THOUGH often and sometimes rightly praised, creativity and, to a greater extent, out-of-the-box thinking is occasionally no more than a sign of desperation. Some would argue, in fact, that true creativity and out-of-the-box thinking can only be achieved with desperation as its fuel and that only when we are knocked out of our comfort zone, or short on options, do we start to broaden our horizons and look beyond what is immediately in front of us.
In the stale relationship, this could mean a threesome one or both parties later regret. In the typical midlife crisis, meanwhile, this could mean a sports car, a return to Ibiza club music, growing out what’s left of one’s hair, or a sudden obsession with ultra runs.
As for boxing, a sport very much predicated on the idea of desperation as fuel, what tends to happen when a big-name fighter has either cleaned out a weight class, or has acknowledged signs of their own deterioration, is this: they cherry-pick opponents to flatter them. This could mean selecting an opponent they feel, stylistically, suits them and what they have left or it can simply mean dragging fighters from lower weight classes up into their terrain for a fight on their terms.
In the case of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, still boxing’s biggest star, he has, by electing to fight Jermell Charlo this Saturday (September 30) in Las Vegas, done the latter rather than the former. For there can be no doubt Charlo is good enough to give Canelo problems at this relatively advanced stage of his career. Yet this belief, which is a strong one, must also be balanced by the fact that Charlo, the world super-welterweight champion, is having to jump two weight classes in order to share a ring with Alvarez, a super-middleweight.
That, to some, might seem desperate on the part of Charlo, whereas to others Charlo’s chasing of Alvarez signifies only his ambition. To others, the desperation, if at all such a thing exists, can instead be found on the side of Alvarez, who, at 33, resembles a man pacing his study in silk pyjamas, a pipe hanging from his mouth, perusing his bookshelves and wondering which book he should read next – only to discover rather quickly he has read them all. (Except, that is, for a certain Russian classic he left unfinished and remains reluctant to again pick up.)
That’s not to say Alvarez, 59-2-2 (39), is bored by any means, or even halfway to retirement. But certainly, given all he has achieved, and given the fact he was stung by Dmitry Bivol when aspiring to achieve even more, the Mexican finds himself now stuck in this strange middle ground whereby the emphasis is of course on continuing and making money yet creative thinking is required – in terms of matchmaking – more and more each year to safeguard what he already has.
In fact, so out of the box was this one against Charlo, nobody saw it coming. Weirder still, most, when cottoning on to the prospect of Alvarez fighting Charlo, believed the Charlo in question would be Jermall, Jermell’s twin brother, and not Jermell, who eventually got the nod. If that’s at all confusing to read, imagine now how confusing it is to make sense of it in fighting terms. After all, Jermall, the one favoured to get the fight, has at least competed as a middleweight, whereas Jermell, the super-welterweight, has yet to fight at middleweight, let alone super-middleweight, where Alvarez can be found. In that respect, the fight seems as though it is a piece of furniture haphazardly put together – and badly – on account of poor instructions or a lack thereof. It seems, structurally, to be all wrong; liable to fall apart at any moment.
And yet, when you dig a little deeper, and when you take into account Jermall’s personal struggles and lack of activity, it makes sense that Jermell, despite being the smaller of the two, would be the one to claim this shot at Alvarez. Not only that, while Jermall may have competed in a higher weight class, there isn’t a lot of difference in size between the two Charlos, nor for that matter would too many experts say that Jermell was the lesser fighter.
On the contrary, Jermell, at super-welterweight, has been quite the force in recent times, with inactivity the only real mark against him. When active, you see, Jermell has for the most part excelled; for example, stopping Tony Harrison in the 11th round in 2019 to avenge his only loss and win the WBC belt, then the following year halting Jeison Rosario in eight to add the WBA and IBF belts. Most impressive of all, however, was the manner in which Jermell cleaned up a 12-round draw with Brian Castano in May 2022. Held by Castano the previous year, Jermell, in the rematch, left nothing to chance, setting about the Argentinean and refusing to let up until he had secured a stoppage victory in round 10.
Since then, though, and for a number of reasons, Charlo, 35-1-1 (19), has been absent from the ring. His inactivity doesn’t quite stretch back as far as his brother’s, who has been inactive now since June 2021, but it is frustrating nonetheless that we don’t get to see more of Jermell when it is clear he has the talent and personality to be something more; perhaps even the next big American star.
Maybe to some extent a fight against Alvarez is what he has been waiting for and what he has been needing. Clearly, in terms of profile, it will be a huge boost for the 33-year-old and, what is more, should he be able to upset the odds and win, there will be a marked difference in how he will be treated as opposed to someone like Dmitry Bivol, whose 2022 win over Alvarez was both comprehensive and also somehow detrimental to his career. Charlo, unlike Bivol, has a style which interests casual fans and, more than that, he has some star appeal which, provided he beats Alvarez, could be exploited and monetised in the coming years. Already, in fact, there is talk of Charlo facing another American late-bloomer, Terence Crawford, in a fight next year. That could happen regardless of how Saturday plays out, yet the fight becomes considerably bigger if Charlo conquers Canelo and then meets his fellow American back at his more natural weight.
First things first, Charlo must secure the biggest win of his career at a weight entirely new to him and on a stage the likes of which he has never previously encountered. Easier said than done, of course, there is a reason Alvarez, the favourite, has lost to only Floyd Mayweather and Dmitry Bivol in an 18-year professional career fought mostly at the top level. Also, of the various issues Charlo faces, the size may be the least of them, particularly as Alvarez was once a smaller man, too, and indeed is shorter than Charlo by four inches. It is more the size of the event and the reputation of the opponent Charlo must combat and try to conquer on Saturday night. It is the knowledge that all the talk must now be backed up with action and backed up against a man in Canelo for whom, despite everything at stake, this is just another fight in Las Vegas against a talented fighter he is expected to beat.
Make no mistake, this, for Alvarez, is merely another day at the office. It has required some creative thinking to put it together, yes, and the meeting of “undisputed champions” – one a super-welterweight, the other a super-middleweight – elevates its status somewhat, but fundamentally what we have here is Alvarez competing at a level at which he has been comfortable now for some time. It is not, for instance, a fight which asks him to test himself by tackling a bigger man in a higher weight class. Nor is it a fight that sees Alvarez need to prove a point, exorcise demons, or simply outdo a rival, as was the case against Gennadiy Golovkin last September. Instead, what we have with Charlo, at least on paper, is a routine fight packaged as something else; made pretty and more powerful by the poster image featuring all those shiny and utterly pointless belts.
Which is to say, this is a fight between “undisputed champions” in which one of the two champions, Charlo, has won only seven title fights and among those his biggest wins have been against men – Tony Harrison and Brian Castano – who also either beat him or held him to a draw. A good fighter, no doubt, and by rights considered top dog at super-welterweight right now, it is nevertheless this fight for Charlo, rather than the ones that preceded it, which will ultimately decide where he ranks in terms of the elite. For it is in this fight, against Alvarez, Charlo will share a ring with a genuine world-class talent for the first time and must, just to stay on even terms, show what it means to be an “undisputed champion”; perhaps even give meaning to the phrase.
To say all that when Charlo is a natural 154-pound fighter seems almost unfair. Yet this is the path he has chosen and this is the risk he is taking. He has, like all Alvarez opponents, weighed up the risk against the financial reward and decided it is a challenge worth taking. Meanwhile, Alvarez, having looked sluggish against John Ryder in May, will be keen to step up his competition, if just to re-energise himself, but will be buoyed all the same by the feeling that he will be the bigger man on Saturday and that he has made a fellow champion come into his domain. Psychologically at least, that could prove crucial; powerful men, after all, like to feel the weight of their power at every possible turn and a surrendering of it, even just an allowance or compromise, often takes something away from them.
Here, against Charlo, Alvarez is back to having everything on his terms. He won’t have to worry about a rangy light-heavyweight and his pesky jab and he won’t even have to worry about an annoying Kazakh some believe was his equal and should have been awarded victory against him at least once. Instead, with a clean slate and a clear mind, Alvarez can go about his work, striking that ideal balance between comfort and fear, which he will presumably find in a fight like this and against a man like Charlo.
Because this is crunch time now for Alvarez, with many of the belief he is one more defeat away from the wheels coming off. There have been signs of it, too, even in fights like the one against Ryder; signs that Alvarez is easier to hit than before and slower of hand and foot. Again, though, it is perhaps harsh to make these observations and these claims when Alvarez is either without fear and therefore complacent or, to return once more to Bivol, the very embodiment of one’s eyes being bigger than one’s belly. That loss, if nothing else, may have humbled Alvarez slightly and acted as the metaphorical gastric band he required to at least check his greed and sense of entitlement. It may have inadvertently bought him some time and tightened him up.
Charlo, of course, will disagree. He will see it only as evidence of regression and he will believe that a return to fighting elite opposition in their prime – which is something that could not be said for either Golovkin or Ryder – will see another loss applied to Alvarez’s record. That could very well happen, but in fights like this, where one fighter is in familiar territory and the other is making their first trip, it is always wise to back the one who has been here many times before. For that reason, then, more so than simply the weight issue, one must favour Alvarez to get the job done, likely by decision.
On the T-Mobile Arena undercard, welterweights Yordenis Ugas, 27-5 (12), and Mario Barrios, 27-2 (18), fight for a WBC “interim” belt and the unbeaten Jesus Ramos Jr, 20-0 (16), meets Erickson Lubin, 25-2 (18), at super-welterweight in another bout set for 12 rounds. Also, Elijah Garcia, 15-0 (12), goes up against Jose Armando Resendiz, 14-1 (10), over 10 rounds at middleweight.