Erickson Lubin faces former champion Ishe Smith tomorrow in Carson,CA
By Max Warren
At just 23, Erickson “Hammer” Lubin is still a blue-chip prospect with an enormous amount of potential. But since his devastating knockout loss to Jermell Charlo, many have written him off and don’t have him on their radar amongst the top fighters at light-middleweight. He has a lot of ability, and unfortunately fell victim to making a big step up in competition early in his career.
Rather than deciding to extend his amateur career and participate in the Olympics, his first professional bout was on his 18th birthday. It’s understandable that he turned pro early, as he would have had to wait another three years before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. But the extra amateur experience can serve as a veritable form of the “minor leagues” for a young fighter before turning pro. At the beginning of a young talented fighter’s career, the usual plan is to pad a record before taking a chance against a top-level opponent when the risk is worthwhile. On the other hand, a loss in the amateurs isn’t the end of the world because the money isn’t there. Most likely, Lubin would have faced better competition at the highest levels of amateur boxing than a majority of the opponents he fought prior to his 1st-round knockout loss to Charlo.
It’s not the case that Charlo is an immensely greater fighter than Lubin. He just wasn’t ready, and he needed 5 or 6 more bouts before fighting for a world title. While some fighters are ready to enter the fast track for a championship fight due to their amateur pedigree, Lubin needed a little extra time to sharpen his skills since he cut his amateur career short. Before facing Charlo, Lubin hadn’t faced an opponent remotely close to Charlo’s level, but many believed that his prior performances passed the eye-test regardless of the opposition. His talent and physical gifts are undeniable, but he hadn’t fought a full 12 rounds or dealt with grueling adversity as a pro.
Round 1 against Charlo it seemed to be a feeling-out in which either guy could have won. With approximately 30 seconds remaining, Lubin made a crucial error in leaving his hands by his waist while in the line of fire. Charlo didn’t miss a beat and took quick and full advantage of the lapse in focus, doubling up the jab and landing a devastating right that dropped Lubin. Charlo began celebrating as soon as the punch landed, and the referee called an end to the fight at the count of 6 when he saw that Lubin’s faculties weren’t there.
Like many fighters who suffer a devastating loss, Lubin changed his trainer. He decided to hire the no-nonsense former police officer Kevin Cunningham. Cunningham trains his fighters in a group environment, which creates a great culture for character building. No fighter gets preferential treatment, and boxers in his camp live together under one roof. This may be the exact structure that Lubin needs in order to get his necessary edge and confidence back.
Lubin might have an even greater chip on his shoulder now, feeling the need to prove that he is not some over-hyped prospect who didn’t deliver. He now knows that he can’t take future career-defining opportunities for granted. That mindset can prove to be very beneficial, as fighters who are not accustomed to failure may act entitled or complacent. Working with Cunningham is a great move that will get Lubin back on track. Cunningham has worked with two notable southpaws who won world titles, Devon Alexander and Cory Spinks. Hopefully Lubin can follow in their footsteps.
On February 9th at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, Lubin will face experienced veteran Ishe Smith. This is the perfect fight for him to continue his maturation process. Smith isn’t a soft-touch, boasts a quality ring IQ, and has never been knocked out. He doesn’t have notable power, and the fight is expected to go the distance. Most likely, Lubin will win by decision and it should be a good learning experience for him afterwards. At 40 years-old, Smith has a ton of experience and he’ll try to pull any ring-trick he knows on fight-night. This should bode well for Lubin in the long run, allowing him a chance to continue to grow as a professional.
Even though some are already counting Lubin out, he still has the talent necessary to potentially become the best fighter at 154. He has time to sharpen and fine-tune some things. He possesses power in both hands, speed, and quality footwork. The two biggest threats (literally) at 154, Jaime Munguia and Jarrett Hurd, will most likely move up to 160 by next year. They are two of the biggest light-middleweights in recent memory, and shrinking down as much as they do in order to make weight eventually takes a toll on a fighter’s career. Lubin is a natural 154-pounder, and will be around longer than Munguia and Hurd at the weight. Besides Munguia and Hurd, Lubin has a shot at beating any of the current top-level boxers in the division.
Lubin wants a rematch with Charlo, and despite being knocked out in the 1st round, he can win the rematch. In a sport where anything can happen at any given moment, Lubin had a lapse in focus and was caught off guard in the 1st fight. Even Hall-of-Famers have made similar mistakes in their careers. The Charlo fight can exist as a virtual “mulligan” in Lubin’s career. This writer believes that Lubin will refocus and eventually emerge as the top fighter at light-middleweight. He’s still very young and can get back on track to win a world title. The show is far from over for Erickson “Hammer” Lubin.