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Real or Not: Is Jermell Charlo poised to move up? Will Pacquiao be Spence’s toughest challenge?

Another undisputed champion will be crowned on Saturday night, as Jermell Charlo faces Brian Castano for all four junior middleweight world titles. Charlo enters the fight as the favorite, but this fight won’t be easy, given the fighting style of Castano. For either winner, the titleholders at 160 pounds are appealing next bouts, but there’s a unique situation that could lead Charlo to stand pat at 154 for the time being.

Gennady Golovkin, Demetrius Andrade and Ryota Murata are still sorting out their future plans and would welcome some new competition. But the other titlist at middleweight is Jermall Charlo, Jermell’s twin brother, who could move up soon with hopes of getting David Benavidez in the ring at 168 pounds. How will Saturday’s world title fight impact both divisions? And where does Tim Tszyu fall in the pecking order after his dominant victory in Australia last week? Is he on the radar of any of these champions yet?

This past Friday night, JoJo Diaz made his lightweight debut and looked very impressive in defeating Javier Fortuna. It’s been only one fight, but is he ready to face some of the top fighters in that division, like Teofimo Lopez, Devin Haney, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia or even Vasiliy Lomachenko?

On Sunday the formal announcement of Errol Spence Jr. versus Manny Pacquiao was made for their bout on Aug. 21. Pacquiao is likely entering the final fight of his career as he turns the entirety of his attention to his political aspirations. But even as his career winds down, is Pacquiao the best opponent Spence has faced to date?

In news outside of the ring, the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced it is relaxing its rules for marijuana use by fighters. How will that impact the sport?

Our panel of Mike Coppinger, Ben Baby, Nick Parkinson and Jake Michaels answers these questions and offers opinions on some of the most pressing topics in the boxing world.

If he wins on Saturday night, Jermell Charlo will move up to 160 for his next title fight

Coppinger: This is not real, unless his twin brother, Jermall, moves up to 168 pounds. “Big Charlo” has insisted he’ll one day move up to super middleweight, where he could finally meet David Benavidez in one of the best matchups that can be made in boxing.

Until then, I don’t see Jermell wanting to occupy the same weight class as his brother. They used to both reside at 154 pounds, where they each held a title simultaneously. As competitive as they are with each other, it’s impossible to claim supremacy in a division without facing each other — which will never happen.

If he wins, I see Jermell reigning over 154 pounds for the foreseeable future. The issue could be matchups fans actually care to see. A rematch with Erickson Lubin is appetizing. Charlo knocked Lubin out in one round when they met in 2017. Lubin was green then, just 22 and facing his first real competition.

Since that time Lubin has earned some impressive wins, most notably a sixth-round KO of Jeison Rosario last month. Besides Lubin, there aren’t really any appealing foes for Charlo on the horizon, unless one of the many talented welterweights in the PBC stables moves up to 154. Former two-division champion Danny Garcia plans to jump up to junior middleweight for his next bout. And then there’s Keith Thurman, a larger welterweight who hasn’t competed since he lost to Manny Pacquiao in 2019.

Errol Spence Jr. will soon move up in weight too, but he shares a trainer with Charlo (Derrick James), so that’s not a possibility. The most intriguing matchup of all is one with Terence Crawford, who has sparred with Charlo on Twitter.

After an Oct. 23 title defense — the last fight on his Top Rank contract — Crawford would be free to fight anyone.


Manny Pacquiao, even at 42, will be Errol Spence Jr.’s toughest opponent to date

Parkinson: Not real. Spence might have had his own out-of-ring tribulations to deal with after a nearly fatal car crash in October 2019, but that is not enough to argue that the 31-year-old and reigning WBC-IBF world welterweight is vulnerable in Las Vegas on Aug. 21.

Spence (27-0, 21 KOs) has been dominant in recent fights, beating elite challengers and former champions in his past three outings (Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and Mikey Garcia). True, Garcia caught Spence a few times, but generally the Texan was in control and showed an array of sharp combinations as well as power as he staggered Garcia in the third round and earned a unanimous decision in December 2020 (by scores of 117-111, 116-112, 116-112). It was a resounding response to those who questioned whether Spence would be the same after the accident.

Spence dealt well with Garcia — a southpaw like Pacquiao — and outlanded his fellow American by 187 to 117 punches, according to CompuBox. Spence utilized his height and reach advantages against Garcia by boxing behind his jab, and we can expect Spence to do the same against Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), who is 4 inches smaller than Spence. It will be hard for Pacquiao to get inside and trouble an in-form Spence, who also has a 5-inch reach advantage.

Perhaps the bigger question in terms of preparation pertains to Pacquiao, who has been out of the ring for more than two years since defeating Keith Thurman by split decision. The boxing legend has won world titles in eight weight classes but has had his own issues away from boxing as of late, juggling his political career ahead of a potential run for a higher office. Spence, a younger, sharper and bigger opponent, will be a step up — and a step too far — even for the legendary Pacquiao.


Is JoJo Diaz ready to challenge the top fighters at 135?

Baby: Real, but for reasons far beyond what JoJo Diaz did in Friday’s victory over Javier Fortuna. If Diaz is officially a lightweight now, he becomes one of six big names in the 135-pound division. Aside from Vasiliy Lomachenko, the rest of the group that also includes boxing’s Four Princes (Teofimo Lopez, Tank Davis, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney) is relatively young, as is the 28-year-old Diaz.

And while there certainly is a financial incentive to wait to make the big fights happen among that group, from a sporting perspective, it’d be nice to know which one is truly the best 135-pounder in the world. At some point, proper matchmaking will help determine boxing’s true men’s lightweight champion.

Now, the argument against it is familiar. Common sense? Competing to produce a real winner? In most sports, those things are inevitable. In boxing, it’s wishful thinking.

So even if Diaz is still getting adjusted to life at 135 pounds, he and others should press the action to take advantage of an era in the sport that can truly be special (and make people a lot of money).

There’s no reason to doubt Diaz can test the division’s top fighters. While all of them claim to be the best, nobody has created enough separation to truly own the top spot.


The NSAC’s rule on marijuana testing will greatly impact boxing

Coppinger: That depends. At a minimum, it will allow fighters, many of whom partake, to relax as they see fit without fear of penalty. It’s a move by the NSAC that should be applauded. Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug. There’s no reason any fighter should face discipline for taking part.

When Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. tested positive for marijuana in 2012 and was subsequently suspended nine months by the Nevada commission, Bob Arum was apoplectic.

The Hall of Fame promoter is a longtime proponent of marijuana and credits the drug for his incredible longevity. He’s 89 and still runs Top Rank, not to mention remains quick with a one-liner at any promoter — or fighter — who dare questions him.

“I’m not going to condemn a kid for smoking a joint a month before a fight to go to sleep,” Arum said in 2012. “What the f— has happened? I mean, let’s be real about it. Let’s not be hypocrites about it.

“Cheating, performance-enhancing drugs; that’s wrong. Smoking a joint a month before a fight? Take a poll here. What kind of percentage do you think of people who’ve smoked a joint in the last month? So let’s be f—ing real!”

Marijuana use is common in boxing and there will surely be an uptick as a result of this ruling. Will it impact the sport? It’s probably too early to tell.


Tim Tszyu is ready for a title run

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Tim Tszyu says he wants to fight the world’s best in Australia after stopping Dennis Hogan in the fifth round.

Michaels: Real. Tim Tszyu has well and truly conquered the Australian boxing scene. The 26-year-old son of Kostya must now look to take his talents overseas if a world title fight is to be in his future.

Over the past 12 months, Tszyu (19-0, 15 KOs) has humiliated former WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn and stopped two-time title challenger Dennis Hogan. Last week, he continued his unbeaten run with another clinical performance against little known Australian Steve Spark.

Tszyu already finds himself as the No. 1 WBO contender at 154 pounds, but there’s no guarantee he will get the nod to fight the winner of the Jermell Charlo-Brian Castano title unification bout in San Antonio later this month. Therefore, a fight against Britain’s Liam Smith — whom Tszyu called out after his win against Spark — is more likely to be in the cards for later in the year.

Smith (29-1-3, 16 KOs) remains one of the top fighters in the division, despite losing to Magomed Kurbanov in Russia earlier this year. The two-time world titleholder troubled Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez when the pair fought back in 2016 and would be a genuine test for Tszyu, particularly if the fight were to be staged in England.

No doubt such a fight would attract serious interest, and if Tszyu were successful, it would be a significant name on his résumé and one that might open the door to fight Kurbanov in Red Square. This is something Tszyu has expressed serious interest in over the past 12 months. There’s also the chance that with that level of success, Tszyu might find himself making the trip to the United States to take on either Charlo or Castano for a world title, which is his ultimate goal.

ESPN Boxing

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EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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