Jermall and Jermell Charlo deal with a medical condition called edema—where excess fluid fills their bodies after fights, leaving them feeling bloated and in need of a wardrobe change.
Jermell Charlo was somewhere under the bloated mass of stretched skin. The WBC super welterweight champ looked like someone stuck a hose in him and blew up his hands, arms and legs to cartoon proportions, as if he was a mini-Macy’s Parade float, lying there in bed with a smile on his face despite the discomfort.
And this occurred a few days after Charlo destroyed Erickson Lubin in the first round. Lubin barely breathed on Charlo, whose perfect blunt right to the chin disconnected Lubin’s brain from his body a mere 161 seconds into their October 2017 title fight. It was supposed to be a challenging contest for Jermell. It was supposed to be—and it wasn’t.
Yet, there was the victorious champion nursing what’s been afflicting him and his twin brother, former IBF super welterweight champion Jermall Charlo, for the last four years. Jermall expects it will afflict him again once he steps out of the ring against Hugo Centeno at Barclays Center on April 21 (Showtime 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT).
You won’t hear either of the 27-year-old Houston, Texas, natives complain about it. In fact, few in the boxing world know that the Charlos suffer from edema, which occurs when tiny blood vessels in the body (capillaries) leak fluid. The fluid builds up in surrounding tissues that leads to abnormal swelling.
Normal training for an elite fighter strains the mind and body. Fight time is almost a relief after the self-torment. The Charlos get no breaks afterward. Their body’s liberation doesn’t arrive sometimes until weeks after they fight.
The Charlos are pretty special fighters. Enduring edema adds to their singularity. They just don’t see it that way.
Jermell, younger by one minute than Jermall, just shrugs. He even laughs about it. Jermell (30-0, 15 KOs) says they have three types of clothes: Their normal clothes, their weight-loss clothes, and their after-the-fight clothes, which are sometimes a size or two larger. It usually takes about five days before the swelling goes down and the brothers can be back to normal.
The Mayo Clinic defines edema as “swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues. Although edema can affect any part of your body, you may notice it more in your hands, arms, feet, ankles and legs.
Edema can be the result of medication, pregnancy or an underlying disease — often congestive heart failure, kidney disease or cirrhosis of the liver.”
Symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, include: “Swelling or puffiness of the tissue directly under your skin, especially in your legs or arms; stretched or shiny skin; skin that retains a dimple (pits), after being pressed for several seconds and increased abdominal size.”
Edema most often occurs in the skin, especially on the hands, arms, ankles, legs, and feet. However, it can also affect the muscles, bowels, lungs, eyes and brain.
The condition mainly occurs in older adults and women who are pregnant, but anyone can experience edema—even world-class fighters.
“ It is like someone sticking a pin in me and my brother and pumping us up like a basketball. It gets so bad that you can feel your skin stretching. ” 154-pound World Champion Jermell Charlo on dealing with edema.
For the Charlos, everything always hits after a fight. When it’s time for their bodies to relax, that’s when the edema arrives, usually around the Monday or Tuesday following a Saturday night fight. The acid contents and inflammation take over. Their limbs will swell to distorted sizes and they’ll put on 10 or 12 pounds of fluid. They’ve sought medical treatment for the condition, but it’s just something that they have to endure as part of the rigors of their boxing career.
“It started happening to us when we got older,” Jermell said. “It’s been so many years where we would lose so much weight, it also meant rehydrating back up. When you’re losing weight, you’re also losing salt in the body. A lot of fighters don’t even realize that they go through that, but my brother and I encourage fighters to go and get it checked out, because we got it checked out and that’s what they told us it was—edema.
“Normally, after a fight, my brother and I will go away a little bit and a week or two after a fight look like we’re heavyweights. We’re that blown up; we’re big, we’re huge and it’s only because of the edema. It’s common, but it happens a lot with people who lose a lot of weight and decrease it rapidly, and then go back up in weight.
“For me and my brother, our legs swell up. It covers everything, our hands, our toes, and our ankles. Once everything swells up, it takes about a week to go back down. You try and control it with your diet; you don’t eat too crazy. After the Erickson Lubin knockout, it wasn’t too bad. I swelled up for a few days, and then it went back down. But after the [Charles] Hatley fight [on April 22, 2017], I swelled up for like a week-and-a-half.
“I remember going to the store and buying pants a size larger than I usually wear so I can be comfortable. All of my clothes after fights are actually a size larger than what I wear. It is like that, like someone sticking a pin in me and my brother and pumping us up like a basketball. It gets so bad that you can feel your skin stretching. It’s tight, it’s real tight with the fluid in there. You just feel heavy.”
After medical treatment, Jermell and Jermall (26-0, 20 KOs) have also come to an arduous conclusion: That edema will be with them for the remainder of their fighting careers. The challenge is nothing new to Jermell, who was almost declared legally blind before undergoing corrective laser eye surgery in May 2013.
Both know what’s ahead each time they prepare for a fight, aside from the rigors of training.
Jermell has no problem speaking for his brother, because they both have the same attitude when it comes to dealing with edema.
“We deal with it. It’s that simple. Boxing is all we have right now,” said Jermell, who has moved to Los Angeles and is dabbling in film production. “I take it day-by-day, and I take care of my body. It’s important to take care of your body; it’s important to know your body. We’re boxers, we really do destroy our bodies by gaining weight, losing weight; having to train; going through all of the trials of eating right and doing all of the things that are so important.
“My brother and I will probably have to deal with [edema] until our boxing careers are over. It’s okay. We don’t worry about things like that. It’s not our mindset. Our mindset is to get this job done; be the best in the world and live our lives to the fullest while this window is open—and we’re taking advantage of everything that we can take advantage of.
“We fight through it. I have my normal clothes, my weight-loss clothes, and my after-the-fight clothes. It usually takes about five days that I can get back to normal. I can tell when the swelling goes down because I can roll my socks down. My fat ankles are gone. It doesn’t matter. When that big check comes, who cares how swollen your legs are? I’ll walk my fat ass to my bank. It’s about sacrifice. It’s why we really don’t make that big of a deal of it.”
They’re fighters. Pain never gets in the way.