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This writing appeared on the boxing website ucnlive.com.

 

10/2017

The Code of The Charlos

 

Most of my outlook on sporting competition was defined by three teams, in three different sports no less. The mid to late 1980’s New York Mets, the mid to late 1980’s New York Giants, and the Patrick Ewing led New York Knicks of the 1990’s. The Mets of the late 1980’s fought brawls in the preseason, the regular season, and a few bars for good measure. The Giants under head coach Bill Parcells terrorized opponents through the ire of linebacker Lawrence Taylor and the toughness of tight end Mark Bavaro. The Knicks of the 1990’s smashed, bashed, and bullied their adversaries into submission while honoring the long forgotten defensive code of ‘no layups allowed’. If an opponent made it to the rim, it was necessary they pay a price.

Though they did their business in different sports, there was a common thread that ran through all three of those teams. They wanted to win above all else, and while they respected their opponents - they also hated them. For the players on those teams, ‘acting like a man’ was not something that could land them in hot water; it was something that was expected and enforced (if necessary) by the culture and those around them. Any perceived disrespect shown in their direction would be met with a menace and rage as if a sacred religious virtue had been broken. In those days, blasphemy towards the unwritten code of competition was a crime that required serious punishment.

That era of attitude and honor has long since past of course. We now live in a time of political correctness, concussion awareness, and excessive foul calling. Some of these changes are for the better, while others can seem a bit overbearing. The unwritten code that shaped the way professional athletes navigated their chosen sport has dissolved into individual feelings and identities epitomized by the millennial generation. Because of this, today’s athletes who subscribe to the way of the ‘old school’ tend to stick out like square pegs in a sea of round holes. It can be a jolt to the senses when the ways and mores of years past suddenly reappear without warning or anticipation. Sadly, I have not experienced this feeling of surprise much in recent years. Yet on October 14th, the Charlo brothers came through with an attitudinal (and nostalgic) blast from the past.

It was only just a couple of years ago that former IBF junior middleweight champion Jermall Charlo and current WBC junior middleweight champion Jermell Charlo were the frequent recipients of ridicule among boxing diehards. The twin brothers were often compared to the notorious singing act Milli Vanilli, because of their similar look and questionable talent. For many, they seemed to be crafted from the typical Al Haymon / Premier Boxing Champions mold; lots of sizzle, but little substance. However, over the past year, each Charlo brother has done his part to disprove much of the negativity and doubt pointed in their direction. And they didn’t just disprove the naysayers; they left two of them bewildered and soulless in the middle of the ring.

Junior middleweight contender Julian Williams fought Jermall Charlo on December 10th of last year. Junior middleweight contender Erickson Lubin fought Jermell Charlo on October 14th of this year. Both fighters were hyped Al Haymon / Premier Boxing Champions prospects. Neither fighter had much respect for the Charlo brother they were fighting; each talked endlessly about how they would win. Julian Williams had become somewhat of a media darling and was heralded as the next old school Philadelphia fighter, who was going to finally put an end to the prima donna ways of the ‘fake’ Jermall Charlo. Yet neither Williams or Lubin realized that their words and actions were being used as quiet fuel for their opponents. The Charlo brothers turned  their opponents lack of respect into their own anger and rage. For Williams and Lubin had broken a code that they probably didn’t even realize still existed. Or at least they didn’t believe that the Charlos subscribed to it (or were capable of enforcing it). Their blasphemy might have been a miscalculation; but it led to their punishment being premeditated.

In the fifth round of his encounter with Jermall Charlo, Julian Williams was dropped to the canvas face first off a gorgeous right uppercut. Williams would fall as someone does who trips down a steep flight of stairs in the middle of the night. He would rise to fight on, only to be finished seconds later by a vindictive barrage of punches. Erickson Lubin wouldn’t even see the end of the first round in his clash with Jermell Charlo. A sharp, level changing right hand from Jermell would leave Lubin crumpled and twitching on the ever present Corona logo in the middle of the ring. Lubin’s situation as referee Harvey Dock waved off the fight resembled an individual who had been floored by a stun gun rather than a punch.

Immediately following these career altering knockouts the Charlos would release what remained of their pent up frustration. Jermall Charlo taunted and ridiculed Julian Williams and his corner as they fell into the abyss of their own destruction. Jermall would later apologize, much to the chagrin of boxing fans who were eager to back someone who showed so little remorse for the fate of his opponent. After his sudden destruction of Erickson Lubin, Jermell Charlo would bounce and strut around the ring in jubilation. At some point during Jermell’s celebration, Jermall was apparently involved in a bit of a fracas with members of Lubin’s entourage in the crowd. This resulted in only more fuel being added to the Charlo’s fire; and a post fight interview that fans won't soon forget.

Jermall and Jermell stood on either side of Showtime’s Jim Gray in the middle of the ring as the veteran sportscaster tried to bring order to the post fight confusion. The two brothers bore the intensity and posture of a wrestling tag team ready to cut a promo, rather than fighters ready to participate in a standard post fight question and answer session. As Gray proceeded to ask Jermall Charlo if he was ‘okay’ following whatever had transpired while he was ringside; Jermall replied with an emphatic, ‘I’M GOOD’. Then (seemingly looking toward a bewildered and dazed Erickson Lubin) Jermall would lean forward and say, ‘IS HE OKAY? IS YOU OKAY?’.

It was this moment of pure venom that triggered my sensibilities like a sudden LSD flashback. Visions of the past came rushing back; memories that could only be jogged by a present day similar occurrence. I saw Lawrence Taylor of the Giants stalking the sideline; all the while imploring his teammates to go out and play like ‘crazed dogs’. I saw John Starks of the Knicks completely lose his mind and run across the court of play, just so he could head butt Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers. And I saw Ray Knight of the Mets ignite a bench clearing brawl with the Cincinnati Reds because he didn’t like the way Eric Davis slid into third base. These were the days of no remorse, and no mercy. Opponents were not friends; they were enemies to be conquered. And if someone should dare show disrespect? Then they would receive a punishment worse than death - humiliation.

The Charlo brothers have carried forth these ways of the past. Many fans love them for it, while others accuse them of ‘roid rage’ or poor sportsmanship. It will remain to be seen whether or not they can build on the momentum they’ve earned. A combination of inevitable Al Haymon induced inactivity, and a desire to only fight the ‘big’ fights might drag on the Charlo’s upward climb. Now campaigning in the middleweight division, Jermall Charlo has plenty of exciting, potential opponents - yet most reside on the opposite side of boxing’s political divide. Jermell Charlo seems to be on a collision course with fellow Haymon stablemate, IBF junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd. Yet whomever the Charlo’s should find themselves pitted against in 2018, they have made one thing clear. Their opponents would do well to pay attention to the code they subscribe to.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Julian Williams or Erickson Lubin. They broke the unwritten code; but it also ended up breaking them.