Photo courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime Sports
Showtime Championship Boxing is live from Houston on Saturday night as WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo puts his belt on the line against challenger Brandon Adams live from NRG Arena. Charlo (28-0, 21 KO,) an Alief native, will look to defend his title for the first time, having been elevated to full-time WBC champion this week. It will be a chance for Charlo to get back on track following a lackluster performance his last time in the ring. Charlo won a unanimous decision victory over Matt Korobov in December, but wasn't particularly impressive in doing so.
The Showtime showcase is a chance for Charlo to build his brand both locally and nationally. Jermall, along with his twin brother Jermell, a former super welterweight titlist, have embraced the "wrestling heel" personna in boxing. But Jermall has also gotten the job done in the ring, scoring knockouts in five of his last seven bouts. Saturday's bout is Charlo's first fight in Houston in over seven years.
Adams (21-2, 13 KO) has won his last four fights, but the matchup against Charlo marks a big step up in competition for the relative unknown fighter hailing for Norwalk, CA. It's Adams' first 12-round fight of his career. Adams has previously fought for two secondary titles and has lost each time. Charlo has shown more power as his career has progressed and I have to imagine he sees Saturday night as an excellent chance to put on a show for his hometown fans and viewers on Showtime. I expect to see Charlo attempt to overwhelm Adams early in the fight and make him feel overmatched in his biggest test to date.
While Charlo is one of the best fighters in the 160 pound division, the politics of boxing have made it difficult for him to land a big-money fight. Of the four best middleweight fighters in the world the other three, Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Demetrius Andrade, all fight on DAZN. If Charlo wants to cross the street and make a big fight with a DAZN fighter, he'll need to continue to build his image to the point where such a fight makes financial sense for all involved. A highlight reel-knockout on Saturday night would be a nice first step.
Charlo by knockout, round four.
The televised undercard features a pair of world title eliminators. In the co-feature junior middleweight Erickson Lubin (20-1, 15 KO) takes on Zakaria Attou (29-6-2, 7 KO) for a chance to be the mandatory challenger for WBC champion Tony Harrison. Lubin has lost only once in his career; a first round knockout defeat to Jermall Charlo's twin brother Jermell. Attou is an unknown, having never previously fought in the United States.
In the opening bout of the televised card Eduardo Ramirez (22-1-3, 9 KO) faces Claudio Marrero 23-3, 17KO) for a shot at WBA featherweight champion Xu Can.
Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.
Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.
“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”
Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”
L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.
Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.
Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.
“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”
Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.
Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.
The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.
Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.
“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”
Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.
Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.
Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.
Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.
Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.