Jermall Charlo vacates belt, paving way for Harrison-Hurd title fight

Jermall Charlo vacated his junior middleweight world title Thursday, paving the way for Tony Harrison and Jarrett Hurd to fight for the belt next week.

After Charlo brutally knocked out mandatory challenger Julian "J Rock" Williams in the fifth round to retain the 154-pound belt for the third time on Dec. 10, he said he wanted to unify the division. Those fights, however, were not available to him.

Charlo has also said he had difficulty making weight, so the new division beckons.

"It was either going to be a big fight for me at 154 pounds, like against Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez, something big like that, or move up," Charlo told ESPN. "It had to be something big to make it worth staying at 154 pounds.

"I know a lot of people mentioned maybe me fighting (former titlist and unbeaten Demetrius) Andrade. As far as competition, I wanted that fight too, but staying at 154 wasn't the healthiest move for me. I've been making 154 since I was an amateur in 2007. My body is growing and it was a little bit of a struggle to for me."

When Charlo's twin brother, Jermell Charlo, knocked out John Jackson in the eighth round to win a vacant junior middleweight belt last May, they became the first twins to hold world titles in the same division at the same time. They have vowed never to fight each other.

Jermall Charlo (25-0, 19 KOs), 26, of Houston, knocked out Cornelius "K9" Bundrage in the third round to win the belt in September 2015. He then recorded defenses against "Silky" Wilky Campfort, knocking him out in the fourth round, and former titleholder Austin Trout, outpointing him in a competitive fight, before he drilled Williams.

With Charlo having vacated the belt, it upgrades the fight between Harrison and Hurd to title status instead of being an elimination bout for the right to become Charlo's mandatory challenger, as was originally scheduled.

Harrison and Hurd are the co-feature of the Premier Boxing Champions card headlined by heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder defending against Gerald Washington on Feb. 25 (Fox, 8 p.m. ET) at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.

The IBF notified those involved Thursday in a letter, which was obtained by ESPN.

IBF championships committee chairman Lindsey Tucker wrote that Charlo had vacated and that Harrison, ranked No. 2 at 154 pounds by the organization, and Hurd, ranked No. 3 "are the two highest ranked junior middleweights in the current IBF ratings."

"Therefore," Tucker wrote, "the Harrison vs. Hurd fight has been elevated from an eliminator to a fight for the vacant title."

Charlo said he looks forward to becoming a force in the 160-pound division and winning another world title.

"I waited to get the belt at 154 and I defended my title and did it against good challengers," said Charlo, who said he hoped to make his 160 debut on a card in May in Houston. "I did my job at 154 pounds and now I'm ready to capture another title and become two-division world champion. I know who's ahead of me at middleweight. I know you got GGG (Gennady Golovkin) there, Danny Jacobs there. I know who the top fighters are there. I've been watching them. But I am ready for the challenge. I want to be a force. I'm gonna press the issue. I will be on their heels. I won't leave room for error. I'll keep working; keep grinding to get my shot."

Harrison and Hurd are pumped up about the new stakes of their bout.

"I've been waiting on this for a long time. This the biggest shot of my life," Harrison said. "It's like my son being born all over again. This just made the fight that much more interesting. As a boxer this is what you dream of -- the day you fight for a world title. Santa came early. We're both 26 years old. It's a dream come true for both of us. It doesn't change the approach. It just makes it much sweeter and puts that much more respect on the winner of this fight.''

Said Hurd: "This is the moment every boxer dreams of, becoming the world champion. I finally get that opportunity on the big stage -- on the Deontay Wilder heavyweight championship card and on Fox in prime time on national TV. I'm blessed. I want to thank everyone for getting me to this point. Tony Harrison is a great fighter. It's not going to be an easy fight. Tony Harrison is top-level competition and I'm a top level competitor. Two great fighters going after something they want. But I have to say my pants are falling and I need my belt.''

The 26-year-old Harrison (24-1, 20 KOs), of Detroit, was closing in a title shot in July 2015 and was the favorite against contender Willie Nelson, but he was upset in a ninth-round knockout loss on ESPN. Harrison has won three fights in a row since.

"Fans are already buzzing about Harrison versus Hurd, an explosive matchup," said promoter Lou DiBella, who works with Harrison. "The winner will now be the IBF champion, bringing greatly increased significance to what should already be a war."

Hurd (19-0, 13 KOs), 26, of Accokeek, Maryland, has been impressive in recent fights, including knockouts wins against previously undefeated opponents Frank Galarza and Mexican Olympian Oscar Molina as well as veteran former welterweight world title challenger Jo Jo Dan.

"These guys have already shown their mettle by agreeing to fight each other -- No. 2 versus No. 3 -- for the No. 1 spot,'' said promoter Tom Brown of TGB Promotions, which works with Harrison. "Having this match be for a world title is a great reward for two young guys who have shown a willingness to face each other.''