CHARLO vs WILLIAMS — Avid movie-goers know the drill. You have a sudden urge to go to the neighborhood multiplex, only to find out that none of the 14 screens are showing anything you’d want to see. Bummer. At other times, there are five or six flicks you’ve been looking forward to playing at the same time. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and you can only choose one. Semi-bummer.
The good news is that it’s a DVR kind of Saturday coming up for fight fans, who too often in this mostly drab year of televised boxing have nothing to watch on a given weekend, or have to settle for the kind of mismatches or low-interest bouts that fail to satisfy their desire for high-level pugilistic excitement. But what option do you choose to catch live, and which one to tape? Do you call dibs on the HBO-televised fight involving the most skillful boxer of the bunch? Or to the one on Showtime that figures to be the most competitive?
The best and most accomplished fighter in action that evening is WBC/WBO super lightweight champion Terence Crawford (29-0, 20 KOs), who defends those titles on HBO against John Molina Jr. (29-6, 23 KOs) in Crawford’s hometown of Omaha, Neb. Crawford is ranked No. 5 in The Ring magazine’s pound-for-pound rankings for 2016 in its January 2017 issue, now on newsstands, but he’s a -3,800 wagering choice against Molina, meaning you’d have to bet $3,800 on him to make a $100 profit. The Titanic had better odds of sinking the iceberg than Molina has of beating the Nebraskan.
Compare that to the co-feature on Showtime, in which IBF junior middleweight champ Jermall Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs), of Houston, defends against top-ranked Julian “J-Rock” Williams (pictured) at the Galen Center on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles. Charlo is favored, but only slightly at -120, while a $100 wager on Williams (22-0-1, 14 KOs), the latest tough-guy contender to rise up from the meaner streets of Philadelphia, is even money to come away with the title.
Amazingly, Charlo-Williams is not even the main event of a highly attractive doubleheader. That designation goes to the pairing of WBA featherweight titlist Jesus Cuellar (28-1, 21 KOs) of Argentina and two-division former champion Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs), if only for geographical considerations. Mares hails from Montebello, Calif., by way of his native Mexico, and thus is the drawing card in L.A., but his fight with Cuellar also figures to be a something of a toss-up, with Cuellar at -155 to Mares’ +135.
“To have two Fight of the Year candidates is almost unheard of in this day and age,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Ringstar Sports, the former Golden Boy executive who is co-promoting the card with Tom Brown of TGB Promotions and whose return to big-time boxing after an enforced three-year absence is notable in and of itself. “Each one of these fights could be a main event. On any other network they’d both be main events, probably even on pay-per-view.”
The likelihood is more eyes will be on Crawford-Molina because HBO is in 114 million TV households in the United States to 23.7 million for Showtime. Not only that, but HBO gets a head start with a 9:35 p.m. ET start time (Showtime’s doubleheader begins at 10 p.m.) as Crawford-Molina will be preceded by a live 10-round matchup of lightweights Raymundo Beltran (31-7-1, 19 KOs) and Mason Menard (32-1, 24 KOs) and a tape-delay pairing of Joseph Parker (21-0, 18 KOs) and Andy Ruiz Jr. (29-0, 19 KOs) from Auckland, New Zealand, for the vacant WBO heavyweight title.
The much-hyped Parker, a New Zealander who is now based in Las Vegas, is said to be the next big deal in the heavyweight division, but to many U.S. fight fans he’s still something of a mystery. Although Parker, at -380 to Ruiz’s +290, figures to win, the outcome might be iffier than the odds suggest. No less an authority than Evander Holyfield, who sparred with Ruiz several years ago, is highly complimentary of the underdog.
Showtime gets this veritable smorgasbord of the sweet science off to an early start by serving up some afternoon delight from Manchester, England, where IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (17-0, 17 KOs), the super heavyweight gold medalist for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics, is a prohibitive (-2,500) favorite over the willing but limited Eric Molina (25-3, 19 KOs).
Boxing diehards may well elect to catch all the action, either as it’s happening in real time or on tape, but all signs point to Charlo-Williams being the most compelling match of the night, and not just because both principals are 26 years of age and in their respective primes.
Start with the fact that Charlo is the older (by one minute) of identical-twin world champions in the same weight class, the other being Jermell Charlo (28-0, 13 KOs), the WBC super welterweight titlist. There’s also the matter of Charlo coming off surgery on both eyes (“Until now I haven’t fought with crystal-clear vision my whole life”) and his dedication of the bout to his recently deceased cut man Todd Harlib, giving him additional incentive to raise his game against a young gun who figures to test him as no one ever has.
“We’re both on the way up to the top level,” said Charlo, who previously had dismissed Williams as “an undefeated nobody.” “He’s my toughest opponent. He’s as hungry as me. But I’m ready for him.”
Williams, who for a time was homeless, takes pride in his Philadelphia lineage and he figures that puts him in good stead to add his name to that city’s proud tradition of boxing success stories. Like Bernard Hopkins and so many other Philly-bred boxing legends, he knows that the hard way is still the best way to reach elite status.
“Inner-city Philadelphia is pretty rough, you know?” he said. “Three or four blocks in the wrong direction it can get a little crazy. I think it’s no coincidence that some of the best fighters come from poverty. What I went through growing up gave me the drive.
“I’m building my own legacy. Twenty-five years from now when guys are mentioning Bennie Briscoe and Meldrick Taylor, fighters like that, I want them to mention Julian Williams.”
Although most observers are apt to consider WBO super welterweight champion Canelo Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) as the top 154-pound fighter in the world, there are many who believe Alvarez, who relinquished his WBC middleweight belt to move back down to his natural weight class, soon will (or should) go back to 160 to duke it out with WBC/WBA/IBF/IBO middleweight king Gennady Golovkin, a megafight that would be the most financially lucrative for both men. If Canelo is soon on his way back up, that could leave the Charlo-Williams winner as the de facto ruler at 154.
“I think you have two of the best fighters in their division fighting in this particular fight,” said Schaefer. “At this point in their careers they’re daring to be great. That’s how you build a champion into a star and then a superstar.”
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