When Derrick James, the highly acclaimed trainer of unified junior middleweight champion Jermall Charlo, looks backs on his fighter’s exciting — yet equally disputed — split draw against WBO champion Brian Castano last summer, one key stretch in particular comes to mind as it pertains to Saturday’s rematch.
Castano (17-0-2, 12 KOs) outlanded his opponent and connected on a higher percentage of punches in their 154-pound undisputed championship bout in San Antonio but was forced to withstand the storm of a Charlo (34-1-1, 18 KOs) rally in the championship rounds.
In the end, one judge scored it 114-114, while the other two scored it 117-111 for Charlo and 114-113 for Castano, in a fight many observers felt the native of Argentina had done enough to win.
“This is the funny thing about it, Brian Castano was who I thought he was going to be. But he was only able to be that guy because of Jermell Charlo,” James told “Morning Kombat” in April. “It wasn’t about how great [Castano] was or wasn’t, it was about the fight that Jermell Charlo posed to him and gave him. When you look at the last four rounds, [Castano] was on the run because Charlo was on the hunt.
“If we start out like that, you may not see the last four rounds or may not see the full 12 rounds. We have to start out the fight different and be a different individual. Castano is who he is. He’s a pressure fighter and if you let a guy be himself, you can’t beat him.”
The 31-year-old Charlo has already predicted the rematch, which takes place this weekend at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET), will end in him knocking Castano out.
Luckily for Charlo, a native of Houston who is the twin brother of WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo, he has history redeeming himself in big rematches after bouncing back from a disputed decision defeat against Tony Harrison in 2018 by stopping him late in their rematch one year later.
Castano, 32, is an altogether different fighter than the counter-boxing Harrison, however. He succeeded at using his combination of aggression mixed with responsible defense to take away Charlo’s jab (he landed just 53 of 287 for 18.5%, according to CompuBox) and routinely get inside.
Even though Castano’s output was down compared to previous fights because of the threat of Charlo’s heavy counter shots, his pressure was enough to disarm Charlo. The result was a fair amount of Monday morning quarterback talk after the fight about whether Charlo can be his own worst enemy at times for being too efficient and not letting his hands go.
It’s a notion that James still disputes.
“It just depends on what your taste of boxing is and what you really like,” James said. “What are your expectations? If your expectations are to see him go out and throw 1,000 punches, throwing only 999 is not going to get it done. But if you go out there and watch him do what he does best by boxing and throwing power shots, the versatility gives you depth.
“You don’t know if he’s a puncher or a boxer but he can be whatever he wants to be and that’s what keeps people intrigued because they don’t know what to expect. That gives him depth rather than shortening his career or hurting everyone’s expectations from what they thought they were going to get.”
Another wrinkle to the rivalry over the past week has been Charlo’s accusations regarding the reasons behind Castano pulling out of their originally proposed rematch in February. Charlo maintained that Castano faked the injury and never left the gym because he felt he needed more time to prepare for their second fight.
“I promise you, I’m going to make him pay for everything that he has said and everything that happened in the first fight,” Castano said during last Thursday’s virtual press conference. “I’m going to break him and I’m going to make him suffer. And that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if it’s in front of one, two, three hundred, or 20,000 people. What I have my sights set on is him and only him — me and him inside the ring, that’s all.”
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Charlo remained focus on the task at hand when asked a similar question during this week’s press conference.
“Castano is the same fighter as he’s been in every fight. He’s going to come and keep coming back up. I’m going to use everything I learned from that fight, on Saturday night,” Charlo said on Thursday. “I’m going to take advantage of the things that I have that he doesn’t have. I’m going to use the skills I’m blessed with. I’m going to be stronger, faster and smarter than I’ve ever been before. Thank you Castano, for giving me more time to prepare myself.
“I’m grateful for my opportunities. This is my time and I’m focused. He’s my target and I’m going to pop him. I know what I possess in the ring. I know who I am and I know where I come from.”
The winner of the fight becomes boxing’s first undisputed champion at junior middleweight in the four-belt era.
The undercard on Saturday features the return of one of boxing’s top prospects when Jaron “Boots” Ennis takes on Custio Clayton at welterweight. Ennis, 24, is unbeaten at 28-0, 1 NC with 26 of those wins coming by knockout. He’s coming off an impressive 2021 campaign where he scored brutal finishes of Sergey Lipinets in April and Thomas Dulorme in October. He needed less than two minutes to finish Dulorme on the undercard of Jamal James vs. Rhadzab Butaev.
Fight card, odds
Jermell Charlo (c) -220 vs. Brian Castano (c) +180, undisputed junior middleweight titlesJaron Ennis -1600 vs. Custio Clayton +900, welterweightsKevin Gonzalez -2200 vs. Emanuel Rivera +1800, junior featherweights
Date: May 14 | Location: Dignity Health Sports Park — Carson, CaliforniaStart time: 9 p.m. ET (main card)How to watch: Showtime (subscription required)
Castano deserves plenty of credit for everything that went right the first time around. He visibly hurt Charlo with lunging left hooks against the ropes in the early rounds and somehow managed to push an aggressive pace without taking too much punishment in return thanks to his head movement and high guard.
In many ways, the performance authored by Castano last summer was a perfect one, which leaves some doubt as to whether he can improve on it. Charlo, on the other hand, almost certainly can.
Hearing Charlo predict a knockout has to be a good sign for those backing him as a slight betting favorite. When Charlo fights with intention, he tends to make big statements. But the reality is, especially on the elite level, Charlo is simply a different fighter when he lets his hands go and uses his jab as an offensive weapon.
Charlo often falls too in love with his pursuit of the perfect counterpunch to end the fight. Even though he caught Harrison in Round 11 of their first fight, for example, his relative inactivity had left the fight far too close on the scorecards.
Whether it’s a lack of 12-round stamina or a frustrating lack of intention, Charlo can be his own worst enemy when he doesn’t bite down and let his hands go more consistently. Imagining a rematch where Charlo commits to making Castano pay for closing in on his opponent’s real estate will, in theory, make it exceedingly harder for Castano to have success.
It will take biting down on his mouthguard at times to get there but Charlo’s advantages in speed, power and boxing IQ are destined to be too much for Castano over the long haul. And if the final third of their first meeting was any indication, it’s clear Charlo began to figure out the angles needed to start doing just that.
Pick: Charlo via UD12
Who wins Charlo vs. Castano 2 and which prop is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see Brandon Wise’s best bets for Saturday, all from the CBS combat sports specialist who crushed his boxing picks in 2021, and find out.