I’m Lubin it!
Talk to trainers in most sports and they will tell you their hardest task is to maintain the focus of their pupils when nearing a goal, to strike a proper mental balance that does not lead them into the realm of overconfidence or doubt. That is especially hard with a young boxer, who is still maturing in body and mind, or may believe he knows everything because his craft has come to him so easily, up until a point when he faces an elite foe. Those are the waters junior middleweight Erickson Lubin, 17-0 (12), is entering, though Jorge Cota, 25-1 (22), is not as big a shark lurking in the deep water, like IBF beltholder Jarrett Hurd or WBC titlist Jermell Charlo. That Charlo brother is the big prize, who the winner of the Lubin-Cota clash will take a significant step toward when they face off in front of a huge audience in the co-main event to the world welterweight title unification showdown between Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia on CBS (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Erickson “The Hammer” Lubin has seemed destined for boxing stardom from childhood. He grew up in a Haitian immigrant family idolizing Oscar De La Hoya and somewhat controversially signed a professional contract on his 18th birthday. Lubin was a favorite for gold at the 2012 Olympics but was wooed by Mike Tyson and his fledgling promotional company, which put Lubin on an early professional path to help his family. Thanks to that early start, Lubin has a title eliminator in his sights today, since the Lubin-Cota winner is at the head of the line for a title shot at the 154-pound belt currently held by Jermell Charlo. Lubin has no regrets and says he is ready for anything, “I’m facing a tough, rugged fighter in Jorge Cota, who I know is coming to fight. He’s got a lot of heart and fans are going to witness a great battle between two warriors, who are going to leave everything in the ring.”
Lubin’s first pro contract was voided when Tyson’s promotional company, Iron Mike Productions, folded after he split with business partner Garry Jonas. Lubin since signed on with Al Haymon, who the southpaw knockout machine has rewarded with some impressive highlight reel stoppages, and shot up the rankings, thanks to valuable television exposure. In fact, Lubin sees fellow young-gun junior middleweight and newly-minted IBF champion Jarrett Hurd’s path as a blueprint to emulate. A then-little-known Hurd took advantage of his big television opportunity, stopping Oscar Molina on the undercard of the CBS televised Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter event. In less then a year, Hurd parlayed that victory into a title shot against Tony Harrison last week for the vacant IBF belt that he ultimately won by late stoppage.
The aspiring Lubin is aware that comparisons will inevitably be drawn between him and Hurd and is using it as motivation for his encounter with Cota. “I plan on making a bigger statement than Jarrett Hurd did. He kind of set the bar in that fight on CBS. I’m here to exceed that, give the fans a better show. I plan on stealing the show that night. I don’t just want to win; I want to make a statement and show the world and the 154-pound division why I deserve to be at the top and have one of the titles.” While appreciative of the opportunity, Lubin sounds like a man who is not content to remain an opener for a big card. “Being on this card is a wonderful feeling. I get to open up for this tremendous fight that I think is going to be the ‘Fight of the Year.’ I’m going to set the bar real high.”
At the beginning of this year, for my yearly preview feature, I had to make a choice for the best junior middleweight prospect. It was the hardest choice I had to make in the 17 divisions and went with Lubin over Hurd by a minuscule margin. That was based on a belief that Lubin has more physical talent, as well as a bigger upside, given his amateur pedigree and dynamism. Lubin is still maturing, at 21 years of age, but registered some devastating stoppages that were set up with the savvy of a veteran. Sure, Lubin’s pure athleticism may be blinding me but there is a lot to be said for a 5-foot-11 southpaw with power in both hands, who pretty much grew up in a gym, taking in things others only dream of, via osmosis. Lubin has the size and electric aura to enchant a large fan base, and can start with Cota on Saturday night.
The progress of Lubin (he scored four wins last year against solid foes with a combined record of 89-9-2) has been incremental and steadfast. Those victories have boosted Lubin in both his, as well as the boxing press’ assessment, and he was cheerfully optimistic, giving interviews at his hometown gym in Orlando, Florida. Lubin told of the state of his preparations, “I haven’t stopped training since my last fight on December 10 (a second round KO win over Juan Ubaldo Cabrera) . We have been full throttle since. This is a big fight. It is a title eliminator. It is at Barclays Center. It is on CBS. This is definitely what I’ve dreamed of. This is the kind of opportunity that I’ve wanted. Getting to seize the moment, going out there, dominating the fight and going on to become the mandatory challenger for the title.”
The work for this fight has been put in but, how Lubin sees it, his entire life has been in preparation for winning a world championship, “We always say that we aren’t training for the fight coming up; we’ve training for the title. I’ve prepared for this.” Lubin views the fight as the easy part, and everything leading up to it as the sacrifice necessary to ready himself, “The fans can expect straight fireworks. I don’t let anything get to me. I know what I can do. I’m going to go in there confident and be dominant. I’m going to be aware of everything and keep my mind sharp in the ring. I am going to go out there and dominate the fight. A lot of fighters say they’re going to do something but I am the type of guy that says it and lives up to it.”
If anything, his team is mindful of burnout, as Lubin is a self-described boxing addict, who watches every fight on television and is obsessed about training as hard as possible in the gym. Jason Galarza, Lubin’s trainer for every step of this maturation process, shares Lubin’s confident outlook, “I’ve known Erickson since he was eight years old. He had an aura about him back then and he still has it. He continues to be a hard-working individual. He has this drive that most athletes don’t have – but the great ones do. He pushes himself; he is a student of the game and always has been. We are going to go up to Brooklyn and show the fans at Barclays Center and the world what we do and what he is made of.”
Galarza is not averse to admitting he has had to learn on the job with a talent like Lubin, conceding he had a learning curve and sought the advice of other trainers as well as veteran boxers, “We have a family-based gym here, the guys that have been around Erickson from the beginning. We hit the road for the first two years of his career. We did our homework. I learned from a lot of top coaches, what to do and what not to do. I learned what I should and shouldn’t do to train a professional.” Galarza is adamant about one thing, however, and correctly states that not everything can be taught or bought, “You can’t teach the chemistry that he and I have.”
The man plotting to blow up that chemistry is Jorge Cota, a mature 29-year-old banger from Sinaloa, Mexico, who has knocked out all but four of the 26 fighters he’s faced in his eight years as a professional. That said, two of Cota’s last three opponents have taken him the distance, to include the biggest scalp to date with once-beaten Cuban Yudel Johnson in his most recent fight. However, that was 16 months ago and a long absence from the ring can play a big role against a speedster like Lubin. Cota downplays the layoff, “I’ve been staying in the gym and staying ready. I don’t think I’ll have any ring rust once I get in there. Lubin has never faced a crafty fighter like me. I’m going to take it round by round and see what he brings into the ring. I’m going to make adjustments off of what I see. I’ll assess the situation and take it on from there. Lubin has some experience but I will be his first real challenge. Don’t be surprised if I knock him out.”
A knockout loss would come as a big surprise for Galarza, a trainer aware of the inherent limitations of someone who can only put his pupil in a place to succeed through proper preparations and not throw punches for him, “People always ask, ‘What can you do to enhance him and make him a better fighter?’ My answer is always the same: You can’t improve him. His talent was given by God. It’s nothing he was taught. People say, ‘Oh yeah; I trained him. I taught him how to do that.’ Impossible. This kid has natural talent in everything he does.” Lubin is more at ease with the burden expectation and talent, “I’m coming for that number one spot Saturday night. After that, I become the mandatory for Jermell Charlo. I’m going to win this fight in spectacular fashion. Mark my words.”