Some fighters are natural self-promoters who have never met a microphone they didn’t like, while others are more comfortable letting their fists do their talking. Muhammad Ali was a first-ballot Hall of Famer of the former group. Jermall Charlo falls into the latter.
It’s not that Charlo is an introvert or someone who can’t articulate his thoughts. It’s just that being a vociferous, look-at-me showman isn’t part of the 154-pound champion’s makeup.
Because of that, few people aside from twin brother (and fellow 154-pound titleholder) Jermell Charlo are aware that Jermall Charlo is a well-read, budding music producer/engineer who loves a fine steak and can sign his name with either hand.
We learned all this and more when we recently sat down with Jermall Charlo ahead of his highly anticipated December 10 title defense against top-ranked contender Julian Williams at the Galen Center in Los Angeles (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
Who is your boxing hero?
Tommy Hearns is one of my favorite fighters. He was always trying to disprove his doubters, and I respect everything he’s been through. My life and Tommy Hearns’ life are similar. We’re both tall, and he had a legendary trainer in Emanuel Steward, and I have one, too, in Ronnie Shields.
Tommy had a good jab and was a rangy fighter. A lot of boxers think it’s easy to go to the body on tall fighters to break us down. But it’s a different story when they get in there with Tommy, so that has made me relate to him in that way.
There was also a lot of substance in Tommy Hearns. You have to be a smart fighter to know the difference between brawling and boxing, and how to use your range.
Of all the boxers in history, who do you wish you could’ve fought, and how would the fight have played out?
Being in the welterweight and junior middleweight range, I would want to see how my style would match up against a guy like Sugar Ray Leonard. I know he fought Tommy Hearns, but I think I possess some different qualities, and I would like to see how I would do against [Leonard] at his best.
I spoke to Sugar Ray Leonard right before I won the title from Cornelius Bundrage, and I told him I was the new “Hitman” (referring to Hearns’ nickname).
I don’t want to say that I would have beat Sugar Ray Leonard, because he’s a great fighter and I wouldn’t want to disrespect him. But out of anybody I could have fought, I would love to match my style against Sugar Ray’s.
I would of course borrow from the Tommy Hearns fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. Every time I watch that classic fight, I picture myself being Hearns.
“ You know what I really want to do? That survival thing where you go into the wilderness and survive for 21 days. Like on that “Naked and Afraid” show. ... I can last out there. I can survive anything. ” Jermall Charlo, 154-pound world champ
What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit, and how you did you deal with it?
You know what’s crazy? It wasn’t even by a punch; it was by a headbutt, and it was actually in my last fight against Austin Trout. Somewhere in those middle rounds, we clashed heads, and his head landed right on I believe the left side of my chin and ear.
I haven’t been hit that hard by any punch or anything, because I do a good job with keeping my hands up and with head movement and stuff like that. But against Trout, he threw a jab, and I stepped over and his head came crashing into my jawline.
He had no clue that [I was stunned], and I fought through it like a champion is supposed to. But that was the hardest shot I’ve taken since my pee-wee football days. I had to check myself to make sure I was good. It was just a shot that woke me up.
When training for a fight, what’s the one meal you miss the most?
It would have to be steak. I’m a filet mignon type of guy. But I have to give that up during training, because it’s one of those red meats that slows me down.
You’re known for being a gym rat. Do you have a favorite exercise?
I like all exercises—anything that’s challenging. But if I had to choose one, my favorite would be working the body bag with [legendary trainer] Creed Fountain. … I’ve watched Creed Fountain do the body bag with Evander Holyfield and a lot of other champions, so it’s kind of become one of my favorite exercises.
What about a favorite punch to throw?
One of my favorites is my left hook. It’s not necessarily to the body, but it’s one of the punches that I grew up throwing and always felt was one of my most challenging shots. I’m very comfortable throwing it, being that I’m right-handed and left-handed.
You mean you’re ambidextrous?
Yes. I actually can write with both hands. I really never knew what my dominant hand was, being that I was strong with both hands. I throw a football and shoot a basketball with my right hand.
But it’s crazy and kind of confusing even to myself. … In a fight, I can switch to either side. I grew up in a southpaw stance and feeling more comfortable as a left-hander, but then I started fighting from the right-handed side and feeling more comfortable as a right-hander. I’ve used both sides effectively.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would …
… probably be an educated businessman somewhere making moves in whichever industry I chose. But boxing has saved my life.
What’s the public’s biggest misconception about boxers?
That we’re all big, angry guys who spend their money wildly and aren’t educated. But they’re all wrong.
Do you have a favorite boxing movie?
I generally don’t like boxing movies because of the fake punches. But one movie I really did like was Hands of Stone. I grew up watching the Rocky series, so I liked that, too. But Hands of Stone is one of my favorites.
I like when [the plots of boxing films] get into the lifestyle. When Micky Ward did his movie, The Fighter, a lot of things came out about him that people don’t know. That’s how I am. There are a lot of things that people don’t know about me. Maybe that will change once there is a movie written about the Charlo twins.
Well, what if Hollywood made a movie about you and your brother, Jermell—what actors would you want playing you two?
Good question. First off, we’d have to find some twins with athletic ability. They’d have to be identical. My twin brother and I look alike, but don’t act alike. Right now, it would be hard to find a good actor to portray both of us.
I did like how Usher played Sugar Ray Leonard, and how Will Smith portrayed Muhammad Ali, but … I think we would have to get a set of twins.
Who is the one artist on your playlist that would surprise fight fans?
I grew up listening to Al Green. My dad was a big fan of soul music. I’m an old soul, because my grandfather and others kind of turned me on to a couple of Al Green songs. Johnnie Taylor, too.
I always go back and reminisce about the old days and the old-school music. I was listening to some Al Green and Johnnie Taylor today.
Finish this sentence: People would be surprised to know that …
… I’ve been playing instruments and creating beats and engineering and producing since before I even became a boxer. I have a full recording studio inside my house. I play piano and guitar. I’m really into electronic music.
I also do a lot of reading during my off time. Reading and music.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
That’s a hard question, because there is so much that I would change. ... I guess I would want everyone to be equal. There would be no levels or one person being better than the next person—no matter the color of your skin.
What’s on your bucket list?
You know what I really want to do? That survival thing where you go into the wilderness and survive for 21 days. Like on that Naked and Afraid show. I just want to get dropped off in the wilderness and go and survive like those guys do, creating my own fire and seeing what that’s like. I think I could do it. I can last out there. I can survive anything.
I don’t like snakes and I don’t like mosquitos, but I’m not afraid of them. They could drop me off anywhere and I could survive.
12 Rounds is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: former three-division world champion Abner Mares.