It was not the fight that many expected but Jermell Charlo did as expected by dominating and eventually knocking out late replacement Jorge Cota in the third round of their main event from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Sunday night.
Charlo was originally scheduled to face Tony Harrison in a highly anticipated rematch before Harrison went down with an ankle injury in training just three weeks before the fight.
Enter Cota, a rugged Mexican southpaw and significant underdog with nothing to lose and a chance to join countryman Andy Ruiz Jr in springing a huge upset.
Instead Charlo (32-1, 16 KOs) knocked Cota (28-4, 25 KOs) out cold under the ropes with a vicious right cross in front of Harrison clapping from ringside.
Charlo scored a prior knockdown in the same round moments before closing the show with a perfect counter right hand. Cota made it to his feet but was visibly shaken and did not appear to have his legs completely under him.
Analyst and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis remarked that referee Jay Nady probably should have instructed Cota to walk toward him after the knockdown but instead allowed the fight to continue.
Charlo wasted little time thereafter in rushing in to administer a two-punch combination and connecting with the right hand which separated Cota from his senses.
Cota found temporary success in keeping Charlo off balance with his awkward style and unusually wide stance, but the former 154-pound champion showed patience in waiting for the opening that was certain to come.
“[The knockout happened] right in front of my family, which is amazing. My mom seen it all, “Charlo said.
Asked about his message to Harrison following the fight, Charlo did not mince words.
“The fans will answer that,” Charlo said. “Tony Harrison is in the building, that’s his fault. He gets a chance to see what the Charlos come to do. I’m a much better fighter and he’s lucky he didn’t accept the fight with me this time.”
Jermell is apparently still upset and feeling robbed of his junior middleweight world title against Harrison last December although he did not perform well and employ the best strategy.
As impressive as Charlo was tonight, this was ultimately a stay-busy fight for him and beats remaining inactive while waiting for Harrison to make a full recovery.
Harrison revealed that he expects to be back in the gym within a month, with his eye toward their rematch by the end of the year.
Charlo would like to unify the division if he wins his WBC belt back by taking on IBF and WBA titlist Julian Williams, who scored an upset over previously unbeaten Jarrett Hurd in May.
Rigondeaux Stops Ceja in exciting brawl
Former super-bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (19-1, 13 KOs) rallied down the stretch to knockout exciting brawler Julio Ceja (32-4, 28 KOs) in their WBC title eliminator on the Charlo-Ceja fight card on Sunday night.
The usually defensive-minded technician decided to go to war instead with Ceja as the two engaged in a spirited slugfest over the first seventh rounds. In fact, it appeared like Rigondeaux may have purposely carried his younger opponent before really sitting down on his punches in the final stanzas.
Ceja was remarkably easy to hit but the highly skilled Cuban decided to slug with his bigger and stronger foe instead of box on the outside and set traps. Whatever the rationale, the approach favored Ceja who took the fight to the 38-year old Rigondeaux and outworked him for most of the match.
Rigondeaux started nailing Ceja with big shots in the seventh but was still being outworked. Both fighters were deducted a point each for low blows in the fateful eighth round. Moments later, Rigondeaux knocked Ceja flat on his back with a huge overhand left.
Strangely, referee Russell Mora stopped the fight not giving Ceja a chance to continue although he made it back to his feet and did not appear badly hurt. Mora reportedly did not like the way Ceja responded to his commands following the knockdown. The official time of the stoppage was 2:59 of the eighth round.
Rigondeaux certainly displayed very good punching power in this fight while Ceja’s punch resistance has steadily declined which is too bad because he is an exciting fighter with excellent power of his own.
Rigondeaux got hit way too much tonight and although he probably fought this way purposely, it was a tactical error that must not be repeated against higher skilled opponents.
He might be attempting to atone for quitting in the sixth round against Lomachenko in 2017 by taking more risks. In the two fights since then, Guillermo has morphed into a knockout artist stopping Giovanni Delgado in January and now Ceja.
The win makes Rigondeaux the mandatory challenger to WBC super-bantamweight champion Rey Vargas which figures to be a tougher matchup. The two-time Olympic gold medalist will need to fall back on his superior technical skills in order to beat Vargas and I suspect that he will make the needed adjustments.