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Jermell Charlo On Fighting For Undisputed Status, Being Boxing’s Most Hated, Using Hip-Hop For Inspiration

Vibe logo Vibe 7/18/2021 Preezy Brown
Jermell Charlo et al. standing on a stage in front of a crowd © Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Rising to the top of the ranks is an achievement that every competitor strives for. And in the sport of boxing, Jermell Charlo is on the cusp of reaching rare air, as a victory over WBO light middleweight champion Brian Costano would make him the first undisputed champion of the 154-pound weight-class since 1975. Jermell, who currently has a record of 34-1, with 18 wins by knockout, is among the most polarizing figures in boxing. He and his twin-brother, WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo, don’t stick to the usual script of playing to the establishment, choosing to do their own thing on their own terms. That’s just the Texas way, particularly in Houston, where Jermell was raised and bred into one of the most exciting fighters in boxing today. 

During his rise up the ranks, Charlo has overcome his fair share of adversity. From suffering the first and only loss of his career to boxer Tony Harrison in 2018 before reclaiming the super welterweight title in 2019, to being exonerated of domestic assault charges that stemmed from an incident involving a woman at Charlo’s Dallas condominium in May 2018.

With those lowlights and obstacles behind him, Charlo is onto bigger and better, and is as hungry as ever. A family man at the core, “The Lion” (which he is called) is focused on adding another belt to his collection and providing for his own by continuing to add wins to his record. “I’m just raising my family and doing what I can,” Charlo tells VIBE Magazine via phone. “I’m 30-years-old, still young, who knows what they got for me? Hopefully I can make a dope living for myself [by] winning another belt.” 

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A post shared by Jermell Charlo (@twincharlo)

The belt Charlo is speaking of is the WBO light middleweight championship, which is currently held by Costano, who Charlo will face-off against today , July 17 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. Being an undisputed champion in boxing is a first-class ticket to the Boxing Hall of Fame and international superstardom, making his bout against Costano the biggest fight of Charlo’s life thus far. However, while Charlo pays Costano his proper respect, the cocksure pugilist doesn’t appear to be phased by stepping in the ring with his opponent, or the stakes surrounding the fight, predicting himself to be the victor come Saturday night. “Brian Costano can come and go, but let’s see if he can take what Jermell Charlo throws,” he quips, making it clear that he’s up for the challenge and ready for the taking.

In addition to being one of the most explosive fighters in the game, Charlo is also an avid hip-hop [enthusiast], with ties to some of the biggest artists in the game. Hailing from Houston, Texas, his appreciation for the culture is palpable the moment he begins to discuss his favorite artists and songs and how they help fuel him to stay at the top of his game. Known for his ostentatious outfits when he’s walking out to the ring and elsewhere, Charlo’s affinity for fashion is strong, as he’s known to rock looks from designer threads to casual streetwear and everything in between. A multi-faceted and intriguing figure, Charlo has the potential to be a household name, in short order, and one of the biggest stars in boxing.

This is @TwinCharlo's moment ?⭐#CharloCastano

— SHOWTIME Boxing (@ShowtimeBoxing) July 15, 2021

VIBE spoke with Jermell Charlo about his title fight with Brian Costano, the power in overcoming trials and tribulations, his respect for rappers like Lil Durk, and much more.

VIBE: The global quarantines in response COVID-19 pandemic had a big effect on the sports community, including boxing, with numerous bouts cancelled or postponed in light of the virus. How did the pandemic affect you and your training regimen, personally?

Jermell Charlo: It’s been okay for me in the atmosphere. I always tend to invest into things like my gym and my training. I own my own facility, I have a facility outside of my house so training didn’t really affect me. I know it affected a lot of boxers from fights getting canceled and people not being able to just correctly [train], but as far as my body and everything else, everything had went smooth. I was able to fight during the pandemic so I know the complete way it felt and it wasn’t too hard. Just not having fans and being away from the people and stuff like that was kind of different, but for me, it was easy to adjust to.

Your lone fight since the pandemic began took place this past September, during which you knocked out Jeison Rosario, picking up two additional championship belts in the super welterweight division. What was that experience like, being that it was the longest you’ve ever had to take between fights?

It didn’t affect me because when I fought, I was fighting more for than just one fight, one fight could’ve added up to be two or three fights for me in my career knowing that I was about to unify and become the linear champion, it was a lot of different things even without the pandemic my fight taking place when it did was perfect. My situation is a lot different than a lot of boxers. It’s a unique situation. It all happened at the right time for me.

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How would you say your situation is different from other fighters?

I’m one of the young fighters in the game right now and I come from a different era. I was boxing Juan Kwasaki and I fought my second pro fight on the Joe Kawasski and Bernard Hopkins undercard. So I’ve been in this game for a really, really long time. I turned pro in ’07, with that being said, that led me up to the position that I’m in. I’m the world champion. I was the world champion and I was able to have a title, my opponent had won them belts and he had a few titles and I was more destined to try to take them titles and to conquer the division, so let’s stop forth. That’s why I’m in the position right now, why I’m sitting on the throne and I’m the king of the division ’cause I put that work in in 2020. 

When everybody was at home during the pandemic and couldn’t really do things, I was able to openly answer the call and say, ‘Yes, I’m ready.’ It’s all about what happens when they give you that call, like, are you ready, are you really prepared? You gotta be there mentally and physically and I feel like I was there.

Being that you have a multitude of interests, aside from training, how did you spend your time during the quarantine and were you able to pick up any new hobbies

The good thing is I was able to interact a lot with the kids and stuff and I was able to spend time with the family. I was able to implement training at the same place that you wake up at and I don’t have a small house, so it’s in a different area of where you sleep at so it just all felt different. It felt like a lot going on, the children at home, they put me on their little TikTok and I made me a little TikTok. I started doing little boxing videos and just showing a different bit of personality. I’m not verified on that or nothing, so people didn’t really know who I was. Some people are starting to recognize who I am now, but I don’t really use it too often, it was like a quarantine thing, one of the best things to happen in quarantine. You get to see all kinds of stuff, news, kids having fun, all kind of things, man.

One of your interests is fashion, as you’re known to pop up at various Fashion Week events and are notorious for your lavish costumes when walking to the ring, most notably the custom lion’s head you wore prior to your bout against Austin Trout. How would you describe your style and where did your interest in fashion come from?

Just having to wake up everyday and wanting to be fly. I’m a twin, I always got attention. So not only do these guys get attention, but they smell good, they look good, they dress good. You just can’t be some twins walking around looking hobo-ish, so fashion was always important to me. I’ve done GQ magazine. I’ve done some GQ shoots before, I’ve done a lot of the little different things that have also influenced me to look more into wanting to be into fashion. My uniform, it stands for how I feel or what I’m going through at that moment, so sometimes I might come out with the lion head, I just feel like a different warrior. So it all depends on how I’m feeling at that moment, it’s never really just a specific [type of] fashion. I love fashion to death so we do this. And I think I’m one of the flyest boxers in the game and I feel like a lot of people probably can’t wear some of the things that I can put on. I love it.

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Who would you say are some of your favorite fashion designers or clothing brands that are a mainstay in your wardrobe?

I have some pretty exclusive [stuff] like Amiri. I got some things from people that make fashion, like Tuff Crowd is a new brand that’s coming out real heavy. I shop all over the place, at Dior, I shop at all of these little different high-end places. It don’t necessarily have to be high-end. I could throw some Vans on, just with some Rhude pants and t-shirt..something like that. Chrome Heart is the brand that I like and I really rock with. It’s just so many different brands.

Are there boxers that are style icons that you looked up to, or in hip-hop culture?

Nah, I ain’t really looking at the icons, just doing me. I might see something and I’m like, ‘Man, I can pull it off’ certain things don’t fit well or match well with my physique, but I think that it’s a challenge to always find something that you like in what you wear when you wake up, so it’s cool. Chris Brown got fashion, that’s one of my dogs, it’s a lot of fashion, man. It’s a lot of basketball players, Chris Paul, the hoopers [that are] the dressers, they got some guys I follow just for fashion, too. One guy that’s going to the [New England] Patriots, I think [his name is] Trent Brown or something, he’s pretty fashionable for a big guy.

In addition to fashion, you and your brother, Jermall, have displayed a love for rap music and hip-hop culture, particular in Houston. You have relationships with hometown heroes like J. Prince, Z-Ro, Paul Wall and others. Describe y’all connection with the local hip-hop community in Texas.

We know all the cool locals and you got Megan, she killing it right now. Houston’s industry of music taught us that even in boxing, it’s just something about Houston that gives us separation. It has a unique everything. The culture is completely different so that helps you with your uniqueness and being different in the ring. Houston is really top of the line when it comes to teaching you morals, too, on certain things.

Who are some of your favorite artists, albums, or songs you listen to for motivation while training?

Man, I listen to a lot of different things from the Lil Baby’s… Anytime I like to get in a rhythm, something smooth, I’ll throw on Chris Brown. He got good rhythmic music in boxing, you gotta have a good rhythm. I listen to Rod Wave [and] Lil Tjay right now. Anybody that’s at the top right now, you kinda wanna see what they’re talking about. Especially Lil Durk, someone that went through so much in their career and in their life, they got bounce back, they got a reason for coming back. Everybody got something that they’re going through so listening to what they’re saying, sometimes it could be cap, but when you’re listening to a pure artist, you know.

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If you could have any three rap artists walk you to the ring, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Dead or alive, man… I’d definitely would have to go with somebody from the old school though ’cause it would be doper to walk to the ring with [someone] like Michael Jackson. Like, what?! That would be crazy, he walk you to the ring, how he’d coordinate the ring walk, he’d come off with something. 2Pac, of course. 2Pac walking you out? You know you onto something. And maybe JAY-Z, dog. JAY-Z seems like a dope person alive that’d give you a good speech before he walk you out, tell you, “Yo, go handle your business.”

You’ve amassed an impressive record of 34 victories thus far in your career, with the lone blemish coming in 2018, at the hands of Tony Harrison. How did that loss affect you, mentally and otherwise, as a fighter and what did defeating Harrison by knockout in your rematch to regain your belt teach you about yourself?

I know the Tony Harrison fight was like one of those things that could really define my career. And it’s what definitely separates me from my twin brother ’cause he don’t have a loss on his record. You look for what could be the difference where people can tell you apart and that can be one, one of the twins got an L. I took the loss real good ’cause I was able to come back and knock him out, I knew for a fact that I really didn’t lose that fight. So I had it already in my heart. It gave me ambition, it gave me firepower. I took a fight before that and showed him that I was coming to knock him out, so I did what I had to do. It just taught me how to mature a little bit that fight taught me to let go of people that you don’t need to get your s*** together, get your life together, be that guy that don’t let nobody hold you back or stop you and that’s what I kind’ve did during that situation and that time. And I regrouped myself, regrouped my team and we were able to go in there and was able to give more than what he could give?

What would you say are other moments of adversity you’ve had to overcome throughout your life and how did those experiences mold you as a man?

I had a situation where I got caught with a case and it was some BS when a girl said that I had choked her or something when I was just kicking her out the house. And everybody, man, they came out, everybody looking for money or something. So that situation right there, I went through the whole trial ’cause I believe in myself and I know what’s right is what’s right and I didn’t do anything. Went to trial, got acquitted, but when that happened in my life, that made me look at life like a whole big different slate. In the state of Texas, they do punishment a lot different. You’re facing some real time close to ten years if they say you held somebody breathing and almost tried to kill ’em. I had to think of it like, ‘Whoa, slow down J, you gotta take your time. 

Certain things you don’t need to be involved in or surrounding yourself with,’ so I grew up from that point. I grew up, my money grew up, everything grew up, my belts, my life, everything changed, I went up from that point. Even my situation, that’s the same year that I captured my L, so 2018 was a very big learning lesson from me.

Being that you’re a pro fighter, you’ve obviously studied lots of tape of boxers from the past and present. Aside from yourself or your brother, who are your favorite three boxers of all-time and what about their styles or personalities appeal to you?

I used to always like how Tyson was ferocious, I like Mike, how he moved around. I really like how Bernard Hopkins hid behind his punches and you couldn’t really see what was coming at you. I like different powers that different [boxers have], everybody has attributes. And as a studier and somebody that sits back and all I do is watch boxing and care for it, after some of the years, you know all of their weaknesses and what they were great at. I try to take most of the things that they were great at and try to implement it within myself. Watching all of those guys back in the day did it for me. James Toney, just so many elite old fighters. The Klitschko brothers. Just watching their legacy.

Boxing icon Marvin Hagler, who dominated the middleweight division that your brother currently fights in, passed away earlier this year. What was your reaction to hearing that news and what are your thoughts on Hagler as a boxer and the man himself?

It was touching. I was able to sit down [with him] and we watched professional fights together. I got some signed autographed gloves from him during that time, I still have them right now. It was different, his speeches was highly smooth, he’d talk to you like, ‘Look at that, you see that, you see that,’ while the fight’s going on. ‘Look at that, he don’t know what he doing,’ like, he was really serious about it. He didn’t really care about people getting hurt in the ring, too. He was in  Houston while I was in training camp and I stopped by with me and my coach and we went to see him, it was pretty cool. I think I got a picture getting an autograph signed and I made a weird face ’cause he was saying something [funny]. I don’t know what he said, but it was a dope experience.”

Being that you’re signed with the PBC, you have a connection with promoter Al Haymon, one of the most powerful figures in the sport. Describe your relationship with Al Haymon and what lessons you’ve learned from him along the way?

I have a close relationship with Al because he’s guided me basically in being the promoter that I am. I became a promoter about two years ago so he’s also been helping promote my fights, helping promote other fights, me and Hayman have a real real close relationship. He’s an advisor, my manager, he does everything he says he’s gonna and I can’t thank him enough for the person I turned out to be in my life.

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You also have your own boxing promotional company, Lions Only Promotions, and recently documented your group of amateurs fighting in the Junior Golden Gloves for Houston Texas on your YouTube series, Ringside With The Lions. What inspired you to create Lions Only and what has the experience been like molding and working with a new generation of fighters looking to follow in your footsteps?

We started Lions Only Promotions when we wanted to do more for ourselves and our career and promote and we started branching out trying to promote boxers. I created Ringside With The Lions to follow my life and my career, some things that people really don’t get to see, the parts that people don’t know about which also separates us as well, but they get to learn about being a promoter, it’s just certain things, just talking about [boxing] and motivating. I love being around the youth and that’s what’s gonna help us become [the best]. The youth is our future so we gotta kind’ve get into that. It’s like the penny stock, everybody wants the stock when it’s really real big, but if you look at these guys like the penny stocks and you invest in ’em slowly, slowly but surely, you might get you something out of it. One of them might go there, it’s a lot of them in there, but you gotta be willing to be a promoter, you gotta know how to dissect what you really want. You can’t show the boxing world as a promoter what you particularly want. You can tell ’em, but you can just kind’ve show ’em by finding other fighters, like, ‘Hey unc, these fighters come to me that’s more like this,’ but it’s so many of them, you gotta be able to judge ’em well

What would it mean for you to become undisputed champion?

It’s a dream, it’s everybody’s dream, I’ve heard it so many times before. Being undisputed to me, that’s like everything. You can retire off of that, it’s a retirement type of thing.

With the Middleweight and Super Middleweight divisions, which includes big names like your Canelo, GGG, Caleb Plant, David Benavidez, as well as your brother, are there any plans for you to move up in weight-class in the future?

I have absolutely no plans of moving up, like seriously. No plans at all. I’ma super welterweight, that’s just what it is for me. I got all of the belts, if I move up, I lose my belts, my ranking, my status, I ain’t interested in that. I ain’t interested in giving up none of my throne right now.

What are you looking to prove in your next fight or show the world about Jermell Charlo moving forward?

Man, I ain’t trying to prove nothing, I’m just gonna be me, they can’t handle me, that’s it. I ain’t proving nothing no more, I’m already who I am. Not a lot of people in our division have even got the WBC, IBF, and WBA at the same time, they always getting them other two belts. They always get the WBA, anybody here before me were not unified with all of the belts. I’m the one that unified all of the other belts. I’m the one that’s bringing all the belts to be able to become undisputed. I done shut everybody down and ’bout to continue to do it.

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You and your brother have a lot of people that have their thoughts on y’all and may not appreciate your attitudes and down-talk [the two of you]. How do you deal with that?

I guess that’s the thankful part of being a Charlo, that I never had to really worry about too many people [and] what they said about us ’cause my mama taught us young and early, we ain’t got all the things that everybody in the world has, she made it very clear, she exposed us to life where we knew where we could stand and where we couldn’t so at the end of the day, I wasn’t insecure about what they thought about me. 

So much hate is in this boxing world because we’re twins and people wanna have what you have and they can’t have it so they ain’t got no other choice but to be negative about it and you gotta kinda grow up and that’s the part that learning lesson that I was speaking on earlier, I’ve learned so much in this game, what matters the most is getting in the ring, making me some money come back home, don’t worry about what nobody say, feed my family and come back again and do the same thing again. Just continue to win and you ain’t gotta worry about what nobody say, 

I don’t know what they say, a lot of people mad about who we fight and all of that, competition, when neither one of those guys could beat the guy I just knocked out. They fighting each other and obviously, I be knocking all their a**** out. They fighting each other [and] it looks weird to me. Two guys who talked the most s*** to me when I’m the king of this s***, fitting to fight each other and I knocked both of they a** out. So it’s almost like what could they really say? I just gotta be quiet. I just need a check from everybody that’s fighting that I’ve been knocked out already. I done got their a** to who they are to even fight each other [and] to make them popular. I’m all over the place with it ’cause that’s just the hate the Charlos get, but we with it though.

What’s next for Jermell Charlo?

Right now, I’m over here grinding up my coffee beans, ‘bout to work out and have a good time. I got my own coffee. I got my gym, my academy, some real estate. I’m doing all kind of different things. I’m living life, I can’t wait. I’m excited about my future. I’m excited about what can happen for me in this boxing world. Looking to my brother fighting and him doing his thing. Just watching, dog. I love boxing and just stay ready. Stay coasting, you know what I mean? In my fast-lane, by myself.

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