Austin Trout has been an underdog his entire professional boxing career.
A slick-boxing southpaw from New Mexico, working his way through the junior-middleweight ranks, Trout was never popular with promoters looking for spectacular knockouts or with managers seeking easy victories for their fighters.
His climb to elite status, and a world title, took far longer than it should have given his talent.
It is likely, though, that Trout has never been a more decided underdog than he’ll be Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Trout (31-4, 17 knockouts) will face Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs) at the Staples Center in the co-main event of a card to be televised on Showtime. The Las Cruces boxer is approximately a 5-to-1 underdog.
On May 25, on his weekly online chat, ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael wrote in answer to a question:
“I like Austin. Good dude, honest fighter. But in my opinion Charlo is going to give him the beating of a lifetime.”
Hmm. Why this kind of disrepect for a man who scratched and clawed his way to a world title shot, won the WBA super middleweight belt and held it for two years through four successful defenses — one of those against cinch Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto?
Well, as it has been for his fellow New Mexican Holly Holm, times have been tougher of late.
All four of Trout’s defeats have come in his last nine bouts. Since losing his title to Canelo Alvarez in 2013, he twice more has lost world title fights.
In his most recent bid for a world title, Trout was stopped short of the prescribed distance for the first time in a loss by 10th-round TKO to Jarrett Hurd.
In the view of the boxing world, it seems, Trout, at 31, is clinging by his fingernails to that hard-earned elite status.
How does all this affect Trout?
Not at all, says his longtime trainer.
And, says Las Cruces’ Louie Burke, some of the data regarding his fighter is being misinterpreted.
Asked if he was aware of Rafael’s online post, or if Trout was, Burke said in a phone interview that he didn’t know and didn’t care.
“When we’re in camp, we’re kind of busy working toward the goal of beating the (opponent),” Burke said. “You know people are gonna have their opinions and that’s fine, because when you beat somebody, when you upset somebody, then things change dramatically.”
As for those long odds, Burke believes the betters and the oddsmakers don’t understand what happened in the Hurd fight.
Trout was leading on two of the three official scorecards through seven rounds. But Hurd won rounds eight through 10 on all three cards as the Las Crucen faded. Burke stopped the fight before round 11 could begin.
The consensus was that Trout simply wilted in the face of Hurd’s all-out assault.
Trout, Burke says, simply wilted. Dehydration, not Hurd, was the real culprit.
As well, Burke said, Trout hadn’t fought for 17 months before stepping in the ring with Hurd. Saturday, it will have been just 111 days since Trout’s victory by eight-round unanimous decision over Juan De Angel in El Paso.
The long layoff before the Hurd fight, Burke said, was not the only problem.
“During camp, we were hindered by shoulder problems and elbow problems,” Burke said. “We couldn’t get the intensity of sparring we wanted, and we had to postpone a lot of sparring sessions because we had to let (the injuries) heal.
“But after the Hurd fight, he had (the De Angel fight), and it seemed like it knocked off some of the ring rust even more. And then he got right back into the gym the following week.”
Burke was speaking from Las Cruces, but he’d recently spent time with Trout at trainer Barry Hunter’s gym in Washington, D.C.
“I’m being honest with you,” Burke said. … He’s been looking as sharp as I’ve seen him look in the last two years.”
Burke also believes that, as good as Charlo is, he’s not even the best Charlo Trout has faced.
Jermell Charlo is the twin brother of Jermall Charlo, who defeated Trout by unanimous decision in an IBF junior light title fight on May 21, 2016. Though born as identical twins, they’re not quite that.
Jermall Charlo is slightly the bigger of the two, big enough that he left the junior middleweight division and moved up to middleweight after the Trout fight.
Jermell is considered the lighter puncher — or at least was, until he impressively knocked out his last four opponents.
Nonetheless, Burke said, “I personally think we fought the toughest brother of the two (Jermall), and I thought we beat him. Hopefully, Austin can transfer how he’s looked in camp into the ring Saturday night. That’s the big thing.
“If he can transfer all the good, hard work that he’s put into the gym and his sharpness the last few days, I think we’ll walk out of there with another world championship.”