Hugo Centeno wants to put the brakes on Jermall Charlo’s middleweight coronation
NEW YORK – Win, lose, or draw, Hugo Centeno Jr. is already living the American Dream. Born and raised in Oxnard, Calif., to Mexican immigrant parents who worked the fields growing up, Centeno has parlayed his earnings as a middleweight contender into a food kiosk business, starting with a Pho eatery (“Pholicious”) at Valencia Town Center, and expanding to a second named “Churro Stix” some 40 miles west at Pacific View Mall.
“My wife wanted us to go into business for ourselves because she said boxing’s not forever,” said the 27-year-old Centeno (26-1, 14 knockouts).
Boxing is ephemeral, but it is the most urgent matter he has right now. This Saturday Centeno will try to take one step closer to his dream of becoming a world champion when he faces Jermall Charlo (26-0, 20 KOs) for the interim WBC middleweight title at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on the Adrien Broner-Jessie Vargas card (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET).
The opportunity comes amid the logjam the middleweight division finds itself in following the cancellation of the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez fight on May 5 due to Alvarez’s positive test for the banned substance clenbuterol. The cancellation keeps the three titles held by Golovkin out of play, and Centeno has no sympathy for Alvarez despite claiming his failed test is the result of tainted meat.
“I’m glad they made an example out of Canelo. Because a lot of people seem to think that, just because you’re a star, that he walks on water and he shouldn’t be punished for it,” said Centeno, who had sparred against both fighters.
It’s been a long road back for Centeno, whose rise was derailed in June of 2016 when he was dominated by Maciej Sulecki and stopped in 10 rounds. It was his first defeat, and one he blames on his own complacency and over-confidence.
“I got a little comfortable and told myself my skills were better than most of these fighters and all I had to do was make the weight. It backfired on me that night,” said Centeno.
He’s viewed as an underdog against Charlo, who is being mentioned as a potential rival for the top 160-pounders despite having just one outing since stepping up in weight, a fourth-round stoppage of Jorge Sebastian Heiland last July. However, the Californian is comforted by his last outing, a third-round knockout of previously unbeaten Immanuwel Aleem last August, when many thought Centeno was in over his head, and he’s won two straight since his only defeat.
“I feel like a lot of people are already calling Jermall Charlo an uncrowned king of the middleweight division. I feel like it’s hard to call him that when he just got there,” said Centeno.
“My strength is one of my strong key points. I feel like he’s never fought somebody as big as I am, and he’s always looked down on most of his opponents. He’s usually the one who intimidates people with his size,” added Centeno, who is an inch-and-a-half taller at 6-foot-1 1/2.
If Centeno can get past Charlo, his American Dream gets a little bit sweeter.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and can be reached at [email protected].