The word used to be half-filled, attached to him not because of who he was, but what he had the potential to become: “Champ.” Jermall Charlo’s heard if for much of his life, but it has a new ring to it these days, one as sweet to the ear as the sound of all those clinking glasses from the celebratory toasts in his honor. Now, “champ” is a title, not a promise.
“It actually has value to it,” Charlo says, savoring his words, practically chewing on them, like bubblegum.
Jermall Charlo (22-0, 17 KOs), 25, has spent all of his adult life, and much of childhood, in pursuit of the world title he won in September by stopping veteran Cornelius “K9” Bundrage, a stout, pit-bull-of-a-man who had 30 pro fights before Charlo even entered the professional ranks.
Charlo did so in dominant fashion, taking Bundrage’s 154-pound title by brute force.
In Round 1, Charlo flattened the champ with a laser-guided right hand—“’K9’got bit!” one TV commentator howled—and it only got worse for Bundrage from there.
Using his superior length and athleticism, Charlo came at his opponent with the kind of tricky angles suggestive of a geometry savant, at once perplexing and punishing Bundrage, force-feeding him a buffet of jabs from the outside and then stepping in with that right hand.
“The first right hand, I had been working in the gym the whole time to land it precisely and hit him right where it landed. And that’s what happened,” Charlo says. “From the moment I hit him with the first jab, I knew that it was just a matter of time.”
That time came in Round 3.
After sending Bundrage to the canvas twice more after Round 1, Charlo finished him in the third stanza with yet another déjà vu-inducing right hand.
Bundrage was done, his body and title dropped in one swift motion. And life changed immediately for the new champ.
“I had more than a hundred new friends, people who thought they helped me get to this point—you know how that goes,” Charlo says of the aftermath of his victory. “When it was time to fight, I put it all out there. I told myself, ‘I just want to be myself today.’ I didn’t have any worries when I walked in the ring.”
These days aren’t so anxiety free.
Although he took a little time to celebrate his victory once his title belt got home—“I had a customized display frame built for it with the trunks, the gloves, the hand wraps I wore”—he soon began to feel a little restless.
There was a new edge to his life, one that comes when, all of a sudden, you become a target within the sport, a threshold to greater fame and fortune that everyone seeks to storm through.
“We had a nice little party in [Houston],” Charlo says, “but within two weeks, I started feeling like I wasn’t focused anymore. I started getting called out on TV, and a lot of guys started mentioning my name. I was back in the gym within two weeks of winning the world title. That’s the reason I’m fighting so soon.”
Indeed, when Charlo takes on Wilky Campfort (21-1, 12 KOs) on Saturday in Dallas (NBC, 3 p.m. ET/noon PT), barely two months will have passed since he blasted Bundrage.
It was the end of a long road.
And the beginning of a new one.
“I always looked at the championship belts on TV or in magazines, but I never saw myself actually holding one,” Charlo says. “It was a goal that I always had. I just always wanted to become a world champion and be able to walk around with the belt, say it’s mine. I did everything that I had to do to win it.
“It’s almost surreal that I’m world champion,” he adds. “Now, I have to do my job to keep it. That’s my job, to be ready for everything. And I’m ready.”
For full coverage of Charlo vs Campfort, visit our fight page.