A rematch between super-welterweights Tony Harrison and Jermell Charlo was supposed to headline this Sunday’s (June 23) PBC on FOX card at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, but an injury to Harrison put the kibosh on those plans and left Charlo and the card turning to Plan B instead.

Now what we’re left with is a back-up fight between Charlo and Jorge Cota, as well as a WBC super-bantamweight title eliminator between Guillermo Rigondeaux and Julio Ceja, neither of which excite quite like Harrison vs. Charlo but should be intriguing, nonetheless.

Harrison and Charlo were set to renew acquaintances following their first fight last December. Charlo, having surrendered his WBC super-welterweight title, was gunning for revenge, whereas Harrison, a considerable underdog first time around, was eager to show his upset win was no fluke.

‘It feels like a heartbreak. I was ready to destroy Tony Harrison and now I’m going to get in there and destroy Cota’

Jermell Charlo

Unfortunately, though, Harrison injured his ankle, Jorge Cota received a phone call, and Charlo was left to rue the fact he would have to wait a little while longer to eradicate the sole blemish on his 32-fight record.

“It feels like a heartbreak,” said Charlo, 31-1 (15), who lost to Harrison by unanimous decision six months ago. “I was ready to destroy Tony Harrison and now I’m going to get in there and destroy Cota.

“I feel my title was taken from me and being held hostage and I want it back. I will go through anything to get it back. The moment he’s cleared to fight I want the match and I will get my title back. I’m going for a dominant victory on June 23 with a ferocious attitude and a mindset to destroy. I know I can’t leave it to the judges anymore.”

To Charlo’s relief, the replacement opponent, Cota, isn’t the type to go the distance, whether in victory or defeat. With 25 of his 28 pro wins coming via knockout, Cota possesses power in either hand and, what’s more, with two of his three career defeats ending inside the distance, clearly suffers from the common hurt-or-be-hurt affliction of noted punchers.

Still, “Demonio”, in this instance, has little to lose and everything to gain. He dropped a split-decision in his last fight against Jeison Rosario and will have assumed opportunities would be hard to come by as a result. Turns out he was wrong. Moreover, the fact he has received this shot at Charlo just weeks after seeing his countryman Andy Ruiz Jnr shock the world and become the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion can only be a good omen, he believes.

“Watching my Mexican brother Andy Ruiz fight last weekend, I am very motivated,” said Cota, 28-3 (25). “I saw how he got an unexpected chance to become a champion and surprise the world.

“He has inspired me to win this fight in the same way. I will shock the world on June 23 just like Andy did, for Mexico, the country that I love. This is the most important fight of my career.”

Though flooded with inspiration, there can be no ignoring the fact Cota’s two stoppage defeats highlight both his fragility and his ceiling as a pro. The last man to stop him was Erickson Lubin, who took four rounds to complete the job in 2017, while Marco Antonio Rubio, another Mexican, got Cota out of there in seven back in 2012.

To put these results in context, Rubio had lost a 12-round decision to Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr in a WBC middleweight title fight before using Cota as a rebound opponent, while Lubin followed his stoppage win over Cota with a shocking one-round defeat at the hands of, you guessed it, Jermell Charlo. It’s for this reason Cota seems up against it and will likely find himself stopped around the halfway mark on Saturday night.

Also looking to make a statement is the outrageously talented yet divisive Guillermo Rigondeaux, whose fight against Julio Ceja should offer the kind of stylistic blend ideal for bringing the best out of the Cuban southpaw.

Guillermo Rigondeaux
Talented but sometimes baffling, Rigondeaux will be in action Naoki Fukuda

Long considered a genius to some and a bore to others, Rigondeaux’s biggest issue, in recent times, is invisibility. Because, frankly, since losing to Vasyl Lomachenko in 2017 he been too elusive for his own good and almost fallen through the cracks altogether. He was never the most active fighter even in his prime, admittedly, but, for a 38-year-old whose skills rely greatly on timing and momentum, sitting out the whole of 2018 must be considered detrimental.

Thankfully, Rigondeaux has returned this year, beating Giovanni Delgado inside a round in January, and now, with PBC backing him, appears to have the platform to showcase his talent.

Whether he still has the hunger to match remains to be seen. Rigondeaux, after all, has boxed fewer than 10 rounds since 2015 and, given his incredible amateur background and the hundreds of bouts fought and won, it’s a miracle he is still competing as a 38-year-old super-bantamweight in 2019.

This won’t be lost on Ceja, someone 12 years Rigondeaux’s junior and a former title challenger at 118 pounds and former interim titleholder at 122 pounds. Experienced beyond his years, Ceja, 32-3 (28), will presumably look at Rigondeaux’s age and inactivity and feel his relative freshness and all-round physicality might help him land the sort of shots the Cuban may have avoided in years gone by.

Then again, Ceja, like Cota, his fellow Mexican, enters this fight off the back of a defeat and is hardly active himself. In fact, the 26-year-old hasn’t boxed since a shock fourth-round stoppage defeat to Franklin Manzanilla in May. Halted because of a broken nose, Ceja, the WBC mandatory challenger, was badly bloodied and disfigured in what was supposed to be little more than a stay-busy fight ahead of his shot at the world title.

Instead, that defeat sent him back to square one. Worse than that, it kept him out of the ring for over a year and then set him on a path to fight Rigondeaux, a tricky lefty who, despite his advancing age, is someone no fighter in their right mind would voluntarily choose to box. (Unless, of course, the fighter in question happens to be Vasyl Lomachenko and the odds, thanks to a weight differential, happen to be stacked largely in their favour.)

Ultimately, providing age doesn’t catch up with him, Rigondeaux, 18-1 (12), should control the less refined Ceja for most of the 12 rounds they are scheduled to share on Saturday night. Then he will be on course to challenge WBC super-bantamweight champion Rey Vargas, another of those underappreciated craftsmen plying their trade to little or no fanfare.

The Verdict Charlo and Rigondeaux should triumph comfortably.