Jermell Charlo eager to prove his skills and worth against Canelo Álvarez

Jermell Charlo speaks during a news conference in Las Vegas.
Jermell Charlo speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas. Charlo is scheduled to fight Canelo Álvarez in a super-middleweight title boxing match Saturday in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Three days before the biggest fight of his life, Jermell Charlo, normally a braggadocious, high-energy personality in the public eye, was measured.

He didn’t downplay Canelo Álvarez’s accomplishments during Wednesday’s news conference before the two undisputed champions meet in the ring Saturday at T-Mobile Arena. He didn’t suggest, as many observers have, that Álvarez’s skills are on the decline. He didn’t predict pummeling Álvarez.

But Charlo made one thing clear: Underestimate him at your own peril.

“I feel like I deserve to be in my position,” he said. “And now is the time I can prove my skills and my worthiness.”

That Charlo, a 33-year-old undisputed world champion, knows he still needs to prove himself says it all. His résumé, despite his title, is relatively barren. He never has fought a champion near Álvarez’s caliber — and he’s moving up two weight classes for the chance after becoming the first undisputed super-welterweight (154 pounds) champion in the four-belt era.

Charlo (35-1-1, 19 knockouts) claimed that crown when he stopped Brian Castaño 16 months ago in Carson after the two fought to a draw in their first meeting. He was scheduled to put his four belts on the line in January against Tim Tszyu, but the bout was postponed when he broke his left hand in camp.

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He then took the fight against Álvarez only after his twin brother, Jermall — an undefeated middleweight (160 pounds) champion — declined the opportunity, citing mental health trouble. Taking the fight required meeting Álvarez at super middleweight (168 pounds) — an unusual two-weight-class jump that adds to the mystery surrounding the underdog Charlo.

Charlo is listed at 5 feet 11 — tall for a 154-pounder — but questions remain about his power transferring to a 168-pound fight. Álvarez, meanwhile, is 8-0 with four knockouts at 168 pounds, and is the first undisputed champion at the weight class. He has said — after dabbling as a light heavyweight (175 pounds) — that 168 is his best weight at this stage in his career.

“Making the weight shouldn’t be an issue,” Charlo said. “It feels good.”

As for the left hand he broke in two places, Charlo didn’t want to talk about it, claiming he didn’t want to make an excuse for himself. But he hinted it remains an issue. It’ll be something to watch Saturday going against Álvarez, who recently was hindered by his own hand injury. While Charlo was mum about his hand, said it's 100% for the first time in a year after surgery following his win over John Ryder in May.

“They said, ‘Hey, you need to do therapy,’” Charlo said. “All right, I’ll do therapy the rest of my life. As long as I box, I’ll be doing therapy on that hand. I’ll be trying to make it stronger and stronger and better.”

Canelo Alvarez and Jermell Charlo pose during a news conference.
Canelo Álvarez, left, and Jermell Charlo pose during a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas. The two are scheduled to fight in a super middleweight title boxing match Saturday. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Could the 16-month layoff be a factor? Charlo insisted that would just be an excuse for a bad performance.

The jump in competition, at least on paper, would’ve been substantial regardless — with a healthy hand at any weight, long layoff or not.

Castaño had 19 professional fights under his belt before losing to Charlo. Álvarez (59-2-2, 39 KO) has 24 title bouts alone. At 33, the Mexican is four months younger than Charlo but has been a professional for more than half his life. His time in the limelight dwarfs his soon-to-be opponent's experience. He's been the sport’s preeminent star since Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, a cash cow other fighters hope to latch on to for life-changing paydays.

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Álvarez emphasized the chasm several times Wednesday.

“You haven’t experienced this level of fight,” Álvarez said. “You will see. And you will learn.”

Álvarez’s assertion ignited an odd exchange with aggressively toned compliments.

“You have a lot of skills,” Álvarez said into his microphone.

“You do too,” Charlo responded. “You got some skills.”

“It’s different,” Álvarez said. “You will see.”

“All right,” Charlo said, abruptly ending the strange back-and-forth.

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It wound up being the closest the combatants came to a confrontation. Moments later, Charlo was asked to sell the fight as the news conference wound down and referred to himself as a lion. Álvarez’s reaction — he said he was unsure which animal he should compare himself to — drew laughter.

It was a dose of Charlo’s typical bravado. He’ll have plenty more Saturday if he proves he belongs.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.