Charlo channels Ngannou with a big win over Benavidez after a two-year break from boxing

"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." — Charles Baudelaire.

LAS VEGAS: Jermall Charlo, when speaking to ProBox TV in recent weeks, looked disinterested, tired, and — at times — vacant. He had messy hair, bags under his eyes, and gave single word answers to questions — if he answered them at all.

At fight week, ahead of his Saturday bout against Jose Benavidez Jr., he said he only had a three week training camp. He hinted to ProBox TV that he was only fighting because he needed the money to feed his big family. 

Though Benavidez had been fighting as low as welterweight, and had never shared a pro ring with someone as big, tough, and experienced as Charlo, the tide was beginning to shift toward the Phoenix fighter.

Maybe he could pull off the upset.

Maybe it could be a big night for the Benavidez brothers, with David looking to extend his unbeaten record with a big win over Demetrius Andrade in the Premier Boxing Champions main event on Showtime Sports pay-per-view.

All of that pre-fight concern over Charlo, though, was misplaced.

As the American entered the ring, loaded up on jabs, showed bursts of pace to handle the complexities of shifting from defense to attack and back again, and had enough power to keep Benavidez honest.

We've seen before how the art of war (deception) can play a part in modern boxing. We've been told numerous times by fighters how competitions are won and lost not in the ring, but in the training camp.

Few epitomized this moreso in 2023 than Francis Ngannou, who worked out in front of ProBox TV and other reporters weeks before his Saudi Arabia showdown with Tyson Fury and looked one-paced, slow to the punch, and incapable of throwing a combination.

It looked like it would be a blowout win for Fury.

But, on the night, Ngannou pulled one of his greatest tricks to date by showing that not only can he fight, he can also box to such a level that he can put Fury on his ass, and push the WBC heavyweight champion to an edge-of-the-seat decision.

Again, at the Michelob Ultra Arena inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Charlo's devilish side came to play, as he gave Benavidez all he could handle in a comfortable, and wide, decision win.

Benavidez had moments of his own and was particularly effective when he can pull the trigger on flurries of shots, ramming his knuckles into Charlo's skull in rat-a-tat fashion.

But Charlo's heavier shots always looked like they were causing greater damage, perhaps because he missed weight but a considerable margin (3.4-pounds), and likely had the advantage of at least a division over the smaller Benavidez.

Benavidez would raise his gloves in an attempt to cushion Charlo's shots, but the American would sneak hook shots around the guard, adding uppercuts to keep Benavidez guessing.

Charlo kept the jab popping in the tenth and final round, and hurt Benavidez with a right hand as he sought the box office finish. He thumped him with an uppercut, further shots, as he fed off the energy from the crowd.

The judges rightly scored a wide unanimous decision to Charlo (100-90, 99-91, and 98-92). "I'm a conqueror," Charlo said after his win.

Though the decision was wide for Charlo, the greater question for him moving forward is whether he can parlay Saturday's performance into a way in which he elevates his game further, shaking off the rest of the ring rust, so that he can compete with the top talent at the super middleweight division.

At 168-pounds, far greater challenges than Benavidez await, as big dogs like David Benavidez, David Morrell, Diego Pacheco, and, of course, Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez await.