Jermell Charlo felt cheated and disrespected after his cloase decision loss to Tony Harrison this past December. June 23rd was supposed to be a day of vengeance and the reacquisition of his WBC 154-pound title. One could hear the seething anger in his voice as he spoke about taking back what was his. Then Harrison tore ligaments in his right ankle during training, forcing him to pull out of the grudge-heavy rematch. Thus, on Sunday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Charlo (31-1, 15 KOs) will now face hard-hitting late replacement Jorge Cota (28-3, 25 KOs). The bout headlines a PBC on Fox and FoxDeportes card (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) that will also feature Cuban master boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux against Mexican battler Julio Ceja in a WBC junior featherweight title eliminator.
“It feels like a heartbreak,” Charlo said of Harrison’s injury and withdrawal. “I was ready to destroy Tony Harrison and now I'm going to get in there and destroy Cota… It's unfortunate that Tony Harrison isn't my next victim.
“I feel my title was taken from me and being held hostage and I want it back. I will go through anything to get it back. The moment he's cleared to fight I want the match and I will get my title back. I'm going in June 23rd for a dominant victory with a ferocious attitude and a mindset to destroy, because I know I can't leave it to the judges anymore.”
Although Charlo swears to keep the fire burning for Cota, it’s hard to imagine there not being some degree of letdown coming into Sunday’s non-title bout. And any sort of letdown, slipup, or lapse in focus plays right into the underdog’s heavy hands.
Cota, a 31-year-old native of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico is not as slick or as talented as the heavily-favored Charlo and, if not for the injury to Harrison, would not be on the world stage in the main event of a big Vegas show. But having to go through life the hard way and having to work through the doubts of cynics and critics is nothing new for the Northern Mexico battler.
A late-starter to the sport, “El Demonio” made his pro debut at 20 years of age with only 11 amateur fights under his belt and fought his way to a world ranking via the hardscrabble Mexican club circuit.
To this day, despite some fine-tuning from trainer and former three-division world champ Fernando Montiel, Cota still fights with the brutish inelegance of a fighter who’s learned his lessons as he’s needed them in the ring.
Heavy-handed and awkward with a taste for switching to a southpaw stance, Cota throws punches from odd, unexpected angles and is the type of ungainly opponent that gives skilled, technically-sound fighter like Charlo fits.
Throw in a bit of motivation from the heavyweight division and Cota has reason to believe that, at the very least, anything is possible in the ring.
“Watching my Mexican brother Andy Ruiz Jr. fight [versus Anthony Joshua]… I am very motivated,” Cota said. “I saw how he got an unexpected chance to become a champion and surprise the world. He has inspired me to win this fight in the same way. I will shock the world on June 23 just like Andy did on Saturday, for Mexico, the country that I love. This is the most important fight of my career.”
Charlo, meanwhile, enters the ring this Sunday in a bit of a no-win situation. With the boxing world expecting him to roll over Cota, anything less will seem like a disappointment. And even if he manages to register a brutal blowout victory, the win he really wants, over Harrison for the WBC belt, remains out of reach.
The 29-year-old from Houston, Texas fights tall and does his best work at a distance behind a sharp jab and quick, technically perfect follow-up rights. Despite a well-earned reputation for having a mean streak, Charlo is a careful, cautious boxer-puncher at heart who will jockey for perfect position before letting his hands go. He can do just about everything well in the ring, but off-putting movement has shut him down for stretches in the past, including in his lone career loss to Harrison.
Cota is not a boxer like Harrison, but his unorthodox ring style could definitely be seen as off-putting. Add into the mix a pair of heavy hands being flung from all directions and he could be a greater danger to Charlo than paper analysis and betting odds may indicate.
It would be in Charlo’s best interest to end Sunday’s fight as soon as possible to reduce the risk of being caught by some cuffing, out of the blue shot that could ruin plans and turn the talented, mega-competitive junior middleweight division upside down. Simply put, the longer the fight goes on, the greater chance there will be for the unimaginable and unthinkable to happen—and Jorge Cota’s power is certainly capable of flipping any script.
Jermell Charlo will walk into the Mandalay Bay this coming Sunday with every conceivable edge in skill, experience, and raw ability. But, as we’ve seen in the unpredictable world of big-time boxing, holding all the advantages hardly guarantees victory.