If confidence decided fights, junior middleweight world titleholder Jermell Charlo against Erickson Lubin would undoubtedly be a draw.
Both are as confident as can be heading into their toss-up fight on Saturday (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, where even though they will meet in the co-feature of a tripleheader of 154-pound title bouts, their fight is by far the most anticipated.
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Why? Because Charlo, who will be making his second title defense, has looked formidable coming off big knockouts in his past two fights, his vacant title victory over John Jackson in May 2016 and in his first defense against Charles Hatley in April, and Lubin, the 2016 ESPN.com prospect of the year, has been tabbed for stardom since signing turning pro in 2013 and has done nothing thus far to change anyone’s mind.
This fight is as good as it gets in this weight class. Even the other titleholders who will defend their belts on the card, Erislandy Lara and Jarrett Hurd, are enamored with the matchup.
“Charlo versus Lubin is really a great title fight between two tremendous fighters,” Lara said. “Charlo is going to have his hands full with Lubin.”
Said Hurd: “Charlo versus Lubin is really a 50-50 fight. Lubin is the faster and sharper fighter, but Charlo is more mature.”
This is your ESPN.com Ringside Seat for the fight:
Jermell Charlo (29-0, 14 KOs) vs. Erickson Lubin (18-0, 13 KOs)
Though Lara’s defense against Terrell Gausha is the official main event, most view Charlo-Lara as the best fight on the card, at least on paper. “I think my fight is the one the people want to see,” Charlo said. “My opponent is a young stud and he comes to win a world title. Is Lubin the best fighter I’ve faced? I’m 29-0 and I’ve fought a lot of great fighters. You can’t talk about what’s on paper and what’s not. My style is unique in the ring and so is his. He has a high volume of punches, but that’s what we trained for. He’s expecting fireworks, I’m expecting explosions. So just don’t be surprised.”
Said Lubin: “This definitely should have been the main event, but you got an experienced guy like Lara in the main event, which I don’t complain about. I know I got to go in there and take care of business. We’re both young. I’m not even in my prime yet. I’m ready to capture this title and I’m hungrier than ever and I know he’s hungry. He’s fairly young and we’re both undefeated and we both have a huge entourage. We’re just backed up by a lot of people and we got hype behind us. We’re ready to see who’s the hype and who’s the real deal.”
Will youth be served?
Orlando, Florida’s Lubin, who turned 22 on Oct. 1, signed a pro contract with fanfare on his 18th birthday and has dazzled fight in and fight out. He was the 2016 ESPN.com prospect of the year with most viewing him as a surefire bet to win a world title.
Lubin, a southpaw, has faced solid opposition thus far, but Charlo, 27, of Houston, is a major step up in competition. Some think it might be a little too soon for Lubin to be taking on an opponent of Charlo’s caliber, a notion that rankles Lubin, who strongly disagrees.
“I know I’m ready because I came into the game and I fought no opponents with a losing record,” Lubin said. “Everybody I fought had a positive record, some undefeated guys, some guys who had just one loss. I fought all types of guys. I have a great amateur background. I won pretty much every amateur tournament out there. I’ve been undefeated since I was 13 years old.
“I’m just confident. I’ve been training real hard and I’m just ready to show the world who I really am. I don’t think I’ve really showed the world who Erickson ‘Hammer’ Lubin is yet.
“Some of these fights has been a little bit too easy for me. And I’m glad they put this opponent in front of me in Jermell Charlo, where I can actually showcase my talent, my real skills. I’m extra motivated to be fighting for a world title. And come (Saturday) I’m ready to capture the title and make it a dream come true.”
Charlo respects Lubin’s talent and youthful exuberance and believes he is in for a serious fight despite Lubin’s youth.
“Erickson Lubin is a crafty young fighter. He’s strong. He’s got some skills. He’s got pop,” Charlo said. “We’re just going to have to dog it out. Best man wins. Whoever’s in the best shape, whoever’s the strongest fighter, whoever lands the best punches is going to win the fight.”
Bigger and better things
Charlo, the twin brother of former junior middleweight titlist and current middleweight contender Jermall Charlo, may respect Lubin but his aim to win and go big game hunting.
“I’m a vet,” Charlo says. “I’ve been in the game professionally 10 years. I grew up in the amateurs. I’ve got the height, I’ve got the size, I’m stronger, I’m faster. I’ve fought three southpaws. I’ve knocked them all out.
“Why not get a big fight? I’ve fought 29 fights. I’ve fought a lot of prospects. My career has been built up. I beat Olympians. What else do you want me to do? Now it’s time to beat the (Miguel) Cottos and the Canelos (Alvarez) and the Triple G’s (Gennady Golovkin) and whoever else we’ve got to jump in the ring with.”
There are also two other junior middleweight world title fights on the card as the fighters seek to break out in a loaded division. In the main event, Lara (24-2-2, 14 KOs), a 34-year-old Cuban southpaw, who defected and fights out of Houston, will defend his belt for the sixth time when he faces 2012 U.S. Olympian Gausha (20-0, 9 KOs), 29, of Cleveland. In the opener, Hurd (20-0, 14 KOs), 26, of Accokeek, Maryland, will make his first defense when he takes on former titleholder Austin Trout (30-3, 17 KOs), a 31-year-old southpaw from Las Cruces, New Mexico, returning from a 17-month layoff.
Showtime and promoter Lou DiBella view the card as the beginning of an unofficial tournament to unify the titles and produce a recognized champion. (The fourth belt is held by Cotto and he plans to retire after his Dec. 9 fight against Sadam Ali.)
“I think the three guys (who win) here will factor into a further narrowing down of the division,” DiBella said. “This isn’t like an official tournament but basically what Showtime has done is pay an awful lot of attention to the 154-pound fighters in an effort to make great matchups, great fights and narrow down the division to the very best. And that’s what I know that Stephen Espinoza and the guys at Showtime are going to try to do going forward. I think unification bouts are definitely coming and in the not-too-distant future.”
The fighters want to unify as well.
“If Jarrett Hurd gets by Austin Trout, I definitely would fight him next. Unification is on my mind and I think that would be a fight a lot of people would want to see,” Charlo said.
Said Gausha: “I want the other winners next. I’m extremely confident and my goal is to prove I’m the best in this division. That means I’m going to have to go through whoever else wins on this night.”
And Trout added, “I’m ready and if I can get that belt, I’m ready to face any of the other winners as soon as possible to prove that I’m the best.”
Rafael’s prediction: Charlo by decision.