Jermall Charlo looks at his 2½-year layoff as a sort of “halftime” in his career. And he plans to be better than ever coming out of the break.
The 33-year-old middleweight titleholder left boxing to address his mental health, a struggle that led to suicidal thoughts and the possibility of retirement from the sport. Nothing he could face in boxing could rival that challenge.
However, the dark clouds have lifted. And he’s ready to return to his first love.
Charlo (32-0, 22 KOs) is scheduled to face veteran Jose Benavidez Jr. on the David Benavidez-Demetrius Andrade pay-per-view card Saturday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
“We just had our halftime show,” Charlo told Boxing Junkie. “I’m glad fans enjoyed the first part of the show. Now we have to close out the game. It’s clutch time. It’s time to lock in.”
Charlo spent the past two years trying to figure out who he is as a person, not an athlete.
He and brother Jermell have been boxing since they were 8 years old, a quarter century ago. That has been his identity, a successful boxer who ultimately won a number of major belts, earned fame and became wealthy.
However, he recently asked himself whether it was worth the sacrifices. The way he sees it he puts his life on the line every time he goes to work and no one, aside from those closest to him, truly care.
He wants to be there for those who do care.
“I was focused on learning who I am,” he said, “what it takes to be … a better father, a better friend, someone who is really there, not a fake person. I want to spend time with my grandma, a grandma-grandson thing.
“… I want to have a life. I feel like it’s time for me to be that person.”
Charlo missed out on what would’ve been the biggest fight of his career, a meeting with 168-pound champion Canelo Alvarez that ultimately went to his brother in September.
He has no regrets, however. He wasn’t prepared mentally to tackle a challenge of that magnitude. And he was pleased that the opportunity remained in the family, although the Mexican star won that fight by a one-sided decision.
Charlo believes he could still meet Alvarez, though. He and the Benavidez-Andrade winner will be leading candidates to face Alvarez next Cinco de Mayo weekend. Or he could end up in the ring with the winner of Saturday’s main event if Alvarez goes a different direction.
Those type of matchups would bring Charlo back into the thick of the championship action after his long hiatus.
“I’m taking it one fight at a time, obviously,” said Charlo, making it clear he must beat Benavidez to take the next step. “My intention is to blow Benavidez’s head off. I have enough ammunition to do that.
“I can still fight Canelo or one of the big names. We never know.”
David’s older brother obviously was selected as a tune-up opponent, a competent, tough boxer who will come to fight but probably poses a limited threat to Charlo.
Charlo said he isn’t approaching Benavidez as a relatively easy mark, however. One, as he implied, he can’t afford to slip up if he wants the biggest fights. And, two, his opponent has made it “a little more personal” by publicly downplaying his mental health issues.
Charlo expects to roll over Benavidez on Saturday in spite of his time away.
“It’s like the old Harley,” he said. “You just take it out, wipe it up, clean it up. The engine is still the same. It runs like crazy. … It got a little dust on it but I doubt that it’s rusty.”
The second half kickout should come around 10:30 p.m. ET.