Jermall Charlo, Hugo Centeno look to become big players in middleweight division

Boxing


Unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, though suspended for two positive drug tests, are the main men, the top dogs, the rainmakers in a middleweight division with a host of quality contenders aiming to land big-money fights with either of them.

Former junior middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo and Hugo Centeno Jr. are on that list but before either can seriously think about that caliber of fight they need to go through each other first. They are set to square off on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York with winner claiming a vacant interim middleweight world title and becoming a mandatory challenger for one of Golovkin’s belts.

“There’s a lot of action and controversy in the middleweight division,” said Lou DiBella, the co-promoter of the card along with Leonard Ellerbe of Mayweather Promotions. “Jermall Charlo might be the hardest puncher in that division. He’s got a tough matchup because Hugo Centeno Jr. is also a terrific young fighter with power and great boxing ability. He has star potential if he can overcome this obstacle against Charlo.”

Charlo won a junior middleweight world title in by knocking out Cornelius “K9” Bundrage in the third round in 2015 and defended the belt three times, the last coming by bruising fifth-round knockout of Julian “J Rock” Williams in December 2016. After Charlo vacated the 154-pound belt and moved up to 160 pounds, he easily knocked out the hobbled Jorge Sebastian Heiland in the fourth round of a title eliminator in July and has looked as devastating in recent fights as his twin brother and still-reigning junior middleweight world titlist Jermell Charlo.

“No one has handed me anything. This is one of the hardest divisions in the world and I’m here for a reason. This fight means the world to me. It’s been 20 years of hard work coming together Saturday.”

Hugo Centeno

Centeno (26-1, 14 KOs), 27, of Oxnard, California, is next up for Charlo (26-0, 20 KOs), 27, of Houston, who aims to dominate at middleweight like he did in his 15-month junior middleweight title reign, during which he and Jermell held belts in the division at the same time.

“I want to send a message to the world that I’m going to dominate the 160-pound division, while my brother proves he’s the best 154-pounder on the planet,” Jermall Charlo said. “Once I get my shot, you will all see what I’m talking about. Hugo Centeno Jr. is just in the way of that process. After (Saturday), you’ll be able to see what I’m really made of.”

Centeno, the underdog, thinks his chances in the fight are being downplayed and he also wants to send a message to Charlo and the division.

“I feel like I’m being overlooked. I haven’t been able to make myself a household name,” Centeno said. “Come April 21, I’m going to make my name known. Even just being in this position shows people that I’ve earned my way here. No one has handed me anything. This is one of the hardest divisions in the world and I’m here for a reason. This fight means the world to me. It’s been 20 years of hard work coming together Saturday.

“This is my first title shot and I’m going to take full advantage. I’m not worried about Charlo or being the underdog or anything really. I know I have what it takes to win this fight.”

Charlo-Centeno was originally scheduled for March 3 on the Deontay Wilder-Luis Ortiz undercard at Barclays Center but it was postponed when Centeno suffered a rib injury.

Centeno said it was a mild setback and that he is healed and ready to go for the biggest fight of his career.

“My ribs are fine,” Centeno said. “It was a minor injury, but there was no way I could have fought on our originally scheduled date when it happened. I feel great now though. It healed perfectly. I am just excited by this opportunity. Charlo can say whatever he wants. None of it is going to affect me. On (Saturday), it’s just me and him in that ring and anything can happen.

“Hugo thinks I’m overlooking him but that’s not happening at all. I want to take him out and make a statement that I’m ready for the big names in the division.”

Jermall Charlo

“This has been another great camp for me, even with the injury hitch. I’m a night owl who likes to train at all hours. We go late into the night and I think that helps me on fight night.”

While Charlo made a name for himself during his 154-title reign, Centeno is not nearly as well known. He suffered his lone defeat when he was stopped in the 10th round by undefeated Polish contender Maciej Sulecki in June 2016. But Centeno has won two fights in a row since, including what is so far his calling-card triumph: a sensational third-round knockout of promising and then-undefeated Immanuwel Aleem on Showtime in August.

“I’m not Immanuwel Aleem and I’ll let you all see that when (Saturday) gets here,” Charlo said. “It’s a whole different ball game when you get in there trying to trade with me. You better have power, so I hope he’s ready for it.

“Once you step in front of me, it’s a fight. I put my life on the line each time. I’m just looking forward to even bigger things that are in front of me. I’m giving the fans something special to take home from my performance. I’m focused on what I have going on. Hugo thinks I’m overlooking him but that’s not happening at all. I want to take him out and make a statement that I’m ready for the big names in the division.”

In the main event of the tripleheader, former welterweight world titleholders Adrien Broner (33-3, 24 KOs) and Jessie Vargas (28-2, 10 KOs) meet in a 12-round bout that will put the winner on the path to another title shot. In the opener, former junior lightweight world titleholder Gervonta “Tank” Davis (19-0, 18 KOs) will face former secondary featherweight titlist Jesus Cuellar (28-2, 21 KOs) for a vacant secondary junior lightweight belt.



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