By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Jermall Charlo felt much more comfortable Thursday than he was the day before he weighed in for his previous fights.
Moving up from 154 pounds to 160 cost Charlo the IBF junior middleweight title, but it was a smart move for a 6-feet fighter who was struggling to make weight. He benefited from the difference during his recently completed training camp in Houston and feels fresher for his middleweight debut against Argentina’s Sebastian Heiland on Saturday night in Brooklyn.
“It’s definitely a lot better,” Charlo said before a press conference Thursday in Manhattan. “It’s 50 percent better than it was making 154 pounds. And the reason being is I didn’t have to lose as much [weight] as early [in camp]. And then when you lose a lot of weight, you have to hold it. Then you have to know how to maintain it. Things like that, my camp didn’t have to go through this time. … I feel good right now. I feel real good.
“I could’ve continued to make 54, but it’s a lot more stress on the body and a lot more things that I didn’t wanna go through. So I’m happy at 160 pounds and not so much focused on the weight, but focused on my opponent.”
The 27-year-old Charlo is a lot less comfortable with his place in boxing.
The Richmond, Texas, native is undefeated and coming off a fan-friendly, fifth-round knockout of previously undefeated Philadelphia fighter Julian Williams on December 10 in Los Angeles. Charlo tore through Williams (23-1-1, 15 KOs, 1 NC), just as he predicted he would, and scored three knockdowns as part of a dominant performance at USC’s Galen Center.
The reaction to his victory over Williams from many fans has assured Charlo that he has plenty to prove if a confident fighter who has nicknamed himself “The Future of Boxing” wants to be viewed as such.
“I still haven’t got the respect I deserve,” said Charlo, who defended his title three times before moving up. “If you look at the comments from people, they still don’t think Jermall Charlo’s true and is real. So they’re gonna continue dogging me right now. That gives me more eagerness to fight. It’s just part of the game. They’re gonna continue to think Jermall Charlo’s not ready for this stage. And I am, so I have to show them.”
If Charlo can defeat Heiland, he’ll move into perfect position to prove his value among some of the sport’s elite talents.
Their scheduled 12-round fight is a WBC middleweight elimination match. The winner between Charlo (25-0, 19 KOs) and Heiland (29-4-2, 16 KOs) will become the Mexico City-based sanctioning organization’s mandatory challenger for whoever emerges victorious when IBF/IBO/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) meets Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) on September 16 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (HBO Pay-Per-View).
The 30-year-old Heiland has been the WBC’s No. 1-ranked challenger at 160 pounds for two years, but is listed by numerous Internet sports books as a huge underdog against Charlo (+3500/-1200). Heiland has won eight straight fights, but his last loss came four years ago against an opponent, Argentina’s Mateo Veron, who entered that bout with a 16-8-2 record.
The southpaw from Buenos Aires has beaten Veron twice by knockout since suffering that 10-round, majority-decision defeat in June 2013, yet isn’t considered a true threat to upset Charlo. A cautious Charlo hasn’t listened to any of that type of talk while preparing for a fight Showtime will televise as the opener of a doubleheader from Barclays Center (9 p.m. ET/PT).
“He’s a good fighter,” Charlo said. “He’s hungry. This is his Super Bowl, so he’s coming in from Argentina to try to shut my career down. So I’m prepared for everything about him. I’m not sleeping on anyone. The record doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m prepared for war, just like he is.”
Lou DiBella, the co-promoter of Saturday’s show, expects another impressive performance from Charlo before former four-division champion Adrien Broner (33-2, 24 KOs, 1 NC) and unbeaten WBC lightweight champion Mikey Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs) square off in the 12-round, 140-pound main event.
“He proved himself in the junior middleweight division, where his performances pretty much were dominant,” DiBella said. “He can punch through brick walls, he’s a tremendous athlete and he’s gonna be a problem, I think, for anybody at 160 pounds. You’ve gotta believe in yourself when you nickname yourself ‘The Future of Boxing.’ But I don’t think there’s any question that Jermall Charlo is one of the fighters who is the future of boxing.”
Assuming Charlo can overcome Heiland, he “most definitely” hopes to fight at least once more before the end of the year. He hasn’t fought in 7½ months and understands it could take some time before he gets his shot at the Golovkin-Alvarez winner, particularly if their fight warrants an immediate rematch next spring.
Charlo also realizes that staying more active than he has been is imperative if he is to remain ready for a difficult fight of that magnitude.
“I feel like I’m improving,” said Charlo, the twin brother of unbeaten WBC super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo (29-0, 14 KOs). “I fought a southpaw [Austin Trout] in the beginning of the year , like I’m doing this year. And hopefully I can close this year out with another nice name and another nice victory.”
Charlo wouldn’t mention potential opponents for the fight he hopes have before 2017 concludes because he is fully focused on beating Heiland. He hopes to do so in fantastic fashion, similar to how he demolished Williams.
“It’d be amazing to get a knockout,” Charlo said. “I’m definitely not looking for the knockout, but I know Heiland is a guy who comes straight forward and he’s aggressive at the same time. And I’m one of the most precise counter-punchers in my time, so I feel like if he runs into something he can’t handle, I’m one of the best finishers and I’ll get it done.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.