LAS VEGAS – Ronnie Shields was beyond concerned.
Jermall Charlo’s longtime trainer knew that the WBC middleweight champion needed some guidance while he was trying to work through the mental health issues that contributed to this lengthy layoff. That direction had to come, the way Shields saw the situation, from an iconic boxer that Charlo admires and respects.
That’s when Shields, one of the most esteemed trainers in boxing, approached Roy Jones Jr. at a boxing event over the summer. The legendary four-division champion happily helped by inviting Charlo to his hometown of Pensacola, Florida, where Charlo first spent a month and later three weeks.
“I told Roy Jones, ‘I just need you to take him under your wing for a little bit,’ ” Shields told BoxingScene.com at an open workout Wednesday at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. “I know everybody was saying, ‘Oh, he left Ronnie. He went to Roy.’ It was me. I saw Roy at a fight, we exchanged numbers and we talked. I said, ‘Man, I just need somebody in his ear, a person that I know he respects and somebody that’s an icon in the sport, to explain things to him, let him know how things work. God and family first, and then boxing.’ ”
Shields started to see the old Jermall Charlo when Charlo came back to Shields’ gym in Stafford, Texas, just outside of Houston, from his second trip to Pensacola. From Shields’ perspective, working with Jones was just what Charlo needed to get back in the right frame of mind.
“I saw a big difference in him,” Shields said. “I saw shades of his old self. Then, as we started back working again, I started seeing everything come back. Slowly but surely, but he’s at a good point in his life right now.”
While Shields knows the 33-year-old Charlo as well as anyone, he understands that skeptical fans and reporters won’t believe Charlo can compete at the level at which he previously thrived until he proves it in the ring. That process will begin Saturday night, when the long-inactive Charlo (32-0, 22 KOs) is scheduled to face trash-talking antagonist Jose Benavidez Jr. in the co-feature of a Showtime Pay-Per-View event that’ll feature WBC interim super middleweight champ David Benavidez (27-0, 23 KOs), Jose’s younger brother, and Demetrius Andrade (32-0, 19 KOs) in the 12-round main event.
BetMGM sportsbook has installed Charlo as more than an 8-1 favorite, even though Charlo will fight for the first time in 29 months. Benavidez (28-2-1, 19 KOs) gave undisputed welterweight champion Terence Crawford one of the toughest fights of his career in October 2018, but the former WBA world 140-pound champion is 1-1-1 in only three fights since Crawford (40-0, 31 KOs) stopped him in the 12th round at CHI Health Center in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
Benavidez’s only victory since he knocked out Venezuela’s Frank Rojas (then 22-0) in June 2018 was a fifth-round stoppage of Bosnian journeyman Sladan Janjanin (38-17, 26 KOs) on August 12 at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. That is also Benavidez’s only win within the middleweight division, which is among the reasons he’ll challenge Charlo in a 10-round, non-title fight that’ll be contested at a catch weight of 163 pounds.
Phoenix’s Benavidez, who is not ranked among the WBC’s top 15 middleweight contenders, settled for a 10-round majority draw with Argentinean underdog Franciso Torres (17-4-1, 5 KOs) in his only other middleweight bout two years ago at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
Shields nevertheless views Benavidez as a reasonable opponent for Charlo’s first fight in nearly 2½ years. Benavidez has mocked Charlo’s challenges with mental health in recent weeks and predicted a knockout win Wednesday, but Shields is much more concerned about Charlo’s approach to their fight.
“I just want him to be calm and just let the fight come to him,” Shields said. “He don’t have to make the flow come to him. Let the fight flow. Once he gets started, he’s gonna be great. But I expect him to come out slow. I’m not expecting him to come out and, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ That’s not what I want. I want him to get in the flow of the fight. Let Benavidez do it. You know, let him come in with all the pressure. I just want Jermall to box him. We’re not worried about what’s gonna happen in the first couple rounds. My only thing is this – he’s gonna get in his rhythm in about two rounds. And once he gets into his rhythm, you know, then he’s gonna pour it on.”
Charlo was supposed to oppose Poland’s Maciej Sulecki (31-2, 12 KOs) in what would’ve been an optional title defense in June 2022 at Toyota Center in Houston. Charlo withdrew from that bout, reportedly due to a back injury sustained while he was doing roadwork.
The former IBF junior middleweight champion hasn’t fought since his uninspiring, unanimous-decision defeat of Mexican contender Juan Macias Montiel (23-6-2, 23 KOs) in June 2021 at Toyota Center.
Once Charlo starts to shed some of his ring rust Saturday night, Shields expects that he’ll beat Benavidez convincingly, perhaps even by knockout in the third of four pay-per-view bouts (8 p.m. ET; 5 p.m. PT; $74.99). Shields realizes, though, that Charlo’s critics won’t believe it until they see it.
“Everybody’s gonna judge him by how he do in this fight,” Shields said. “So, there’s nothing more to say about that. We just have to wait and see what’s gonna happen. But I’m gonna tell you, he’s back. He’s back to where he was before he left. And he’s really excited. I see it in his eyes. Just talking to him, I see everything that I need to see – the way he talks, the way he walks, everything. I see a champion.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.