Jermall Charlo accomplished something on Saturday night that isn't easy to do.
The WBC middleweight champion had an unknown but very game challenger in Juan Montiel, whose awkwardness and stubbornness decreased the likelihood of a Charlo showcase in front of a hometown crowd in Houston.
It wasn't as easy as it looked on paper. But Charlo still shined. Despite Montiel's late push, Charlo dominated in a 118-109, 119-109, 120-108 victory at the Toyota Center to remain undefeated and retain his belt in the 160-pound division.
Montiel gave Charlo everything he could handle on a night that was designed to be a Charlo celebration on Juneteenth. Given the opponent and how the fight went, Charlo had every reason to be thrilled.
"I've never been cut," Charlo said in his Showtime interview with a gash over his right eye. "I never looked like this. And I knew he was putting in that work. He put in that work to fight me."
From the beginning, Montiel exuded confidence. In the early rounds, the Mexican fighter from the state of Sinaloa flailed his arms around as distractions, wiggled his body back and forth and even pantomimed pulling up his shorts as he was getting whacked in the corner.
Charlo (32-0, 22 KOs) took the showmanship (22-5-2, 22 KOs) and Montiel's unusual approach in stride. Charlo picked his punches early as the lanky Montiel kept switching stances. In the fifth and sixth rounds, Charlo hurt Montiel with big punches in the opening minute of each respective round. Yet, the challenger wouldn't go down and instead opted to trade punches at times and looked to sneak in a power left hook between Charlo's offensive barrage.
"He fought each and every round as hard as he could," Charlo told Showtime. "I could tell in his eyes that he was a true warrior in the beginning and he wanted to fight."
Montiel personified true determination. And in the second half of the fight, his perseverance started to pay off.
Montiel, who has won all of his fights by knockout, started to connect with his left hand often. In the 11th round, Montiel appeared to inflict some pain with a body shot. Even in the final round, with a victory on the scorecards well out of range, the Mexican still looked to land the big punch to pull off the miracle upset. As hard as he tried, it didn't happen.
But even in a defeat, Montiel wasn't despondent.
"I needed a fight of this level," he said through a translator. "I know with this experience, later on down the line, I will be a world champion."
However, the WBC belt remained with Charlo, who continues to hold the sanctioning body's 160-pound title. Since becoming a middleweight champion in 2019, Charlo has never had a unification bout. In his postfight interview, Charlo stumped for the winner of December's bout between Gennadiy Golovkin and Ryota Murata for the WBA and IBF belts.
Charlo said he doesn't intend on moving up to super middleweight.
"160 is my weight division," Charlo said. "I want to unify."
But before he finished talking about his future plans, Charlo couldn't help but salute Montiel one more time. Charlo repeatedly called the challenger a "warrior."
Charlo had to work to keep his status as a champion. On Saturday night, he made it through a taxing night as he works to show he's the best middleweight in the world.