Jermall Charlo entered the ring having just watched his twin brother, Jermell Charlo, suffer a controversial upset decision loss to Tony Harrison that cost him his junior middleweight world title and perfect record in a Premier Boxing Champions co-feature on Saturday night.
Ronnie Shields, Jermall's trainer, admitted that he had to talk to his fighter to make sure he was still focused on the task at hand: defending his interim middleweight belt against late replacement Matt Korobov before an announced crowd of 9,177 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Charlo got off to a slow start but kept his composure and picked up steam as the fight wore on to win a unanimous decision over Korobov in the main event of the first card of the PBC rights deal with Fox that was signed in September.
"I felt like Jermell made his fight harder than it was," Jermall said. "I had a really tough opponent, but he wasn't better than me. There was a lot on my mind in the ring."
The judges scored the fight for Charlo 119-108, 116-112 and 116-112. ESPN.com also had it 116-112 for Charlo, who retained his interim belt for the first time and maintained his status as one of the mandatory challengers for unified middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez.
Charlo (28-0, 21 KOs), 28, of Houston, was supposed to face slick boxer Willie Monroe Jr., but five days before the fight, Monroe was dumped because he tested positive for a banned substance in a random drug test and was replaced by Korobov, who was supposed to fight an eight-round bout on the undercard but suddenly found himself in the main event in the major fight he had craved.
Most viewed Korobov, a physically strong 2008 Russian Olympian, as a better opponent than Monroe, and he looked like he might be able to pull his own upset and take down a second Charlo of the night early on.
Korobov, a southpaw, marched forward and landed many straight left hands in the early going as Charlo struggled to consistently land his punches early, perhaps having his twin brother Jermell's upset loss in the previous fight on his mind.
Charlo, who won the interim 160-pound belt by second-round knockout of Hugo Centeno Jr. in April, tried to get inside with his double jab before firing a straight right hand and had mixed success. He landed some clean shots, but Korobov (28-2, 14 KOs), 35, who fights out of Saint Petersburg, Florida, retaliated with his powerful straight left hand as they fought on even terms through the middle rounds.
Charlo had a big advantage in jabs thrown and landed as he fired a stiff punch down the middle time and again. He might have looked shaky early against Korobov, but Charlo steadily came on, and by the later rounds, he appeared confident and was landing accurate shots and forcing Korobov back.
Charlo had a strong 11th round and appeared to have the fight under control, but Shields did not want to leave anything to chance and told him bluntly that he needed to win the 12th round.
Charlo listened closely and went out and had his best round of the fight. He badly rocked Korobov with a left hook and stunned him again moments later with a right hand. Charlo unloaded many punches as Korobov looked to hold on. Charlo got in one more big left hook just before the bell ended the fight. He landed a fight-high 30 punches in the 12th round.
"I used everything that happened tonight as motivation in the 12th round," Charlo said, referring to his brother's defeat. "I haven't been that far in a fight in a couple of years. It felt good to be in there, get hit and bang with someone. He was an experienced guy who will make me better."
Overall, Charlo landed 170 of 654 shots (26 percent), including 56 of 340 jabs, and Korobov connected with 128 of 457 (28 percent), including just nine of 106 jabs, according to CompuBox punch statistics.
"I thought that I won the fight. It was definitely a fight that could have gone either way, but I believe the people know that I won," Korobov said. "I'm the most avoided fighter in boxing, and I showed why tonight. I hope this performance will get me another title fight."
Korobov was in his second title fight. In 2014, he easily beat Andy Lee before suffering a one-punch knockout loss in the sixth round of a vacant world title fight. Korobov had been quite inactive since but won four fights in a row before losing to Charlo, who said he enjoyed the fight.
"I had fun in there with an opponent like that," Charlo said. "I got the win, and that's the main thing. I still feel I'm the best in the world. I just need to prove it to the rest of the world."