What Jermell Charlo will attempt when he faces Canelo Alvarez on September 30 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas is rare but not unprecedented.
The reigning undisputed super welterweight champ jumps up two weight classes to take on the Mexican icon, who currently reigns as the undisputed titleholder at super middleweight. The gap between divisions is 14 pounds (154 to 168).
While fighting weight is skewed now due to day-before weigh-ins and the process of rehydrating, there’s no doubt that Charlo is giving up a significant amount of natural size. Canelo has been as high as light heavyweight and even won a title in that division when he knocked out Sergey Kovalev in November 2019.
What Charlo is looking for is a chance to reach glory in spite of the scales.
MORE: All you need to know about Canelo Alvarez vs. Jermell Charlo
The Sporting News picks out six examples of when a reigning champion moved up by a significant amount of weight to challenge a heavier champion. Of these six examples, the smaller man took on the consensus best fighter in the heavier division, just as Charlo will be against Canelo.
Note: During the 1950s, the super middleweight and cruiserweight divisions did not exist, so jumping one weight class at that time would be the equivalent of jumping two weight classes today:
Joey Maxim vs Sugar Ray Robinson
Date/ Location: June 25, 1952/ Yankee Stadium, New York
Titles: Undisputed light heavyweight
Maxim was in the early stages of his championship run at light heavyweight when he was challenged by Robinson, who had already posted successful title reigns at welterweight at middleweight.
This was long before the days of strength and conditioning coaches and weight gain supplements, so Robinson came to the ring as a middleweight (157 ½ pounds), whereas Maxim weighed 173.
On fight night, Robinson’s superior edge in class was easy to see. He boxed circles around the champion for several rounds and picked up a comfortable points lead. However, with the fight taking place outdoors in oppressive heat, Maxim smartly kept up the pressure and Robinson began to wilt.
With the temperature exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, referee Ruby Goldstein had to be replaced by another official. Robinson was pulled out of the contest at the end of the 13th round due to severe heat exhaustion.
Maxim needed the stoppage to win and he got it.
Result: Maxim TKO 13
WATCH: Canelo Alvarez vs. Jermell Charlo, live on DAZN
Rocky Marciano vs. Archie Moore
Date/ Location: Sept. 21, 1955/ Yankee Stadium, New York
Titles: Undisputed heavyweight
Thanks to convincing wins over Joey Maxim and Harold Johnson in light heavyweight title fights, Moore was firmly established as the best 175-pounder in the world. However, what the ring-wise veteran always sought was ultimate glory in boxing’s glamour division.
Heavyweight champ Marciano was 48-0 (42 KOs) and in the process of winding down his career by choice. The Brockton native had only just turned 32 years old, but he was already a legend with career-defining triumphs over Jersey Joe Walcott (KO 13, KO 1) and Ezzard Charles (UD 15, KO 8).
Despite being naturally outsized, Moore knocked “The Rock” off his feet with a brilliantly timed counter right in the second round. From there it was all downhill in the form of an avalanche, with Marciano thumping away at the challenger and scoring three knockdowns, the last of which saw Moore counted out in the ninth round.
This was the final fight of Marciano’s glittering career.
Result: Marciano KO 9
Carmen Basilio vs. Sugar Ray Robinson
Date/ Venue: Sept. 23, 1957/ Yankee Stadium, New York
Titles: Undisputed middleweight
Following Robinson’s welterweight departure, the championship was passed between future Hall of Famers Kid Gavilan, Tony De Marco, and Carmen Basilio.
Shortly after losing and then winning the title back from Johnny Saxton, Basilio targeted a legacy-defining fight against Robinson, who had regained the middleweight crown following a two-and-a-half-year layoff.
This would be The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year.
Despite being the smaller man, the 154-pound Basilio was able to overcome the 160-pound Robinson with a savage and relentless attack. The champ wanted time and distance but was granted neither by a game and ferocious challenger who was determined to test him to the full.
Basilio deserved the points win he was accorded, but Robinson avenged the loss six months later, also on points.
Result: Basilio SD 15
MORE: SN’s Top-12 boxing pound-for-pound list
Dick Tiger vs. Emile Griffith
Date/ Location: Dec. 16, 1966/ Madison Square Garden, New York
Titles: Undisputed middleweight
While Griffith had made a pitstop at 154 pounds to pick up a WBA title, he was still the reigning welterweight champion of the world when he made the audacious choice of challenging middleweight king Dick Tiger.
This bout was more of a boxing match than a brawl and it was closely contested. Griffith managed to floor Tiger for the first time in his career, but scoring was on a rounds basis, so the challenger did not receive an extra point on the cards.
Both fighters paced the bout well and traded evenly down the stretch. When it was all over, Griffith had made history by becoming only the fifth man in history to win world championships in three weight classes.
The consensus among ringside writers is that Tiger deserved the decision (17 of 22 writers polled). However, UPI and AP scoring favoured Griffith, who made two defences before long, regaining, and losing the crown to the legendary Nino Benvenuti.
Result: Griffith UD 15
Joe Frazier vs. Bob Foster
Date/ Location: Nov. 18, 1970/ Cobo Arena, Detriot
Titles: Undisputed heavyweight
Foster was in the early stages of what would become a legendary reign as light heavyweight champion when he challenged the unbeaten Frazier for the heavyweight crown.
If ever a weight jump was a bad idea, this was the one. At 6ft 3ins with a 79 inch reach, Foster had the dimensions of a heavyweight, but he was slender by comparison to Frazier, who looked like an impenetrable tank with boxing gloves.
Foster survived the first round by moving and poking out a quick jab before locating the escape routes. However, early in Round 2, Frazier scored with a whipping left hook to the jaw that crumpled his man to the canvas. The fight continued briefly after Foster rose and it was another shotgun left that knocked the challenger cold.
Despite losing so decisively, Foster would challenge Muhammad Ali, then the former champ, two years later. “The Greatest” stopped Foster in eight.
Result: Frazier KO 2
Larry Holmes vs. Michael Spinks
Date: Sept. 21, 1985/ Riviera Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
Titles: IBF and Ring Magazine heavyweight
Holmes was just one win shy of matching the legendary 49-0 mark set by former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano when he faced light heavyweight king Michael Spinks.
While he didn’t hold all of the belts, Holmes was unquestionably the top heavyweight in the world at the time. “The Easton Assassin” had been champion for seven-and-a-half years during which time he’d made 20 successful defences.
Facing a light heavyweight champ mean that history was on the champ’s side but the clock was not. While Spinks was significantly smaller (199 ¼ pounds to 221 ½), he was also sharper and infinitely more energetic. The challenger scored with quick combinations, then disappeared into the night air, as Holmes, his reflexes dulled, struggled to keep up.
At the end of 15 rounds, Spinks had banked enough rounds on all three judges’ cards to pull off the stunning victory.
Holmes lashed out post-fight with the memorable, “Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap line.”
Spinks won the direct rematch six months later but was deemed very fortunate to get that decision.
Result: Spinks UD 15