This may not be a fight with P4P implications like Kovalev vs Ward. It may not have the glitz and glamour of a Saul Alvarez event. But in its own way this, for me, is what boxing is about. A genuine 50/50. Two fighters in their athletic primes, yet to discover what type of fighter they could become. This isn’t a fight between two fighters with established legacies looking to make a quick buck. These are two young, hungry fighters on the long climb to achieving what they set out to do when they put on their first pair of boxing gloves. Tough, athletic and skilled its difficult to separate these two in any area, but, someone is going to win on Saturday. So lets try and unpack this battle of undefeated Junior Middleweights.
Williams has been treading water in his career for a good few years now. His opposition, not through lack of trying, has stagnated around the fringe contender/tough journeyman stage. Despite looking like he was nailed on to fight the wily veteran Trout last year, he ended up being shunted aside in favour of the slightly more lucrative Jermall Charlo. That said, he has faced a good variety of styles, even despite their lower level. Charlo has largely faced the same level of opponent, but with the added bonus of getting a shot Cornelius Bundrage and the aforementioned Austin Trout on his ledger. Resume edge goes firmly to Charlo with a very respectable win over Trout. But resumes don’t fight fights for you, and Williams has shown he has much better than the level he has been competing at.
In the ring, it will be technique, tactics and heck of a lot of intangibles that will decide how this fight plays out. The logical place to start is with the most important punch in boxing. The Jab.
For Williams, everything starts with the jab. Quick, annoying, consistent, if not particularly painful, Williams jab is a constant pest to his opponents. In contrast to Charlo’s piston like lead, for the most part J-Rock’s is not intended to hurt, but rather a range finder, a can opener and a defensive block.
This is a pretty standard look for Williams on the outside. Circling, jabbing, feinting and looking for counters. He tends to pull his jab a little short to try and bait his opponent to throw, but he can throw harder jabs when needed. He often uses ‘up’ jabs and jabs to the body as well to further confuse, disrupt and open up his opponent. A complaint could be that his jab tends to be all one paced. The best fighters in the world can slow it down and speed it up to disrupt their opponents rhythm and make it more difficult to pick.
Charlo’s on the other hand is a real weapon. Genuinely.
He doubles it, triples it, feints it and, combined with its speed and solid technique, its extremely difficult to deal with. He is effective working off the jab, baiting it and reading his opponents response, but mostly it is more of a battering ram in his opponents face.
Not unlike his (nick)namesake the Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns, it is dangerous to move too much when facing him. While it can seem like the right thing to do to keep a puncher moving and off balance, he will happily stalk and sit behind his long lead, as he does above, keeping you at a distance and waiting for your attacks.
Williams has fought jab happy fighters before, though at a much lower level than Charlo operates at. He has shown in previous fights great variety in dealing with an opponents lead. He can counter it, he can slip, parry and disrupt it.
Importantly, in his fights vs opponents with a long jab, he tends to look to get under and inside the lead to find a more comfortable range. He shifts well on the front foot, closing distance while staying balanced. He is mostly comfortable in punching range and he exploits that in fights where he knows his opponents want to keep it long.
Here we see what is quite a common move from Williams. While throwing his right hand he brings his back foot through, switching to a southpaw stance, from which he is able to land a left hand. This technique is great for closing distance quickly, but can leave you open to counters. Notice on the shift, Williams keeps his hands high and his eyes on his opponent. He knows the danger. Once on the inside he does a good job controlling Centeno’s head (illegally, but he’s from the same city Bernard Hopkins so what do we expect?) before landing a nice hook downstairs for good measure.
Williams, when his opponent is infront of him, has a bag of tricks worthy of a veteran for creating space and openings to punch.
Williams starts with the same move as before, using the right hand and switching stance to close space. Once he gets inside he is able to move laterally to his right, pulling Hernandez’ arm away in the process, opening him up for the left hook which ended the fight. I could make a million of these gifs and crash your computer if I wanted. Hand traps, switching stances, changing angles up close etc. Suffice to say this is a guy who studies his craft. Staying in front of him, in range, is a dangerous place to be.
Luckily for one Jermall Charlo, his game is based around long range fighting and keeping his opponent at distance. He doesn’t have the skill or the body type to be a true inside fighter but he is effective stopping fighters getting inside in the first place. He is very quick to react to opponents trying to close the gap, often scoring with beautiful jabs, counters and combinations as they move in, before smothering to stop them working up close.
In the limited footage available, no one has really been able to put consistent pressure on Charlo in the way that I think Williams might be able to, so its a bit of an unknown how he would react. However in some moments you get the impression that he is not comfortable up close.
He did a good job turning Bundrage, but he seemed a bit panicked, taking a left hook and generally looking disorganised. Keeping the fight long, where he can exploit his excellent jab and natural attributes will be key to winning the fight. Williams will likely be looking to fight on the back foot for periods before quickly trying to ambush him to get inside. Charlo needs to be able to read these moves and keep the space when Williams go’s on the attack.
As we get through this you see the difficulty in breaking the fight down. Both have so many nuances and intangibles that could make them great fighters, but, other than Trout, it’s yet to be seen how they will react to certain flaws being exploited, and certain intangibles being tested.
As a long time follower of Williams’ career I’m maybe biased towards him a bit. I love how he approaches the sport, I love his mentality, his skill set and his ability to fight at multiple ranges. Charlo doesn’t look the same level of boxer, but he is an elite athlete. His punches flow beautifully at times, but can look a little forced in others. His head could do with moving a bit more, maybe a symptom of being so tall for the weightclass, as was exposed by Trout when he landed those clean left hand counters. However in Charlo’s favour, his gameplan should be simple, obvious, and easy to follow. Which can be priceless in the when the pressure is on in the biggest fight of his career. He may be more one dimensional but we have seen in the past how a mastered one dimension can be more effective than a jack of all trades. For example, if Charlo is able to punish Williams for looking to get inside early, he may resort to fighting an outside fight, which surely favours Charlo, instead of sticking with his gameplan and looking to force his advantages on his opponent. This comes down to the mentality of both fighters and their capacity to stay focussed under the bright lights.
Overall, I think Williams has the edge here. He looks a little more polished and, judging purely from his personality and in ring persona, I doubt his lack of big fight experience will count for too much. He has the unshakeable feel to him that reminds me a bit of Andre Ward. He doesn’t give away much, he isn’t flashy, he just concentrates on his boxing. His ability to close the gap, in my opinion, is better than Charlo’s ability to maintain it, and his ability to nullify his opponents jab is maybe one of his best assets. Charlo’s static head and occasional lunging could lead to him shipping some pretty hefty counters from the Philly man on route to reasonably comfortable, but competitive, decision loss.
One thing is for sure, win or lose, both of these guys will come again soon, and I expect both to feature heavily at the top our sport in the years to come.