Over recent weeks, on this long road to Las Vegas, Jermell Charlo has had a lot on his plate and a lot on his mind.
‘Right now, it’s still peaceful,’ the 33-year-old told Mail Sport in mid-August. Back then, he was in New York for a first face-to-face with Canelo Alvarez. Back then, this weekend’s showdown between two undisputed champions remained in the distance and the results of this leap of faith had yet to fully crystalize in his mind.
The light-middleweight king had begun to ponder how climbing up two divisions – to challenge for Canelo’s four belts at 168lbs – would impact mealtime alongside a team infused with ‘Dominican flavor.’ In particular, the portions of plantain he could now stomach.
‘I get to rock with all of the cool, fun foods that I can’t too much have when I’m trying to make 154lbs,’ he said. But it wasn’t until Charlo retreated to Houston to step up training that the storyboard of this fight began to take shape.
‘When we get closer to the fight, we’ll start doing more envision,’ he explained. ‘When I can’t sleep at night and I’m waking up because of (this). We ain’t there yet… closer to four weeks out I start having a little different vision.’ Visualisation has been a staple part of Charlo’s preparation from his younger days playing football. ‘Every fight, every moment. Anything I’m doing, I’m passionate about. So I care about what’s going to happen, I care about my outcome,’ he explained.
Canelo Alvarez defends his super-middleweight crown against Jermell Charlo on Saturday
The Mexican returns to the ring for the first time since victory over John Ryder in May
Only the 33-year-old knows what he has seen in those dark nights and lonely days. On Saturday night, his visions and best-laid plans will give way to reality. There are plenty of unanswered questions swirling around this meeting of two undisputed champions: What will Charlo lose and what will he gain with an extra 14lbs on his frame? Have Canelo’s powers begun to wane? Where does the winner go from here? All that is certain: over 16 years and 38 professional fights, Charlo’s mind has never had to picture a challenge this stiff or a prize this great.
En route to claiming all four light-middleweight belts, the Texan has beaten every man he has ever faced. In Canelo, however, he faces boxing’s biggest star on sport’s biggest stage. The risks and rewards are immense. And Charlo must tackle this challenge without his older twin by his side.
For a while, Canelo thought he would be facing Jermall Charlo. Instead, the younger sibling stands between him and a 60th win in 64 fights. Tensions have long simmered between the Charlo twins but now they have boiled over to the point that Jermell and Jermall have not spoken for months. Hardly an ideal subplot to the superfight Jermell has chased for years.
Younger Charlo twin beat Brian Castano to claim the undisputed light-middleweight crown
‘I don’t care who did do it before or who didn’t do it,’ Charlo said of jumping up two divisions
Canelo, by contrast, has lived at these rarefied heights since facing Floyd Mayweather a decade ago. The odds suggest Canelo will prove too strong, too experienced, too good at T-Mobile Arena. Recent history paints a similar picture. Few men have successfully scaled two divisions in one leap. Canelo has done it but he is in elite company with the likes of Roy Jones Jr and Sugar Ray Leonard.
‘I haven’t distracted myself with that type of nonsense,’ he said. ‘I don’t care who did do it before or who didn’t do it.’ But Charlo has admitted that, initially, the extra baggage left him feeling slow. The irony, of course, is that Canelo is actually the shorter man and Charlo has unlocked more knockout power over recent years.
So the Mexican, who knows his recent performances have invited uncomfortable questions, is scaling the mountain once more. He has moved his camp for this fight to the cold waters and high hills of Lake Tahoe.
‘The last fight (against John Ryder) I felt good in the altitude in Guadalajara,’ Canelo explained to Mail Sport. ‘I didn’t see the difference because I fought in the same altitude. But I feel great in my training camp there. So that’s why I said: “we need to train at altitude.”‘
The 33-year-old has been enjoying dips in the lake but has refused to take advantage of the surrounding golf courses. Not when he is entering the final leg of a long career. Not when he still has boxes to tick.
Despite coming up to super middleweight, Charlo is significantly taller than his Mexican rival
‘He never believed in my skills, always calling me out. I’m ready to show him,’ Alvarez said
‘I feel great – my best years are since I was 28, 29,’ Canelo said. ‘My injuries a little bit slowed me down but now I’m fine.’ The Mexican reckons he might have four more years left. His aim? ‘Make the best fights out there and still make history… I would love to fight in the UK or Dubai or Japan.’
Both Charlo and Canelo have been linked with a possible fight with Terence Crawford. The Mexican appears to be warming to the idea; Charlo would have no issue boiling back down to 154lbs.
‘Little Terence Crawford can’t mess with me,’ he said. Did Bud’s beatdown of his stablemate Errol Spence earlier this year add fuel to Charlo’s fire? ‘Nah, nothing can motivate me like that,’ he said. ‘I’m already a fighter, I’m already a killer, I’m already a dog.’
On Saturday night, however, he faces a king brimming with renewed purpose. ‘This time I have something to prove to him because he never believed in my skills,’ Canelo said this week. ‘I always train 100 per cent but in this fight it has been more because I have this motivation, he never believed in my skills, always calling me out. I’m ready to show him.’