Training for a world championship fight is always a mental and physical grind. That grind increases exponentially when you’re grieving the tragic death of a member of your fight team, something 154-pound champion Jermall Charlo is now experiencing.
Jermall Charlo was supposed to be training at Houston’s Plex Gym this week with longtime cornerman/cutman Todd Harlib, who earlier this month had arranged for several sparring partners to start prepping Charlo for his December 10 title defense against undefeated top-ranked contender Julian Williams.
Sadly, Harlib never made it to Houston, having died unexpectedly on November 8. He was 48.
“Todd called Jermall last week and said, ‘Man, I’m coming out to see you.’ Jermall said, ‘OK, I’m really looking forward to it,’” says Ronnie Shields, who serves as Charlo’s lead trainer and runs Plex Gym. “But Todd was coughing a lot, so I asked if he went to the doctor for it. He said, ‘Nah, I’m all right.’ Todd was trying get here by [November 9], but he never made it.”
A popular cutman, Harlib also worked with Charlo’s twin brother, unbeaten 154-pound champ Jermell, as well as undefeated title contenders Errol Spence Jr., Erickson Lubin and Caleb Plant, among others.
Shields called Harlib “a maestro at working cuts, stopping bleeding and getting swelling down.” But he was so much more than that to those who got to know him.
“There was nowhere Todd went where [people] didn’t know who he was,” Shields says. “Once you hung out with Todd, he was the nicest guy in the world—a guy you wanted to be with forever.”
Harlib’s passing came nine days after he was in Kazakhstan to work the corner of unbeaten 154-pound prospect Kanat Islam, who earned a unanimous decision over Patrick Allotey on October 29.
“ Once you hung out with Todd, he was the nicest guy in the world—a guy you wanted to be with forever. ” Ronnie Shields, trainer for Jermall Charlo
After the fight, Harlib phoned Charlo to discuss sparring-partner options for the Williams fight. During the conversation, the 26-year-old champion learned that his friend was under the weather.
“I knew he had gone over to [Kazakhstan] and caught a little bug, but I didn’t think it would be anything much,” says Charlo, who had Harlib in his corner for 10 of his fights. “I was praying for him and was hoping that he got better.
“Todd taught me a lot. He meant a lot to me and was a really close friend of mine. I spoke with him a few days ago because he sent me a few guys to work with.”
Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs) says he will fight in Harlib’s honor when he makes his third title defense against Williams (22-0-1, 14 KOs) at the Galen Center on the campus of USC in Los Angeles (Showtime 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
“I’m dedicating this fight to Todd,” says Charlo, who last worked with Harlib during his May 21 unanimous decision over Austin Trout in Las Vegas. “It’s unfortunate for me to have to get into the ring and not have Todd helping me out. But I know that he’s in good hands.”
Shields last teamed with Harlib when undefeated 147-pound prospect Ryan Karl scored a fourth-round stoppage of Jose Felix Quezada on September 27 in New Mexico. “We talked every week, but that was the last time I saw him,” Shields says.
While not as close to Harlib as Charlo, the Philadelphia-based Williams also had a relationship with with the cornerman/cutman. He says they “spoke pretty regularly,” including last week regarding a shipment from Nike, for whom Harlib worked as an equipment representative.
“The day before he passed, he asked if I had gotten my stuff in the mail, and I said ‘No, I didn’t get it.’ The next day, I heard he had passed away,” Williams says. “We had eaten lunch and dinner together before. … He was a great cutman and even a better guy. I considered him a friend.”
He was also a true professional, as evidenced by how he handled a delicate situation last November when Charlo made his first title defense against “Silky” Wilky Campfort, who also had a long history of working with Harlib.
After considering not working in either fighters’ corner, Harlib ultimately chose to serve as Campfort’s cutman for the bout, which Charlo won by fourth-round TKO.
“He offered to step aside and not work with Wilky,” Shields recalls. “But I told him, ‘No, absolutely not. … It wasn’t right to take that [work] away from him.”
Says Charlo: “Todd came and talked to me, and he let me know that it was all just business. He said, ‘Jermall, just stay focused and don’t worry about anything.’
“I’m just putting the [Williams] fight in God’s hands, hoping I never have the urgency to need Todd again.”
For full coverage of Charlo vs Williams, visit our fight page.