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Erickson Lubin: Now a `Different Beast’ as a Result of the Charlo Smash-up

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  • Erickson Lubin: Now a `Different Beast’ as a Result of the Charlo Smash-up

    By Bernard Fernandez

    The next step up from a swelling sense of confidence for a young, undefeated fighter is, well, overconfidence. Arrogance, even. When you are accustomed to nothing but success, why even entertain the possibility of a disappointing outcome? Being beaten up and losing is something that is only supposed to happen to the poor schnook in the other corner, right?

    The first step down from utter confidence for a young, formerly undefeated fighter can be panic and self-doubt. The introduction of defeat into a first-time loser’s belief system is even harsher if it comes in the form of a knockout, and especially so if the shocking end comes before the completion of the very first round.

    The journey from the way Erickson Lubin had viewed his life and boxing career to a decidedly harsher reality required only 2 minutes, 41 seconds when the 22-year-old southpaw from Orlando, Fla., took on WBC super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo on Oct. 14, 2017, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Actually, the decisive sequence was much more condensed than that; there were only 28 seconds remaining in the opening stanza when Charlo fired a short right that landed flush to Lubin’s forehead, sending the challenger crumpling to the canvas and onto his right side where he briefly flailed like a reeled-in fish on the bottom of a bass boat. Referee Harvey Dock started to initiate a count, but as he knelt over the stricken Lubin, who clearly was not about to rise in time, he waved his arms at six, signaling the bout’s conclusion.

    Only nine seconds had elapsed from the moment Charlo connected with the shot that, at least momentarily, demonstrated what some had believed all along: that Erickson Lubin, the fight game’s most recent flavor of the month, was the false creation of a relentless hype machine.

    But perhaps that instantly revised, less laudatory assessment of Lubin (19-1, 14 KOs) is no more accurate than the fawning praise and inflated expectations that had preceded it. The supposed wunderkind who had been at the center of a firestorm of controversy nearly six years ago is still around, still ranked No. 6 at super welterweight by the WBC, and eager to make the kind of statement with a dominant performance against former IBF 154-pound champion Ishe Smith (29-10, 12 KOs) in a scheduled 10-rounder Saturday night at the Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly the StubHub Center) in Carson, Calif., that he once anticipated making against Charlo.

    “I’ve had hardships in my life,” Lubin said, refuting the notion that he somehow and undeservedly had been fast-tracked for the boxing superstardom that has to date remained beyond his grasp. “I overcame them all. But that (Charlo) fight … I woke up a different beast. I had to re-assess. I decided it was time to take this sport to a whole different level.

    “What happened to me was something that had never happened to me before. I’d never been stopped or even dropped. Well, maybe when I was six or seven, by my older brother, just teaching me. I guess I was on my high horse a little bit. I was immature. I admit it.”

    Lubin didn’t exactly disappear after his comeuppance from Charlo, but it was his choice not to rush back into action until he had given himself enough of a break to undertake the necessary physical and mental makeovers. He has fought just once post-Charlo, a fourth-round stoppage of Mexican journeyman Silverio Ortiz on April 28 of last year in El Paso, Texas, and his matchup with the 40-year-old Smith, as intriguing as it might be on some level, still was not regarded as significant enough to be included among the three bouts to be televised on the Showtime Championship Boxing portion of the card, a lineup topped by the IBF junior lightweight defense by champion Gervonta Davis (20-0, 19 KOs) against former WBC super bantamweight titlist Hugo Ruiz (39-4, 33 KOs). Other TV fights include 10-rounders pitting super lightweights Mario Barrios (22-0, 14 KOs) and Richard Zamora (19-2, 12 KOs) and lightweights Sharif Bogere (32-1, 20 KOs) and Javier Fortuna (33-2-1, 23 KOs).

    Lubin-Smith can still be seen, however, via Showtime’s social media platforms and Lubin is adamant that he still is capable of emerging as the star of the night.

    “I feel like I’m really at my best now,” Lubin opined. “My skills have improved, my power’s improved, my ring IQ has improved. I went into the Charlo fight with not too much of a game plan. I just was looking for the knockout. I wanted to make a big statement. But I can make that kind of statement against Ishe Smith. I’m not predicting I’ll knock him out, but if I can knock out a guy who’s never been knocked out, that’d be a big statement, right? And I’m capable of it. Even if I don’t knock him out, I want to show the world how much talent I have, in case anyone has forgotten.”

    Toward that end, Lubin has brought in veteran trainer Kevin Cunningham as his chief second, while retaining the services of his longtime trainer Jason Galarza as a cornerman. But it is Lubin’s rededicated approach to his craft that is the biggest change of all.

    “I needed to get away from home a little bit and into a place where I’m not really too comfortable,” Lubin said of his shift, for boxing purposes, from Orlando to Miami. “With a no-tolerance trainer like Kevin, it’s not just a change in training, it’s a change in lifestyle. Boxing is a year-round sport. You always have to be ready, you always have to be in shape. Football players have seasons, basketball players have seasons. Fights don’t have seasons.

    “I took the Charlo fight serious. I trained very hard with Jason. But I had let myself blow up (a weight gain of 40 pounds) and so I had to take all that off, which, looking back, might have taken something out of me. I also had a fracture in my lead (right) hand during training so I didn’t spar much until the last two weeks of camp. And I got to admit, I went into the Charlo fight with not too much of a game plan. If I could just go back in time, I’d have game-planned more and not let the hype get to me. There was a lot of talking back and forth between our entourages. All that was on my mind. I realize I was too focused on trying to knock him out. I should have taken my time, used that first round to feel him out. But I wanted to be right there up in his face instead of boxing him.”

    It is a common error among those to whom things come too easily, to expect that corners can be cut and all the puzzle pieces will fit neatly into place because, well, hadn’t they always? So convinced was Dr. Charles Butler, then the president of USA Boxing, that Lubin was the United States’ best hope for a gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics that he took out print ads urging Lubin, the son of Haitian immigrants, to remain an amateur until he had the chance to represent his country in Rio. Lubin instead opted to turn pro with the fledgling and now-defunct Mike Tyson Productions – he’s since signed on with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions -- on the condition that he would be paired immediately against higher-quality opponents than are most newly minted pros. After blowing through his first 18 bouts with little trouble, Lubin figured he was as ready as he ever needed to be to add Charlo to his list of victims.

    It now appears that was a miscalculation, but, at 24, Lubin figures he has ample time to make amends. He has a baby son, Malachai, to support and a sense of destiny that requires fulfillment. A step back is a step back only if you refuse to keep moving forward.

    “I don’t regret anything, actually,” Lubin said of where he’s been, where he is and where he is bound. “I’m very competitive. I don’t like to lose, at anything. I got that Kobe Bryant `Black Mama’ mentality. If you want to see who can spit the farthest, I’m going to try to spit the farthest. That’s how I came up.”

    Photo credit: Mario Serrano / Team Lubin

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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