“JERMELL CHARLO is a paper champion.”
“He hasn’t faced anyone like me.”
“Tune in to see how I make this fight look easy.”
And on and on. If you let Erickson Lubin tell it, Jermell Charlo might as well hand over his WBC junior middleweight title right now. Their showdown is part of a 154lb. Premier Boxing Champions tripleheader taking place this Saturday at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, televised on Showtime. This card includes IBF champion Jarrett Hurd defending his title against Austin Trout and WBA champion Erislandy Lara versus Terrell Gausha in the main event.
Charlo-Lubin isn’t just the best matchup on the card, it’s a potential Fight of the Year candidate. And the dawn of a new era, according to the expectant Lubin. This isn’t Conor McGregor promising to KO Mayweather inside four rounds. It feels more like Antonio Tarver asking Roy Jones Jr. to lay out his excuses during the ref’s final instructions.
Perhaps there is something in the Orlando water. Both Lubin and Tarver were born in the Florida city.
“I always wanted the big names,” Lubin declares. “Some of these fights have 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.”
Lubin’s confidence is genuine. Some, however, would argue that this title fight is premature.
But that’s the way Lubin, still only 18-0 (13) and barely 22-years-old, operates. As a promising prospect, he skipped the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics to turn pro at 18. And he’s never faced an opponent with a losing record, fighting veterans like Noe Bolano in just his sixth pro fight.
Lubin was named ESPN’s Prospect of the Year for 2016. Last March, he graduated to contender with a show-stealing, one-punch KO of Jorge Cota in the Thurman vs. Garcia co-feature.
But if Cota was a step up in class, Charlo (29-0, 14) represents an entire flight of stairs.
The younger and smaller (but by no means small for junior middleweight) of the twin brothers from Houston, Texas, Jermell fought tougher opposition than Lubin did before annexing the WBC belt. His resume includes wins over Gabriel Rosado and Vanes Martirosyan, among others.
Jermell was always considered the boxer and Jermall the boxer-puncher. That changed when Jermell switched trainers from Ronnie Shields to Derrick James in late 2015. James, long-time trainer of Errol Spence Jr., espouses a more aggressive approach in the ring.
Their work in the gym is beginning to bear fruit. Last April, Charlo flattened Charles Hatley, sending him face-first to the mat with a single right in the sixth. Lubin was unimpressed.
“I’ve been trying to get the Hatley fight since I was about 10-0,” he says. “That’s why I say Charlo is a paper champion. I don’t feel like Hatley is that good of a fighter.”
This brand of youthful moxie led Fernando Vargas, another 22-year-old, to stand toe-to-toe with Felix Trinidad in 2000. Vargas’ credentials far exceeded Lubin’s to date. “El Feroz” was already a world champion and had defeated former titlists Ike Quartey, Ronald “Winky” Wright and Raul Marquez prior to facing Trinidad.
“You’ve got a young guy, 21 years old, 18 fights,” Charlo told reporters, referring to Lubin. “In my heart, I don’t believe that this fight should be a fight that he deserves at this moment because when I was 25, I was barely getting a chance to fight for a world title. So, how the f*** is this kid getting an opportunity like this?”
If Lubin is no Vargas, Charlo isn’t quite Trinidad either. He’s defeated only one past or present world champion, the decidedly faded Joachim Alcine, who was 39 when Charlo stopped him in 2015.
“His brother was fighting dudes that I already beat, like Norberto Gonzalez and Michael Finney,” Lubin notes. “I feel like I came up the right way. I fought guys with experience. I fought hard hitters. I fought all types of guys. So, I’m definitely ready for this fight.”
Charlo has been sparring with Spence Jr., an aggressive southpaw like Lubin, in preparation for this bout. Lubin worked with super middles and light heavyweights for the bulk of camp and told reporters he planned to spar Danny Jacobs before winding down.
“This has to be the best shape I’ve ever been in,” he says. “I’m definitely preparing myself for a knockout. I want to make a big statement.”
So far, Lubin’s been pretty good at doing that.