Jermall Charlo vs. Matt Korobov: A Russian steps into the Lion’s Den

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Once-beaten contender Korobov looks to take advantage of opportunity of a lifetime, while junior middleweight champion Charlo plans on putting the world on notice tomorrow night in the main event of PBC on FOX.

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for Matt Korobov, but a victory won’t come easy against one of the most explosive boxers in the game.

About the only thing the elite tier of the red-hot middleweight division can agree on is that they’d prefer not to have anything to do with Jermall Charlo.

This Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, live on FOX (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.), Charlo (27-0, 21 KOs) pushes forward in his quest for a super-fight, taking on Matt Korobov (28-1, 14 KOs) in the main event of a triple-header.

One look at the 28-year-old WBC interim middleweight champ in action and it’s easy to see why the millionaires at the top of the 160-pound class aren’t exactly lining up to answer his challenges.

The Houston-based former IBF junior middleweight champ is an offensive powerhouse with a sharp jab and impeccable mechanics. Long and lean, Charlo fights tall and, thanks to the help of trainer Ronnie Shields, has become a near picture-perfect representation of an efficient, long-range power fighter.

If anything, Charlo, whose “Lions Only” catchphrase has become the savage rallying cry of both he and his twin brother Jermell’s undefeated paths of destruction, may be a victim of his own offensive success. With only two bouts going past eight rounds in 27 professional contests—a ten-round shutout of Michael Finney in 2015 and a twelve-round win over Austin Trout in 2016—he lacks true late-in-fight tests against high-end competition, especially those fighting from the southpaw stance, like Saturday’s opponent, Korobov.

Even so, any perceived chinks in Jermall’s armor are purely theoretical. The win over Trout, as well as one-sided destructions of Cornelius Bundrage, Julian Williams, Jorge Sebastian Heiland, and Hugo Centeno Jr. make the case that the older Charlo twin is as unstoppable a force as any in the sport today.

To make matters worse for potential opposition, Charlo has underrated skills as a boxer and a keen mind for the game. He views Korobov as a stepping stone to the stars and is driven to remove one more obstacle between himself and middleweight players like Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs.

Korobov, meanwhile, has no intention of playing footstool for Jermall’s ambitions. A late replacement after original challenger Willie Monroe Jr. tested positive for a banned substance, the always-eager Russian plans on ruining Charlo’s plans.

The 35-year-old from Orotukan, Russia, was once a blue-chip prospect and a two-time gold medalist at the amateur world championships. He turned pro in 2008 and was 24-0 before running into a devastating Andy Lee right hand in 2014 during the sixth round of his first world title opportunity.

Business complications and personal issues made Korobov an on-again, off-again fighter for the next few years, with only four bouts coming in the four years following the loss to Lee. But the former top middleweight contender insists that he’s fully back to boxing now—he was scheduled to be on Saturday’s undercard before getting bumped up to the main event.

Korobov is a skilled southpaw boxer with a steady, measured style. He is effective backing up as well as coming forward. He doesn’t excel in any one particular area but is good at just about everything. He can be bullied and outworked at times but will not offer much in the form of exploitable flaws.

A learned, mature technician with a facility for offense, Korobov was an avoided entity for a good long while and is still someone most top contenders and champs would prefer not to deal with.

One concern for Korobov may be his weight. The last time he made the 160-pound limit was against Lee in 2014 and most recently he fought Jonathan Batista in March, one-half pound above the 175-pound light heavyweight limit.

But Korobov is a middleweight at heart. He never abandoned the idea that 160 is his optimal weight and was working himself back down to the middleweight limit well before getting the call to face Charlo. His originally slated bout on Saturday had a catchweight limit of 162 pounds.

The man who beats Jermall Charlo will have to work his way inside, past his jab, and force him out of his typical game plan. This is why many feel the tenacious late replacement Korobov will actually be a tougher, more complex challenge for Charlo than Monroe. The Russian has the skill and the offensive ability to do all of the above if he can execute at the level he operated at in the past.

Charlo will look to plow right through Korobov and move one step closer to the big fights held just out of reach. But if he underestimates the veteran, his plans for world domination will be dashed.

There is nothing the middleweight division wants more than for Jermall Charlo to look past a quality boxer and find himself pulled from the top via massive upset. Korobov is capable of doing just that on Saturday night.

For a closer look at Charlo vs Korobov, check out our fight page.

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