Charlo vs. Castaño: Bigger Than The Belts

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Jose Corpas recalls conversations with the late Emile Griffith, boxing’s first ever 154-pound world champion, and how his words foretell a classic battle between Jermell Charlo and Brian Castaño when the two clash to crown the undisputed 154-pound champ Saturday night on PBC on SHOWTIME.

If you spent enough time in any of the New York City gyms during the late 1980's, you would have become familiar with seeing many of the legendary fighters from the Sixties hanging around. Sometimes they were training an up-and-comer, or simply sitting off to the side entertaining a small group with stories from the past. 

Emile Griffith was one of those legends and he came to my mind while thinking of a special upcoming fight. 

This Saturday, July 17, at AT&T Center in San Antonio and live on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), unified 154-pound world champion Jermell Charlo defends his WBC, WBA and IBF super welterweight titles against undefeated WBO champion Brian Castaño for the undisputed crown, the first four-belt match in the history of the division. 

It’s the kind of match that creates legends. 

Griffith was the first ever super welterweight champion, winning recognition in Europe in 1963. According to Griffith, the 154-pound division was the only one of the junior divisions that was necessary. “It was a bigger deal in Europe back then,” he told me of the early days of the weight class. 

“It’s right in the middle,” Griffith said. “Heavyweight is 200 pounds, flyweight is 100.” 

You could tell how hard Griffith was thinking by the number of wrinkles on his forehead. Whenever he had a thought to share, his eyes would shrink, and his hand would raise about eye level. “Some of these guys hit as hard heavyweights and some are as fast as lightweights. Some of the best fighters of all time were around 150 pounds.” 

A quick check off the top of the head confirms Griffith is right. Sugar Ray Robinson, Charlie Burley, The Four Kings, Sam Langford, Mickey Walker and Harry Greb were all within a few pounds of 150. 

Where you rate Charlo on the greatness scale is up to you. What cannot be doubted is his willingness to fight the best. Throughout his career, Charlo has fought one contender after the other. The only loss was a debatable decision to the very capable Tony Harrison. Like the true greats of the past, Charlo removed all doubt in the rematch. 

In the forty-plus years that I have been around this game, the only fighter I can think of who had the same combination of economical and deadly punch selection as Charlo was Alexis Arguello. I can tell you that with the same level of confidence that my father and uncle had when they told me that Arguello fought like Joe Louis. 

Argentine fighters are good – really good. International Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee - Emile Griffith

Like those two, Charlo tirelessly stalks his opponent, catching their punches on his arms, and countering with the type of shots that make an opponent think twice about throwing again. To beat Charlo, a fighter is going to need an iron mandible and a high work rate. Two traits that Castaño has in his toolbox. 

1980s New York gyms were filled with possessive trainers who watched over their fighters like a territorial junkyard dog. If any trainer approached another trainer’s fighters, whether to “steal” him or not, it was enough to set off an argument loud enough to bring the guys on the speed bags to a halt. Griffith was one of the few trainers who could talk to any fighter without triggering any paranoia. 

“Move! Move! Move!” He’d shout at you if he thought you were slacking. “No breaks until after the fight.” 

He would keep on until you either started moving or, you asked him about his career. 

“Tell me about Carlos Monzon,” I told him more than once. Former champ Vito Antuofermo said he once saw the Argentine great drop Joe Frazier in the gym. Griffith went toe-to-toe with him and felt he could have beaten Monzon if he had a perfect camp. 

“You had to be perfect to beat him,” Griffith said. He shook his head, perhaps thinking about a move or two he did not get to try. Then he added, “Argentine fighters are good – really good.” 

Griffith said he had never seen a “bad” fighter from Argentina and I get the feeling that sentiment would remain had he seen Castaño fight. 

Castaño spent his childhood accompanying his father, a former boxer, on early morning walks through the streets, sweeping and picking up trash. After that, he would attend school and immediately afterwards, the boxing gym. From an early age, he developed a work ethic that serves him well in the ring. From sunrise to sunset, he never stopped moving. Griffith would have liked that. 

And I think he would have liked Charlo too, the way he liked Mike McCallum. “He doesn’t waste any punches,” Griffith said of McCallum shortly after he had beaten Donald Curry. Every punch had a purpose, he said. The same can be said of Charlo. 

Charlo and Castaño are old school types. There was no need for theatrical hype leading up to this match. It is two warriors in their prime, asking for the best, with no marinating needed. It’s a match between fighters who could strike with the speed of lightweights and the power of heavyweights. It is the kind of fight a legend like Emile Griffith would have approved of. 

For a closer look at Charlo vs Castaño, check out our fight night page. 

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