A few months ago there was speculation in boxing circles that perhaps the mandatory fight between junior middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo and No. 1 contender Julian "J Rock" Williams would not happen.
Charlo, some said, wanted to vacate and move up in weight. Others suggested that Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs) was somehow afraid of facing Williams (22-0-1, 14 KOs), a notion that seemed crazy knowing the competitive spirit Charlo possesses. Boxing and rumors, however, go together like Floyd Mayweather and money.
As it turned out, none of it was true. Charlo had no intention of giving up the hard-earned 154-pound world title he won in 2015 and has so far defended twice, including in his biggest win, a unanimous decision against well-respected former titleholder Austin Trout in a competitive fight in May.
The real issue was that Charlo, like millions, had poor vision. He had worn glasses or contact lenses since he was kid. A few years ago, twin brother Jermell Charlo, who also holds a junior middleweight world title, had a procedure to improve his vision.
Jermall, however, elected to put it off and make due in the ring with less than optimal sight.
"I always wanted [the procedure], but I'm a superstitious guy," Jermall Charlo said. "So I like to keep things the way I always wanted."
Eventually, though, his vision began to be an issue, and he faced possible problems being licensed in some states, including Nevada, where he faced Trout.
"It's just something I feel like it's going to take me to the next level. I'm 110 percent, crystal clear. I'm good. I'm ready." Jermall Charlo on getting eye surgery
Charlo, 26, of Houston, made the decision to have the same procedure as his brother, which he did this past summer.
"It's just something I feel like it's going to take me to the next level," Charlo said. "I'm 110 percent, crystal clear. I'm good. I'm ready."
He will need to be ready because he faces perhaps his toughest test in the skilled and powerful Williams, whom he will finally meet on Saturday (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET) at the Galen Center on the campus of USC in Los Angeles, in a fight many fans have anxiously waited for since Williams became his mandatory challenger in March after knocking out Marcello Matano in the seventh round of a title eliminator.
In the main event, Argentina's Jesus Cuellar (28-1, 21 KOs) will make the second defense of his secondary featherweight title when he meets former three-division titleholder Abner Mares (29-2-1, 15 KOs), of Los Angeles, in a fight originally scheduled for June 25 but was postponed.
Charlo admitted that he has had fuzzy vision in his fights, including against Trout.
"I fought the fight. I adjusted myself to be able to fight unclear," Charlo said. "So now I got the procedure done. Yes, the fight [against Williams] was supposed to happen in October. And I wanted it then. But it was just for me to be able to clear the medical exam. Less stress now to go ahead and go [into the fight with] 20/20 [vision], and I'm ready now."
Charlo had the procedure in July and later sought and was granted a 60-day medical exemption by the IBF, allowing him to delay the mandatory against Williams from October to Saturday. Now he is ready for the fight.
"Everything happens for a reason," Charlo said. "And crystal-clear vision is one of the things that helps me make the fight easier."
Charlo said the difference has been huge and he can't even imagine how much better he will be now that he can see everything so clearly, which figures to also include the incoming punches from Williams.
"It gives me a lot more confidence," Charlo said. "Of course, it's something important and I probably had to get it. I haven't fought with crystal-clear vision my whole life. So now I'm even more motivated. I'm eager to get in there to see what the new person is like."
Williams has been anxious for a title shot for the past year and understandably grew a little restless when the fight was delayed. When the fight was finally solidified, Charlo was calm and cool.
"The fight is [Saturday], you know what I mean? He said he's going to bring his A-game. He's got 20/20 vision. I had 20/20 vision my whole life. Now we're even. So there will be no excuses." Julian Williams
"I just felt like I wanted to get to work," Williams said. "The whole process has made me practice my patience. I wasn't overly excited because I knew I would fight for the world title my next fight with someone. I wanted to start training camp immediately and get myself ready to win."
Williams said he was not sure what was going on with the delay at first but was glad everything was worked out for the fight.
"I didn't really know about the medical situation until about mid-September," Williams said. "I actually thought that he would fight. And I did not think about the notion that he would vacate. I thought that he was putting the fight off for whatever reason. But like I said, at the time, I didn't know what the reason was."
Now Williams, 26, of Philadelphia, is just pumped up to have his big opportunity against a highly regarded titleholder.
"All that is under the bridge. It doesn't even matter anymore," Williams said of the delay. "The fight is [Saturday], you know what I mean? He said he's going to bring his A-game. He's got 20/20 vision. I had 20/20 vision my whole life. Now we're even. So there will be no excuses."
Now both guys are looking at a tough fight with high stakes that will go a long way toward making their name in boxing.
"We're both on the way up to the top level," Charlo said. "He's definitely one of my best opponents up to this date. He's hungry as me. He's my toughest opponent. And I'm ready for it."
Said Williams: "Whenever you've got a 50-50 fight, two guys 26 years old [and] both in the prime of their careers, it's going to be a test for both fighters.
"It's rare we see two fighters get in the ring in this type of fight. So I think it's definitely the first step in building my legacy."
Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer is co-promoting the card, his first since resigning as chief executive of Golden Boy Promotions two and a half years ago after a falling out with principle owner Oscar De La Hoya. Schaefer, who founded Ringstar Sports in June, said he believes the Charlo-Williams winner is on his way to stardom.
"I think you have two of the best fighters in their division fighting in this particular fight," Schaefer said. "And so this is an extremely significant fight for the division. And these are two young undefeated and confident fighters who dare to be great.
"These kinds of fights will separate one from the other, and I think the sky is the limit here within that division and potentially other divisions. But that's how you build a champion into a star and then a superstar. These kinds of meaningful fights. And in order for that to happen, you need to have two fighters who are willing to challenge themselves. And as I said, dare to be great."