Surprise title shot suits Charlo fine

Junior middleweight challenger faces veteran Carlos Molina on Saturday

Originally Published: February 28, 2014
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Jermall CharloTony Bullard - Hoganphotos/Golden Boy PromotionsAfter 17 professional fights, unbeaten contender Jermall Charlo is ready for his first title shot.

The star of the show, obviously, is former junior middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez, who faces Mexican countryman Alfredo Angulo in what should be a fan-friendly fight on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as he attempts to bounce back from his one-sided decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their September blockbuster.

Angulo is another fighter looking to rebound, from his 10th-round stoppage loss to Erislandy Lara in an interim title bout in June.

On the undercard, two much lesser-known junior middleweights also find themselves in an important fight, as titleholder Carlos Molina will make his first defense against up-and-coming Jermall Charlo.

Nobody is expecting Molina-Charlo to produce the kind of fireworks anticipated in the main event, given their styles. But that doesn't diminish the stakes: The winner will be in a prime position in a talent-laden division and will own the ultimate bargaining chip when it comes to a future lucrative fight -- an alphabet belt.

That Charlo (17-0, 13 KOs), 23, of Houston, landed the fight came as something of a surprise to many. After all, his twin, fellow 154-pounder Jermell Charlo (23-0, 11 KOs) is a bit more experienced and has a more impressive résumé.

Jermell Charlo has already defeated longtime contender Demetrius Hopkins and former title challenger Gabriel Rosado, whom he dominated in a decision victory on Jan. 25.

So while Jermell waits for his title shot, Jermall will be the one lacing up the gloves for one against Molina (22-5-2, 6 KOs), 30, of Chicago, who claimed the belt by split decision against Ishe Smith on the Mayweather-Alvarez undercard.

"This fight is big. It's major," said Charlo, who has had top sparring with gymmates Bryan Vera and Lara to prepare, since all three share trainer Ronnie Shields. "I'm 17-0 right now. I haven't even clinched 20 fights and I'm fighting for a world title. I feel like an elite fighter. I have an elite team behind me. So it's just a matter of time.

"Carlos Molina is a great fighter. He's a world champion. I give him all the credit for even just choosing me to fight him and giving me the opportunity. I'm going to be well-prepared, well-disciplined in the ring when it's time to go. I just want to give the fans an exciting toe-to-toe matchup that they've been waiting for."

[+] EnlargeCarlos Molina
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillCarlos Molina, right, will defend hist junior middleweight title for the first time on Saturday.

Charlo's sentiment is appreciated, but he is not known for those kinds of fights. And Molina, as talented as he is, is a purely technical fighter who rarely mixes it up. Still, it's hard to knock Charlo for his enthusiasm for the biggest fight of his career.

Even Charlo was a bit surprised he received the call for a title opportunity before his brother did.

"Me and my brother, we stick by each other's side and he called me with just a little bit of laughter in between like, Wow, you made it, like this is it right here," Charlo said. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. I'm going to make my best to get this opportunity to fight Carlos Molina out of nowhere, and just like they doubted my brother, they're doubting me. So it's only making me try harder and it's only making me grind to my maximum potential where I'm going to shut Carlos Molina out."

Should Charlo win the belt -- or even if he doesn't -- do not expect to see him ever fighting his brother. They are taking a page out of the Klitschko book and say they won't fight each other, even if they both had titles.

For years, brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko held heavyweight titles at the same time -- until Vitali recently vacated to focus on his political career in Ukraine -- but they declined to entertain fighting each other, partly out of their love for each other and also because of a promise they made to their mother.

"Our belts are going to hang up together," Charlo said, believing he and his twin will claim world titles. "A lot of people ask [if we will fight each other] and I mean, I don't think anyone would even want to see my brother and me fight each other. They want to know about it, but it's not going to happen."

Molina was initially supposed to defend against former welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz in December, but because Ortiz was coming off back-to-back knockout losses and a long layoff because of a jaw injury and because he would also be moving up in weight, the sanctioning organization would not approve the bout for its title.

That left Molina and promoter Leon Margules of Warriors Boxing to find another fight. Then the offer to fight Charlo on Alvarez's undercard came along.

Molina, who has faced quality opponent like Lara (disputed draw), James Kirkland (even more disputed disqualification loss) and former titleholders Cory Spinks and Kermit Cintron (in lopsided victories), jumped at the chance to fight Charlo.

"This is what I wanted," Molina said. "And this was a fight that was also available to me right now at the time, and I jumped right in to fight. I wanted to fight in December and I couldn't fight Victor Ortiz because they didn't sanction it, but I'm just very excited. I don't usually vacation, I don't need time off or stuff or anything like that. I'm just ready to fight the best."

Shields didn't necessarily have anything to do with getting Charlo the title opportunity, but it was his move a couple of years ago that helped pave the way.

Shields has a good relationship with powerful adviser Al Haymon and was a key factor in Haymon's signing Charlo. Shields knew that fighters who sign with Haymon almost always get a significant opportunity as long as they keep winning.

"At the end of 2012, we were 10-0," Shields said. "So I called Al Haymon and I said, Look, you have to sign this kid. I said: This kid is going to be champion of the world for a very long time. He's young and he's strong. He's got everything that it takes. So he said, OK. I said, We've just got to keep him busy. So seven fights later, seven knockouts, now here it is and he's fighting for a world title."

Said Charlo: "I'm working with Al Haymon, who is the best in boxing and he manages my career, and every time I fight he tells me, 'Look, you're only getting better and better, smarter and smarter, keep trying and one day we're going to get that big shot.'

"And sure enough, it happened."

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