Jermell Charlo became undisputed champion at 154 lbs last night, beating Brian Castano in a fantastic rematch via 10th round stoppage to unify all four major titles in the junior middleweight division, the first men’s fighter to go undisputed in that division in the four-belt era.
Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KO) has been at 154 since officially settling at the weight in 2011, after turning pro in 2007 as a welterweight. He still makes weight handily — he was cut and notably under the limit at Friday’s weigh-in — and doesn’t have problems with it on fight night.
He won his first world title in the division in 2016, coming from behind on the cards to knock out John Jackson and win the vacant WBC title. He controversially lost that belt to Tony Harrison in 2018, got it back in 2019, and added the WBA and IBF belts when he knocked out Jeison Rosario in 2020.
10 months ago, he and Castano tried to crown an undisputed champ. They went to a draw in a really good fight. Last night, Charlo got the better of it, putting a stamp on what was probably a career-best performance against a rival of real substance, and achieved the dream.
The junior middleweight division has been exciting and competitive for some years now, low-key a lot more entertaining than the more glorified welterweight scene, at least in my opinion. The best fighters have fought one another. We’ve seen great fights, upsets, surprise champions, and now, an unquestioned king has emerged from it all.
You’d think there might not be a lot left for Charlo. He’s beaten Castano convincingly, and many of the others who have been contenders have fallen by the wayside.
You’d be wrong, though. It’s a division that has two notable rising stars who both could be a threat to Charlo’s crown.
Australia’s Tszyu (21-0, 15 KO) is a second-generation star, the son of former 140 lb king Kostya Tszyu, and has made his way up the ladder in the last couple of years. He’s fought consistently in his home country, staying busy even when he didn’t have the best available opponents at the moment, especially through COVID travel restrictions and all that, plugging away and keeping himself ready, and his name circulating.
In March, Tszyu made his U.S. debut, coming off the canvas in the first round to beat former Olympian Terrell Gausha over 12 rounds. The judges had that fight closer than most observers did, but Tszyu won the fight and deserved it.
At 27, Tszyu says he’s ready. He was in attendance last night in California, and made clear again that he’s ready. And it’s seemed like Tim really wanted to fight Charlo more than anyone else, with due respect to Castano. Charlo has the bigger star name, he’s got the bigger U.S. fan base for sure, and now that he’s the clear top dog at 154, he’s the guy to beat. Tszyu wants to beat The Man.
Tszyu has been mandatory challenger for some time with the WBO, and was pushed to the back burner to allow the Charlo-Castano fights to happen, which is actually a fair ruling; we’re talking about a full undisputed fight here, not just some big name pushing aside a mandatory challenger because it’s worth more money.
He’s adamant that he wants his shot next, and given how long he’s waited, the WBO should probably get first dibs here. Add in the fact that Charlo vs Tszyu is an interesting fight that should bring in money in both the U.S. and Australia, and it’s kind of a no-brainer fight to make, an established top dog against an up-and-coming star with a last name that means something in the sport, and has proven himself to be at least a bit more than just that.
But that also doesn’t mean Tszyu is the only really good option.
Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KO) is, in the nicest way, a freak of nature, a 6’6” or so junior middleweight southpaw who can fight on the outside and at distance, has power, can be hit — all in all, Fundora when in against a challenge is exciting.
We saw that last time out, when he stopped Erickson Lubin in nine rounds on Apr. 9, winning the WBC interim title, which means he’s the top contender with that sanctioning body.
Charlo noticed that win. In a recent interview, he mentioned Fundora not by name, but as “that tall lanky motherfucker” — like many top fighters will, Charlo may see Fundora as someone open to being spectacularly knocked out. But people keep trying that and not doing it, too.
Fundora, 24, could be a stylistic nightmare for anyone at this weight, or at 160, or at 168, depending on how his body fills out moving up in weight. He has the height and reach of a heavyweight (he’ll never have that sort of frame and I’m not suggesting he will), and he’s comfortable with just about any style of fight. Plus, after some nights where we’ve seen him have some struggles — against Jamontay Clark in 2019, or Sergio Garcia in 2021 — he has learned and come back better from there.
Just like Charlo vs Tszyu, a Charlo fight against Fundora is a natural one to make that a lot of people would like to see. It’s dangerous on paper, a legitimate contender who has done what has been asked of him.
So Tszyu is the top challenger with the WBO and Fundora with the WBC. But Charlo now has two other belts, too.
The IBF’s mandatory challenger is Bakhram Murtazaliev (20-0, 15 KO), a 29-year-old Russian who has no business being ranked as a No. 1 contender with any sanctioning body. Murtazaliev has talent on the eye test, but he hasn’t beaten anyone even close to proper contender status.
Murtazaliev has been on PBC shows in his recent fights and is on their radar, but there’s nobody banging down the door demanding this, either. Murtazaliev’s record is so thin that BoxRec have him ranked No. 59 in the world at the moment, or 41 spots behind Sam Eggington. I’m not saying Eggington would beat Murtazaliev, I am saying Murtazaliev hasn’t beaten anyone of serious note yet.
The IBF ordered Charlo vs Murtazaliev in the summer of 2021, just a few days after the first Charlo-Castano fight, but obviously PBC have a handle on that situation, however you want to take that.
With the WBA, Israil Madrimov (8-0, 6 KO) is the No. 1 contender, winning a controversial TKO over Michel Soro in December. But the WBA ordered a rematch between those two in March, so Madrimov doesn’t have a mandatory claim or anything.
Other than the sanctioning body orders, 154 is talented but has no potential fights that jump out as something that has to be made or should be made. I am as big a Liam Smith fan as you’ll find outside of Liverpool, but I don’t think anyone is demanding Charlo vs Smith.
Even if Terence Crawford does eventually move up to 154 lbs and come after Charlo, as he’s said he wants to do, it won’t be next. Crawford and Errol Spence Jr are both as close to demanding their own undisputed fight at 147 as they’ve ever been, and there’s really nothing blocking that much-desired fight from happening anymore.
If Crawford beat Spence, then yeah, going up to 154 may be on the table. But more likely than not that’s something for the middle of 2023 at the earliest, maybe a year from now.