Junior Middleweight Triple Header Should Net Lara vs. Charlo

There were three outstanding 154-pound title bouts on Showtime this past weekend, and all three title holders made successful defenses and retained their hardware. Jarret Hurd halted Austin Trout when Trout’s head trainer Louie Burke called in the referee after the 10th round to request the stoppage. Jermell Charlo retained his WBC title with a devastating one-punch first round knockout over undefeated Erickson Lubin, and in the main event, Erislandy Lara (pictured on the left) won a 12-round unanimous decision over undefeated Terrell Gausha, a former Olympian, to retain his WBA title.

In Hurd, Charlo and Lara we have three diametrically different fighters atop the junior middleweight division, and if we’re lucky we’ll see two of them meet in their next bout. The 27-year-old Hurd 21-0 (15) is a very big and physically strong guy at 154 and may not be able to make the weight much longer. He was being out-boxed badly and taken to school by Trout for the first five rounds of their fight. Trout was picking his spots to flurry and then getting out beautifully, thus taking advantage of Hurd’s lack of footwork and head movement along with his pedestrian defense. But Trout was eventually worn down from the physical strain of moving and boxing Hurd.

The fight changed in the sixth round when Hurd fought with a little more urgency and began to let his hands go more freely. Once he landed a few big shots, Trout began fighting a more safety-first fight fearing what was coming back at him. With Trout fighting more handcuffed, it was easier for Hurd to get inside and land his money punch, his right uppercut. And the ones that got through really battered Trout leading to the fight being halted.

The ending was a good exclamation point, but Hurd — aside from being the first to stop Trout — wasn’t all that impressive. He needs more experience and must learn to cut the ring off better because at 154 he is most likely going to be in the role of the predator when he fights. He’s not all that fast but when he puts his punches together in combination and ups his activity he has the potential to be a tough out for anybody. If I were managing him, I’d avoid Jermell Charlo for the near future, because Jarrett is too easy to hit and would be a sitting duck for Charlo’s right hand. Instead I’d lobby for Lara, who he might trouble with his size and strength – and if he lost it would be by decision and a learning experience instead of by kayo against Charlo.

It was Jermell Charlo 30-0 (15) who landed the punch of the night, a one punch hybrid uppercut/hook to Erickson Lubin’s chin that ended the fight in a manner in which there was no reason for the referee to bother counting. Lubin was nearly frozen and unable to move. It’s hard to glean much from Charlo being that the only meaningful punch he threw landed perfectly and ended the fight. However, give Charlo credit for seeing, as I pointed out during my pre-fight tape with Miguel Iturrate on The Boxing Channel, how Lubin sometimes leans in when he punches and how that would leave him vulnerable to Jermell’s counters.

Charlo, 27, is a tremendously gifted fighter. He keeps his hands high with his elbows tucked and throws straight punches reminiscent of Donald Curry. Charlo is also cat-quick and explosive. Prior to the fight with Lubin, he talked a great game and exhibited a mean streak. Moreover, once in the ring he was composed, bottling his rage. He smartly probed Lubin and in a subtle way encouraged Erickson to fire at him so he could counter, and that is what he did. What makes Charlo so formidable is that he can box almost any style. If you try to force him back, instead of being macho trying to hold his ground, he’ll go back just to walk you into something as you’re moving in. Conversely, he can work from behind his straight jab, which is very quick, in order to create his openings offensively. He also tends to strike back as soon as he’s hit. No, not with big shots, but hard enough to send the message to his opponent that there’s a live wire in front of him.

At this time I consider Jermell Charlo the top of the food chain at 154. He has the speed and power and boxing aptitude to take advantage of the holes in Hurd’s game and the quickness, strength and explosiveness to prevent Erislandy Lara from setting him up or out-boxing him.

Speaking of Lara 25-2-2 (14)…he looked terrific against Terrell Gausha, especially for a 34- year-old fighter who may even be older in keeping with Cuban tradition. He dropped Gausha in the fourth round and won a unanimous decision (116-111, 117-110 twice). I saw the fight more in Lara’s favor than the three officials, scoring it 118-109. Instead of moving and using the ring, as he usually always does, Lara pressed the action behind his stern right jab and then slammed Gausha with left hands to the body and head. Every once in a while he landed some perfectly placed uppercuts to the chin as well.

Lara threw 200 more punches than Gausha while pushing the action, and yet the complaint about Lara not being exciting to watch would grow even louder. The problem was that because he riddled Gausha so much, especially early in the fight, Terrell lost confidence and only cut loose offensively once he was so far behind he knew he needed a knockout to win.

One of the problems with Lara stylistically is his Cuban pedigree. It isn’t so much that he is risk-averse. The issue is that Cuban boxers train for amateur and Olympic style fighting. Scoring points and touches is what they’re mostly geared for. Since that’s where Lara’s foundation was honed, he throws mostly straight punches and seldom throws hooks or round punches. In Lara’s mind, boxing should be done from a distance because that’s how he was taught, and the uppercut is basically to give the opponent something else to think about. This is why Lara, once he’s scored with his one-twos, either gets out or allows his opponent to clinch. He never fights inside where he would need to hook in order to score or break his opponents’ rhythm. Therefore there is less trading or toe-to-toe engaging during his bouts.

Lara had his way with Gausha because Terrell didn’t possess one tool that forced Lara to do anything he didn’t want to. It was one of the rare times when Lara was both the better boxer and puncher. Lara did what he could to provide a more action-packed fight but he didn’t have the right opponent for that to happen.

Based on what we saw this past weekend, I would pick both Charlo and Lara to beat Hurd. There’s a chance Hurd’s strength might keep him in the fight and give him a chance, but I couldn’t pick him to win against Lara, at least not yet. And that’s why the most intriguing fight would be Lara-Charlo. Lara has the fundamentals, style and experience to slow the fight down and present Charlo with things he’s never been confronted by or even seen before…..but Jermell has the strength, speed, power and meanness to offset Lara’s ability to box for 12 rounds.

At 154, Erislandy Lara is the best boxer in the division and Jermell Charlo is the most physically gifted. Charlo has the ability, if Lara doesn’t lull him into fighting in a trance, to force Lara to trade with him, and that would make for an exciting stylistic dynamic if they fought. I sure hope they do.

I disagree with outstanding color analyst Paulie Malinaggi, who said 154 is the most talented division in boxing. I believe 147 has the most spectacular talent, but Lara vs. Charlo is as intriguing as any fight that could be made at 147 until Terence Crawford makes his mark and is in contention to fight title holders Keith Thurman or Errol Spence Jr.

Photo credit: Ed Diller / DiBella Entertainment

Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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