to blame his ease before his first world championship bout on the folly of youth and inexperience, that would be out of line too, considering that the Houston, Texas product has had gloves on for much of his life, putting together an impressive amateur resume before entering the punch for pay ranks.
No, Charlo is just how you would like to see a young contender as he approaches something he’s been working toward since he was a kid: confident, ready, and eager to hear the first bell ring. Yet despite all this, he does admit that he was taken aback a bit when he got the call to be Molina’s first title defense opponent.
“I thought I still had a couple more fights to go,” said Charlo, who is coming off a fifth round knockout of Joseph De Los Santos last December. “I really didn’t think it would be this soon, but I know (adviser) Al Haymon had been telling me that the more work I put in and the better I kept doing, then he would get me the title shot, and he was gonna get me what I always wanted. So I guess the prayer was answered.”
Whether it was the right move or too much too soon will be determined at the MGM Grand this weekend, but for the moment, Charlo looks like he has all the tools. He’s got a stiff jab, fast hands, and power. His chin hasn’t been tested yet, but Molina isn’t the guy to do that, and if anyone wonders how the Texan will deal with the champion’s awkward style, sparring with Erislandy Lara has likely prepared him for anything he might see.
As for Charlo’s level of opposition, he’s faced guys you would expect a 17-0 fighter to be facing, though the experienced trio of Orlando Lora, Luis Hernandez, and Antwone Smith were expected to be – at least on paper – tests for him.
“Once I started getting in those fights where they were scheduled for eight to ten rounds, I noticed inside the ring that those fighters brought a different vibe,” Charlo admits. “They weren’t there just to survive or get paid; they were trying to get back on track or beat an undefeated guy.”
Charlo made it look easy in each fight though, scoring stoppages of the aforementioned veterans, and in his last two wins over Rogelio De La Torre and De Los Santos, he again appeared to be a step ahead of whomever he was being put in the ring with. So, in a way, a title fight this early in his career made sense, and it certainly does to Charlo.
“The boxing world kept saying that me and my brother (fellow unbeaten up and comer Jermell) hadn’t fought anybody, so we needed that opportunity to show the world that we’re the real deal and we can showcase our talent against anyone,” he said. “This is the perfect opportunity for me to shine.”
And while there’s no turning back from here should he win the belt, Charlo isn’t awed by that possibility in the slightest; this is what he asked for.
“I do this for the love,” he said. “I’ve been around boxing all my life and I’ve been a fighter all my life. So me being a professional boxer, it’s almost like a reward and a payback for all of the hard work I put in when I was younger. And then fighting for the world title, I know a lot of fighters right now that are still waiting for their opportunity to even fight for a world title, and they all envy the fact that I got a title fight this fast, but I really put in a lot of work, and I’ve been boxing for almost 16 years.”
It’s what may be overlooked in the lead-up to the bout, that to get to the point where you’re a highly touted amateur, then pro prospect, then the guy who gets signed by Haymon and promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, it takes a lot of sacrifice. No one is born into this, and all the connections in the world won’t save you when it’s just you and your opponent in the ring on fight night. So while the rest of his peers were having fun and living “normal” lives, Charlo was working toward March 8, 2014, even if he didn’t know it at the time.
“There was no high school prom, no partying,” he recalled of his teen years. “When there was a big football game I was at the boxing gym. Me growing up, I wasn’t one of those kids that was able to ride go karts and go do all kinds of crazy sports and stuff because I knew I had to fight in a big tournament coming up and I had to make sure I kept my weight down. I had to really discipline myself as a youngster just to be who I am today.”
So after all that, why would he be worried about Carlos Molina? Sure, the Patzcuaro, Mexico native has big wins over Kermit Cintron, Cory Spinks, and Ishe Smith, a controversial loss to James Kirkland, and a draw with Erislandy Lara, but the way Charlo sees it, all that matters are the 12 rounds on Saturday. And he’s right.
“I know what type of fighter I am down on the inside, and Carlos Molina knows the type of fighter he is, so it’s all about who can execute the game plan the best, and that’s the person that’s gonna be champion of the world. Will Molina make me frustrated? He won’t. I’m going in there to have fun. It’s the biggest fight of my life, and I trained for it, so I have no worries.”
Sounds like a fighter who can safely say that all those sacrifices he made for all those years were worth it.
“They all were worth it,” smiles Charlo. “I put in a hundred percent in camp and I plan to get a hundred percent of that world title.”