Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings: Jermell Charlo fails to reach top 10 after uneven performance

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It was a rare undisputed championship bout with potential pound-for-pound ramifications. But for 154-pound titleholders Jermell Charlo and Brian Castaño, there would be no four-belt champion crowned when they met last Saturday in San Antonio.

Instead, this exciting, tense and highly skilled junior middleweight summit ended in a disputed draw. It was a result made much more controversial upon the reveal of Nelson Vasquez’s 117-111 scorecard in favor of Charlo following a close fight in which many felt Castaño had done enough to win.

Charlo (34-1-1, 18 KOs), the 31-year-old native of Houston who retained his WBA, WBC and IBF titles, certainly deserves praise for a late rally that saw him sweep the final three rounds on each of the judges’ scorecards. However, there was a feeling — at least until the scorecards were read — that it was too little, too late.

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Much of the credit for Charlo being unable to commandeer the undisputed crown and parachute into the top 10 of the P4P rankings for sure belongs to Castaño (17-0-2, 12 KOs), the WBO champion from Argentina whose defense, toughness and fight IQ all exceeded expectations in what felt like a star-making performance. But Castaño doesn’t deserve all of the praise for Charlo failing to cash in as the betting favorite.

If there has been an Achilles’ heel to Charlo’s well-rounded and explosive skill set, it has long been his inability to throw enough punches as a dangerous counter puncher who is often too selective in his output. Charlo typically uses the threat of his power to disarm his opponents as he stalks closer and waits for the perfect opening to strike like coiled cobra stalking its prey.

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Yes, to Castaño’s credit, he barely made any of those mistakes that typically produce a Charlo finish and an addition to his personal highlight reel. But Charlo’s willingness to abandon his jab so often while working with his back to the ropes only hurt his chances of winning throughout the fight.

With an elite blend of speed and power and a nasty edge in which he fights with, no one is doubting whether Charlo has the potential to one day climb the P4P rankings. But the Castaño fight proved Charlo’s lone defeat — a 2018 disputed decision against Tony Harrison — wasn’t an aberration as Charlo was far too selective in his output during that fight, just as he was in their 2019 rematch that he won by late knockout.

Being an efficient counter puncher with knockout power is a dangerous role to play if you can pull it off. It’s a fighting style both Canelo Alvarez and Gervonta Davis have recently pulled off to huge success and P4P recognition.

Charlo has the skills to join that group but has yet to figure out how to maximize those strengths inside the ring the same way as his contemporaries. Even worse, he has failed to acquire the urgency needed to know whether a fight is potentially slipping away before it’s too late.

Many experts felt a fight against Castaño for all four 154-pound world titles would serve as a career defining one for Charlo, offering him a chance to declare, once and for all, that he’s the best junior middleweight fighter in the world. Instead, the fallout offers him a different kind of defining question.

Can Charlo use the scare against Castaño and the favorable decision to go back to the laboratory with trainer Derrick James and fix what’s wrong before the end of his physical prime? Or will the fact that Charlo came close to becoming the undisputed champion but not quite there be the defining lesson we learn for his career from the Castaño fight?

Pound-for-Pound Rankings


Honorable mention: Juan Francisco Estrada, Artur Beterbiev, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo