SAN ANTONIO -- Jermell Charlo, fighting hours away from his hometown of Houston, whipped his fans into a frenzy early on in Saturday night's fight against Brian Castano, but after the controversial decision was announced -- a split draw that prevented the crowning of an undisputed champion at 154 pounds -- it was Castano who won over the crowd.
Castano (17-0-2, 12 KOs) appeared to score the upset in a terrific action fight Saturday at AT&T Center, yet only one judge scored it for the Argentine, 114-113. Another judge scored it 114-114, and Nelson Vazquez turned in a head-scratching 117-111 in favor of Charlo.
Charlo swept the final three rounds on all three scorecards to pull out the draw, but even he acknowledged the 117-111 tally was "kind of a large range." Jim Erickson of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation declined to comment when ESPN asked him what measures the commission might take against Vazquez. ESPN scored the fight 117-111 for Castano.
"I do believe I won the fight, I don't believe it was that close," said Charlo, with his twin brother, middleweight champion Jermall, nearby at the post-fight news conference. "I should be undisputed right now."
Charlo added: "I will take a rematch. I don't know when, but I would love to get back in there with him."
If ever a fight called for a rematch, it's this one, a battle Castano seemed to control over the first nine rounds. The 31-year-old consistently beat Charlo (34-1-1, 18 KOs) to the punch and was able to pin the favorite on the ropes with volleys of punches. His pressure was relentless yet educated; he was able to pick off many of Charlos incoming shots with his gloves and upper-body movement.
Charlo, down on the scorecards and on the brink of losing his three titles, connected on a fight-altering counter left hook in Round 10 -- a punch he was looking to set up all night vs. the hard-charging underdog -- that sent Castano reeling on unsteady legs. The crowd sensed the knockout was coming; after all, Charlo is one of the sport's most dangerous punchers.
But the finish never materialized. Rather than clinch, Castano wildly exchanged with Charlo and ate more powerful punches, a throwback to his come-from-behind win over Emmanuel de Jesus in Argentina.
In that 2016 bout, Castano was dropped in Round 6 and rallied to score a sixth-round TKO. Nearly five years later and thousands of miles away, Castano once again found himself in deep trouble. And again, he dug deep and traded punches anyway. He survived the 10th.
"He was like belligerent all over the ring; he could barely stand up," Charlo said. "I just couldn't get him out of there. He's tough as f---."
Entering the final round, trainer Derrick James told Charlo he needed a knockout to win. Castano said he could sense in the late rounds that Charlo was "worried," adding that he felt Charlo respected his power and spent most of the fight waiting to counter-punch him.
"I feel that they robbed me," said Castano, clad in a black cowboy hat with his manager, Sebastian Contursi, translating. "I'm not taking anything away from Charlo. He's a big puncher. He caught me with some good punches at times, but I survived, and overall, I thought I won the fight.
"And needless to say I want the rematch because he still has the three belts that I need and feel should be mine."
An encore encounter is a natural, especially given the thrilling action the fight provided on Showtime, but it's not a formality. Contursi admitted that the "obstacle might be the sanctioning body mandatories." There's another potential roadblock: Charlo's willingness to grant the rematch.
Charlo, 31, was pushed to the limit and was lucky to escape with his three belts intact. Castano landed 173 punches, the most ever against Charlo, per CompuBox. He also landed 41% of his power shots.
"I think ... he will try to avoid [the rematch]," Castano said in his locker room following the news conference. "He will probably come up with something else. But in reality it is me who is going to give him the rematch. If he doesn't want it, OK. We move on to the next fight."
Castano settled for a draw with former champion Erislandy Lara in one of the best fights of 2019 and a breakthrough performance for him, but he never received a rematch.
On Saturday night, even though Castano didn't earn the massive payday that would have accompanied a victory -- he was seeking to become the first undisputed 154-pound champion in the four-belt era -- he certainly enhanced his standing in the sport.
If the rematch with Charlo doesn't present itself, an even bigger opportunity could be grabbed: a fight with Errol Spence Jr.
Spence, Charlo's training stablemate, meets the legendary Manny Pacquiao on Aug. 21 in a unified welterweight title fight. Spence has said he could move up to 154 pounds following the bout. And there's history with Castano: Spence lost to him in the amateurs.
For now, Castano prepares to head back to Argentina with his title around his waist and his pride intact. Someday soon, he hopes to meet Charlo in the ring again, but even without a rematch, Castano won the night.