Photo Credit: Esther Lin
We’ve seen the same tired story throughout 2018. Two young fighters with titles making perfunctory claims of wanting to face each other, knowing full well the fight might as well be relegated to the unknowable date of the Second Coming due to promotional and network politics. Or even worse, both fighters will be caught on camera together goading each other to “cross the street” to make the fight happen, knowing full well neither has the power to make any sort of demands.
But all that nonsense can change courtesy of WBA/IBF super welterweight titlist Jarrett Hurd, and WBC title-holder Jermell Charlo. For once, two young undefeated fighters are in prime position to not only unify the division, but show their peers the value of not delaying their biggest potential challenge.
“Step One” on the road to Hurd-Charlo was completed this past Saturday when Hurd knocked took out Jason Welborn with a well-placed body shot on the undercard of Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury. Hurd was returning after an eight-month layoff due to a shoulder injury. He delivered a prototypical Hurd performance; absorbing more punches than he should but using his towering size and strength to grind down and break the will of a smaller man. It was the same story in April when Hurd engaged in a Fight of the Year level war with Erislandy Lara, who was dropped in the 12th and relieved of his WBA strap.
Jermell Charlo watched from ringside, knowing that Step Two is now his responsibility. That task comes on December 22 when he makes the fourth defense of his WBC title against Tony Harrison at the Barclays Center. Although a talented fighter with fast hands, no one is giving Harrison much of a chance since the two best fighters on his resume, Willie Nelson and the aforementioned Hurd, both KO’d him late after competitive starts.
A win isn’t Charlo’s sole task though – it’s showing that his level is far beyond the Harrison’s of the world and only a fellow elite like Hurd is worth fighting. If we’re honest, this is Charlo’s second chance to do that as his last fight, a pedestrian majority decision win against Austin Trout where he never pushed for the finish despite two knockdowns, tempered much of the enthusiasm around Charlo following his first round, one-shot kill on Erickson Lubin in October 2017. With Harrison, Charlo has another recycled Hurd foe to show he can do the job quicker AND better.
Back to last Saturday. Charlo hopped in the ring and repeated what he’s been saying for the last year – Hurd’s style is tailor-made for him.
“This is easy money!” he said while pointing in Hurd’s direction. “I like those belts – they look real good on you. He said he wants another fight. I’m ready now.”
“Ready-now” needs to be the operable phrase for every fighter under the PBC banner. With the influx of new dates under the company’s new deal with Fox, there’s enough potential slots to showcase two undefeated and TV-friendly action fighters whose styles have the recipe for a Fight of the Year contender.
Trout fight aside, Charlo has transformed into a dangerous puncher since winning the title in 2015. John Jackson decided to have an unplanned conversation with a turnbuckle after being spun and separated from his senses by a Charlo right hand. Charles Hatley went careening under the bottom rope in a KO of the Year contender last year. And Lubin also entered that discussion when a Charlo counter had him assuming the canvas posture of a dying insect.
But Hurd makes his living walking through your best shots. Unlike those previous Charlo victims, he stands at 6’1 and while making the light middleweight limit easily, enters the ring on fight night at least 20-25 pounds heavier. He also possesses an underrated jab and we’ve seen Jermell struggle when forced to fight off the back foot for long stretches and never against a foe this tall and physically strong. And what happens if Hurd can take Charlo’s punch and keep coming?
“We definitely want Charlo,” Hurd told Jim Gray, but remained steadfast in wanting one more “tune-up” fight to test his surgically repaired left shoulder. “I’m calling the shots. I’m No. 1 right now. When I say answer the phone, answer the phone. I got the date.”
An interim fight is acceptable IF an agreement is in place for a unification by spring 2019. Both guys are right smack in their physical primes at 28 years old. We don’t need to see them spend the next 1-2 years posturing in the media and end up fighting on the wrong side of 30.
Hurd and Charlo don’t have the start power of their peers in the welterweight division, but they also don’t have the injuries and promotional politics (yet) that have stagnated that division from crowning a universally recognized champion. The opportunity these two have is to accomplish something that’s proved elusive among the PBC brand and that’s crowning a unified 3-belt champion at super welterweight for the first time in 14 years.
So far, both men are saying all the right things. After December 22, the attention quickly shifts from words to seeing if their actions coincide with the perceived ambition.