On Saturday, May 21, Showtime Championship Boxing has a tripleheader of world title fights in the 154-pound division in Las Vegas, where Houston twins Jermall and Jermell Charlo feature as support to adopted Houstonian Erislandy Lara, all fighting under the guidance of trainer Ronnie Shields.
Why isn't this card in Houston? #Boxing.
Here's a look at the three fights that will air on the broadcast.
Erislandy Lara vs Vanes Martirosyan
Record: 22-2-2 (13 KO) ... Streak: W3 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 7-2-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ...Height/Reach: 5'9" / 74" ...Age: 33
Thoughts: If you asked me to pick someone in boxing today who is both underrated and overrated, I might go with Erislandy Lara, and I've felt this way for about five years now.
He is underrated largely in the sense that he's a very good boxer who is never going to be a favorite of anyone past the diehard audience, because he doesn't have an exciting style and doesn't often try to do more than take what is being given to him. He can at times look pretty vicious against the overmatched or outclassed, as we saw in 2013 when he stopped Alfredo Angulo, or last time out against Jan Zaveck, and he really did a job on Austin Trout in 2013, too, a sort of clinical performance that might have been his best as a pro.
But go way back to 2011, and I mean even before those three goofballs in New Jersey robbed him blind against Paul Williams. Three and a half months before that fight, Lara faced Carlos Molina (the crafty guy who later got deported). Lara, who was making some waves as a prospect, was very lucky to escape that fight with a draw. After that night, I thought, "This guy is overrated." Then a few months later, after watching him pick Tall Paul apart over 12 rounds, I thought, "Man, this guy is fantastic."
Wins over Ronald Hearns and Freddy Hernandez didn't do much for me -- I mean, you know, of course he won -- and then he went tooth and nail with Martirosyan in their first fight in late 2012. And I thought, "OK, this guy is good, but he's not great." And then he showed grit and busted up Angulo and dissected Trout, and I thought, "Wow, this guy is a hell of a boxer." Then he fought Canelo, and there are people who truly think Lara won that fight, and I think you can make the argument, but I came out of it more impressed by Alvarez, and shaded the fight to him, and I thought, "This Lara, he's real good, but still not great, a great fighter would have beaten Canelo in that style matchup."
And that's about how I feel now. What I'm getting at is that sometimes Lara looks great, and sometimes he does not, and it's about the matchup to an extreme degree with him, not in terms of whether or not he's good -- he is, obviously, and I think right now he's the best in the division -- but in terms of whether or not he can make the case to be great. And we've had plenty of time. I wouldn't say Lara is great. I would say he is very good, and his style can be an absolute nightmare for just about anyone. But not great. No, he's not great. And there are those who feel that he is, and I just do not see it in his body of work. Someone great with his style would have done more against Alvarez, would have done more against Vanes the first time, would have done more against Delvin Rodriguez last year, even though that was a shutout. I know many of you won't agree with this, but I just gotta put it out there, you guys, my hot take, my feelings, my emotions on Lara.
Record: 36-2-1 (21 KO) ... Streak: W1 ... Last 5: 3-2 ... Last 10: 7-2-1... Stance: Orthodox ...Height/Reach: 5'11½" / 70" ...Age: 30
Thoughts: Some years ago, I wrote a thinkpiece! on Vanes and his matchmaking. Actually, it was about the matchmaking and what I felt had become a true mishandling of his career and his talent. It came a couple of days after Martirosyan beat the shit out of the hapless Troy Lowry, a fight that just stuck in my craw, especially as Martirosyan had seemingly been steered backwards in recent fights.
Before Lowry, who had lost eight of ten fights (including a first round knockout against Dominic Wade in 2010, if that makes it seem even worse now), Vanes had also been matched against Richard Gutierrez, who had lost three straight and would lose another three straight after Vanes beat him. Before that was Saul Roman, and before that was Bladimir Hernandez.
In 2010, Martirosyan had beaten fellow prospect Joe Greene at Yankee Stadium. Greene's career wound up going nowhere, but it was a fight that seemed to point Martirosyan in the right direction, career-wise. And after the Lowry fight, he was matched against Erislandy Lara.
My argument then was that the matchmaking was doing noting for Martirosyan, and might have actually been hurting him, that it was well below his talent level. He and Lara went about even before the fight ended on a clash of heads in the ninth round, resulting in a technical draw on scores of 86-85 Martirosyan, 87-84 Lara, and 86-86. It was not a pretty fight (most Lara fights aren't), but it did show that Vanes had the talent to hang at the elite level, and that beating the crap out of guys like Troy Lowry and Richard Gutierrez was a waste of his time and talents.
Since the Lara fight, Martirosyan is 4-2, losing to Demetrius Andrade in 2013 and Jermell Charlo in 2015, both competitive fights. Wins over Ryan Davis and Mario Lozano were forgettable junk tune-ups, but victories over Willie Nelson and Ishe Smith were more notable.
Martirosyan can fight with anyone in this division. He has yet to get all the way over the hump, but he's been right there against Lara, Andrade, and Jermell Charlo. So now the question is less about whether or not he's truly a good fighter, because I think he's shown that he is, but whether or not he can get to that next and final level, and get the win in the big fight. That's tougher to answer, but he's still a young man, just 30 years old, and he may be more of a live dog here than some feel. Lara is the celebrated "best talent in the division" guy, but these two have fought before, and it was dicey for the Cuban. Lara hasn't changed much since then.
Matchup Grade: B-. It's a solid fight, and considering I thought Martirosyan had a good argument for the win over Jermell Charlo last year, it might look better to me than it does to most. Now, don't get me wrong: for entertainment, this could be a turd, as their first fight was ugly as hell, and Lara does not try to provide thrills. But it's a decent fight.
Jermall Charlo vs Austin Trout
Record: 23-0 (18 KO) ... Streak: W23 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ...Height/Reach: 6'0" / 73½" ...Age: 25
Thoughts: Jermall is the puncher of the Charlos, the more offensive-minded fighter between the two, a naturally strong guy who looks to do damage early and often. He was also the first to win a world title, as he got the matchup last September against a 43-year-old Cornelius Bundrage, and absolutely destroyed him in three rounds, putting him down in every round, four times in total.
It was impressive. But Bundrage was 43 years old, is a small junior middleweight, and was in many ways made to order for the younger, taller, stronger fighter. And his first defense against fringe contender Wilky Campfort in November didn't serve to answer any questions that anyone could still ask about Charlo, either. Campfort was also overpowered and out in four rounds.
Other than that, Charlo really doesn't have much by notable wins, and it's really worth asking if he's proven anything new since 2013. Was Bundrage really any better a win than the one Charlo had over Antwone Smith that year? Has he been treading water, even counting the world title as something special by itself?
This all probably reads a bit negatively, but I don't mean it that way. There's a lot of good to be said about Charlo. He attacks, he's one of the better punchers in the 154-pound division, and he's fun to watch. But I have the feeling that his status as a top fighter in the weight class may be a bit ahead of his development, or at least that it's ahead of what he's proven. Yes, he has a world title, but he's as much a prospect as he is a contender still, sort of similar to, say, Anthony Joshua at heavyweight, though with far less fanfare. Like Joshua, he's got good wins for a good prospect, and he may well be the goods, but there's a lot to prove. And they both have a red belt that they could hold up and tell me to shut my overthinking dumb ass up.
Record: 30-2 (17 KO) ... Streak: W4 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Southpaw ...Height/Reach: 5'9½" / 72" ...Age: 30
Thoughts: Austin Trout has become something of the forgotten man in the 154-pound division, but it wasn't that long ago that he had three straight fights against Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, and Erislandy Lara, which is quite a run. He beat Cotto in Madison Square Garden (the only fighter to ever do so), lost a competitive fight to Alvarez at the Alamodome, and, well, got pretty well dominated by Lara. Styles make fights, and Lara's was all wrong for Trout.
But he's rebounded from the back-to-back defeats against Canelo and Lara to win four straight against tune-up level opposition in Daniel Dawson, Luis Grajeda, Luis Galarza, and Joey Hernandez. He fought twice in 2014 and twice in 2015, and won three of those fights by stoppage, most recently knocking out Hernandez with a body shot last September.
All that is my way of saying don't overlook Trout here. As good as Jermall Charlo is, and as strong a puncher as he is, Trout is best against fighters like this, who give him ample opportunity to counter and frustrate. There was a time before he hooked up with Al Haymon that nobody wanted anything to do with Trout, because he was a crafty and more importantly legitimately good southpaw boxer, and he could provide a bit of a wake-up call here for Jermall Charlo, whose recent run of wins is perhaps a bit overstated, simply because he bowled over an aged K9 Bundrage to win a world title. At the very least, I don't think anyone will disagree that Trout provides a potentially far more troublesome matchup than Wilky Campfort.
Matchup Grade: B+. I really think this one is being slept on a bit, and that there is legitimate "upset" potential. Jermall Charlo has less of a résumé than his brother, and has never beaten anyone as good as Trout can be when Trout is on his game. And again, the style matchup is one that Trout could be licking his chops over -- an aggressive, confident young fighter who has been able to rely on power thus far could be just what he's been waiting for in another world title opportunity. Or Charlo might come out, wax Trout, too, and really make a statement. However it turns out, it's a good matchup going in.
Jermell Charlo vs John Jackson
Record: 27-0 (12 KO) ... Streak: W27 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ...Height/Reach: 5'11" / 73" ...Age: 25
Thoughts: The less powerful of the Charlos. Actually, they don't fight a whole lot alike at all. Jermell is the slightly smaller and prefers to move and use his skills, which are significant. In fact, 14 months ago, we saw him use those skills to outpoint Martirosyan in a close, very competitive fight that I actually had edged in Martirosyan's favor, a chess match where neither fighter really separated himself from his opponent.
Still, going close with Martirosyan, a legitimate contender, is nothing to be ashamed of, and Jermell also has clear, solid wins over the likes of Gabriel Rosado and Charlie Ota, along with Denis Douglin, Jose Angel Rodriguez, and Demetrius Hopkins. That Hopkins fight, coming in June 2013, was not as close as the judges had it (115-113 across the board for Charlo), but was also a fight that showcased Jermell's need for an opponent who gives him something to work with, as D-Hop was always trickier than good, and could find a way to stink out just about any fight he was in.
He was more impressive against the aggressive Rosado in January 2014, and against Ota four months after that. In both fights, he was able to use his skills to outclass his opponents. In his last outing, he smashed a washed-up Joachim Alcine, a former titleholder, in six rounds, and was as impressive as he could be against the opponent, ending it early.
Jermell is not a puncher, though he probably has a bit more power than his KO percentage indicates. He just doesn't fight to utilize punching power, more cerebral, more similar in style to Ronnie Shields stablemate Lara than he is to his own brother. Jermell's a fighter who has never overly impressed me, but is a good boxer and a contender, just not someone it's easy to get excited about.
Record: 20-2 (15 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ...Height/Reach: 6'0" / 75" ...Age: 27
Thoughts: Jackson, one of the two fighting sons of Julian Jackson, represented the Virgin Islands in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as a welterweight, losing in the second round, and has been a mixed bag as a pro. Both he and brother Julius did inherit some good punching power, though they're not quite their father (not many people are), and have some skills, but neither could really be called a blue chipper, and John has already lost on two occasions, albeit against good opponents, and in ways that make him still appear dangerous here.
The first time we saw John Jackson slip up came in 2012, when he faced Willie Nelson and lost a 10-round decision on the Chavez-Martinez undercard in Las Vegas. It was a an entertaining fight, and Nelson's experience and stamina paid off big against the less refined Jackson. I thought then that there was a lot to for Jackson's team to work with, a lot of things that could be polished up and produce a really good fighter.
In June 2014, he was matched against Andy Lee on the Cotto-Martinez undercard, that time making the pay-per-view. Jackson dropped Lee hard in the first round of that fight, but Lee rallied, stood his ground, and then knocked Jackson out with a massive counter shot in the fifth round. Andy Lee has a lot of power in his left hand and can really smash guys with it in counter. Lee really didn't do much else effectively in that fight other than land the knockout blow, which is really all you need to do, but it was another defeat with some silver linings for Jackson.
Since then, Jackson has fought just two times, beating journeyman Carlos Jerez in Argentina in November 2014, and veteran Dennis Laurente last August. He dropped Laurente in the third round and won a 10-round shutout decision. But Jerez and Laurente, both old fighters who were never that good in the first place, are a far cry from Jermell Charlo.
Jackson winning here would certainly be an upset. Whether there are good things to say about his losses or not, he's certainly lost some luster as a prospect, and at 27, the time for him to emerge is probably here. It's a tough matchup for him, but he has the power to make a difference. Whether he has more than that is going to determine how this goes.
Matchup Grade: C+. Decent, and with legitimate potential to be better than this. As a world title fight, it is lacking a bit, at least compared to what would be our ideal for a world title fight, and that's largely on the résumé of Jackson, who is here more based on remaining potential than anything else. How this fight turns out for entertainment depends on what Jackson can do against Jermell, who is a better boxer and could well control this fight handily.