The 23-year-old Watson began his pro career in June of 2013 with a victory in Biloxi, Mississippi against Michael Limpy of Oklahoma City. The opening bell had sounded on the promising professional career of a former Southern Golden Gloves champion that the late Ace Miller once loosely compared to Roy Jones Jr.
But then life hit Watson with a one-two punch that sent him reeling.
Watson’s wife, Daniela, went into labor 22 weeks into pregnancy on July 13, 2013, and their son, Charles Christopher Jordan Watson Jr., didn’t make it. Before they could regain their bearings a daughter, Xyla Paz, was lost prematurely when Daniela suffered the same tragedy 17 weeks into the pregnancy.
“It sucks having an empty bedroom that you were planning on filling with kids,” Charlie said. “But God has a plan, and I know he did it for a reason and I’ll get to ask him one day. ... Junior was like two weeks away from getting to go in the incubator. It’s something you’ll never understand, but I know God has a plan. I always stay faithful. As much as I don’t understand, I thank him for everything he does.”
Watson gained some 50 pounds. All he could force himself to do was work, go home, watch TV and eat. The cat-quick boxer who’d fought in Ireland and with Olympic development-based teams in Memphis and Los Angeles had become a couch potato.
His 22-year-old brother, Blayton, has boxed alongside him for 15 years, nearly all of it with coach Scott Vance. But Blayton and Vance knew Charlie needed time.
“Blayton was always letting me do me,” Charlie said. “He told me I needed to come back in the gym, but he wasn’t telling me all the time, like, ‘Yo man, where you at? Why ain’t you in the gym?’ He knew I was going through some stuff. He just kind of gave me space.
“When I was sad, I really didn’t want to come back to the gym and take out my anger on anyone, because I was mad about losing my kids. I didn’t want to come in the gym and get in arguments with Scott or an argument with anybody on the team just because of me dealing with some different stuff.”
Daniela was the first to give Charlie a firm nudge back toward the ring, even working two jobs to help make it more feasible.
“She’s been my rock,” Charlie said. “She really pulled me out of it. She’s like, ‘Hey, if you want to do this ...’ because she hears me talking about boxing every day and how much that I love it. She’s like, ‘If you really want to do this you’ve got to start training and go back to the gym. You just can’t keep sitting at home.’”
Charlie will fight his second pro bout tonight in Elizabethton. He’ll take on Quincy Brown of Selma, Alabama. When he heard the date of tonight’s bouts — the first pro fights here since Brad Austin boxed in 2002 — months back, Charlie knew he wanted to fight.
“It’ll be the day before my son’s birthday, so it’ll be a really emotional fight,” Charlie said. “I’m really excited to fight for that very reason. I feel like it was kind of meant to be. On July 13th he’d been a year old.”
Of course, returning to the ring was a heavy burden. Watson laughs talking about the first time that an astonished Vance, a caring but cranky coach, saw him at his heaviest.
“I came back in the gym probably about 205,” Charlie said. “I walked in there and Scott was like, ‘Dang, fat boy. Gosh, Charlie, I can’t believe it.’ That’s all he kept saying: ‘I can’t believe it.’”
Watson has dropped nearly 40 pounds, including 20 in the past month.
Vance always thought Charlie would return to the ring, but admits some days it felt more like hope than belief.
“It liked to killed Charlie,” Vance said. “It took a year off his life. ... I had thought at one time it was probably over for Charlie. But I thought and I prayed a lot, too. Understand, those boys are like sons to me. I’ve been with them almost 15 years.
“We talked a few times about it. I said you’ve got to go on with your life and it doesn’t matter to me if you box or not, I love ya. But I did tell him one time, ‘You’ll be back.’”
Vance says the sky’s still the limit for Watson.
“I’m tickled to death he’s back,” Vance said. “Charlie could be a world champion, but it’s gotta come from him. A lot of guys don’t turn pro until they’re 24 or 25. Ages 28, 29 and 30 are when you’re in your prime.
“I can coach him, but he’s gotta do it. Boxing is a hard, hard sport. There ain’t a lot of Floyd Mayweathers. Love him or hate him, he’s the most disciplined boxer there is.”
Whether or not the passion to sustain such discipline can be completely rekindled, Charlie seems to have won the fight of his life just by returning to the ring.
“I always knew I’d go back to boxing,” Charlie said. “I just knew I needed some time, because I mean, I knew that I could come to the gym and train, but I knew it wouldn’t be worth anything. My mind was not in the gym. Whenever you box you’ve got to put 150 percent in it.”
Doctors couldn’t conclude the cause of Daniela’s pregnancy problems, and told them to feel free to keep trying. But for now, Charlie said they prefer to wait.
Otherwise, he’s done waiting.
“I just kind of came to the realization that if my kids were here I couldn’t just sit on my butt and not do anything,” he said. “All you can do is pray and keep your head up and keep moving forward.”