A hungry, motivated Jermell Charlo could pose problems for Canelo Alvarez

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 15: Jermell Charlo arrives for a press conference to preview their September 30 super middleweight undisputed championship fight against Canelo Alvarez at Palladium Times Square on August 15, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Jermell Charlo says he's as hungry as he's ever been as he approaches his fight for the undisputed super middleweight title against Canelo Alvarez on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — The biggest night of Jermell Charlo's professional life is nearly at hand, and it's a different man than we've largely seen through his first 37 professional bouts. He's had a lucrative and successful career in boxing, though he hasn't crossed over to the mainstream more than 15 years after starting despite plenty of accomplishments.

Charlo's won 35 of his 37 bouts and has 19 knockouts. He's lost one to Tony Harrison, which he avenged, and drew another (which he also avenged with a KO in a rematch with Brian Castaño).

He's thus beaten every man he's faced as a professional. That's a rarity in today's boxing world.

He's won all of the super welterweight titles and is now the division's first undisputed champion. He's appeared regularly on network and/or premium cable television, so he's gotten plenty of exposure. He's got an identical twin brother, Jermall Charlo, who is also a world champion, so he has a bit of a unique story.

Charlo will challenge Canelo Alvarez for the undisputed super middleweight Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in a deserved step up in competition.

And yet, despite all of that, Charlo is hardly a household name, certainly not when compared to the likes of Alvarez, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya. Charlo's a big name in the relatively small and cloistered world of professional boxing, and he'll attract a crowd among boxing knowledgeable people.

But walk him through a crowd of, say, football or basketball fans, and the recognition level is going to drop considerably.

Charlo hasn't always cared to push his fights or spend time with fans. So, out of sight, out of mind. But he's taken a different approach to this fight because of the historic nature of the bout. Saturday's fight will mark the first time in the four-belt era, which is roughly 25 years old, that a pair of undisputed champions have faced each other.

He's made himself available and pushed the narrative of the fight. It's in his best interest because the more the narrative is spread, the better the pay-per-view will do. Showtime has done its usual good job of marketing the event, and Alvarez fully understands what needs to be done to sell a bout of this magnitude.

Charlo hasn't shown that awareness before, though.

"That's what makes me want this fight more than anything," Charlo said of the unprecedented nature of two undisputed champions meeting. "I know for a fact I have to be at the top of my game, my peak. We're both at that point in age where we have to do the most for our careers. ... I know Canelo is training his ass off. I'm training my ass off. We're at the pinnacle of the boxing world now, and this is one of the biggest fights."

CARSON, CA - MAY 14: Jermell Charlo (gold/red shorts) exchanges punches in the ring with Brian Castano (white/pink shorts) during their super middleweight title fight at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 14, 2022 in Carson, California. Charlo won by knockout in the 10th round. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jermell Charlo stopped Brian Castaño on May 14, 2022, in Carson, California, to become the undisputed super welterweight champion. If he defeats Canelo Alvarez on Saturday, he'll become the undisputed super middleweight champion. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Boxing matches are judged on two major criteria, essentially. First, is the significance of the bout in the ring. It's hard to get any more significant than to have the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO super middleweight champion risk his belts against the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO super welterweight champion.

But the second point a supposed mega-fight is judged by is how big it sells. Does the story reach the mainstream? Can the fighters and the significance of the fight energize those who only very occasionally or even never watch boxing to plunk down the cash to purchase tickets or to buy the pay-per-view?

That's a lot harder to say when it comes to this fight. If the sporting public at large doesn't know Charlo and doesn't know he poses a very real threat to Alvarez, then it's not going to pay two seconds of attention to the fight. According to ticket maps at, there are plenty of seats still available. The upper bowl still has tickets available, though it appears there's no more than a row or two available in each section. Those are usually occupied by the most hard-core fans, who can't afford the high prices of the floor seats.

Alvarez's first choice was to fight Dmitry Bivol, the light heavyweight champion who beat him last year. But when Alvarez and Bivol couldn't come to a deal, Alvarez left Matchroom Sport and signed a three-fight promotional deal with Premier Boxing Champions. The fight was first offered to Jermall Charlo, who accepted the bout. But he's been fighting mental health issues and hasn't boxed since defending his WBC middleweight title on June 19, 2021. When Jermall wasn't able to accept, Jermell quickly jumped on the opportunity.

"Now is the right time for this fight," Charlo said. "We’re in our primes and at our best. I want to shake the doubters off and prove to the world why I’m in this position. There’s a reason I made it this far. I’m going to show what I’m made of. Everything I’ve done since I was 8 years old, I’m putting it all on the line now."

Right now, he's a guy who's a whole lot less than the sum of its parts.

But he has an opportunity to change that narrative forever Saturday when he meets Alvarez. Charlo has long flashed the talent of a super elite fighter, though he's never shown it regularly.

When he's motivated, when he's hungry, when he's on, he's a big problem for anyone around his weight class.

“I just have to stay hungry, and I’ve been hungry," Charlo said. "I would’ve fought Canelo years ago and it probably wouldn’t have been as big as it is now. But I’m not too focused on being in the ring with Canelo. I’m just hungry. I want to win this fight for my city [of Houston]. If I accomplish this massive goal, it’ll be hard to top. I’ll be in the record book with the greats of boxing for a long time."