By Michael Rosenthal
One punch can change a fight in a split second. One punch can also change a career in that amount of time.
Erickson Lubin had everything going for him going for him when he stepped into the ring to fight WBC junior middleweight titleholder Jermell Charlo on Saturday in Brooklyn, Lubin’s first attempt to win a major belt. He was talented, he had a good amateur pedigree and he was bursting with confidence.
And then a short right hand changed Lubin’s career trajectory instantaneously, as he went down awkwardly and was hurt so badly that referee Harvey Dock waved off the fight without a count.
Lubin (18-1, 13 knockouts) lasted a mere 2 minutes, 41 seconds.
“He got caught with one of the worst punches you can get caught with in boxing – the one you don’t see,” welterweight titleholder Keith Thurman said in a FightHype.com video. “… Some people say (Lubin) moved up a little too fast. I mean, you can say that.
“At the end of the day, he just suffered a blow that any fighter is subject to taking in the ring. He’s young enough. He can bounce back.”
But will he? That depends on Lubin and those around him.
Some talented fighters in similar circumstances overcome a devastating knockout and realize their potential. Some don’t. Amir Khan is in the first group.
The fate of Khan and Lubin are remarkably similar. The Briton also was stopped in the first round in his 19th fight – as Lubin was – and was 21, a year younger than Lubin. Khan went on to win three 140-pound titles.
“Look, in boxing, sometimes you need these hiccups, you need the speed bumps you hit,” Khan said in the weeks leading up to his fight against Canelo Alvarez. “They made me more focused and disciplined, more mature. When you’re winning everything, you think, ‘I’m the best, no one hurt me.’ You take things lightly.”
“The times I’ve been put down, I wasn’t thinking. I was relying on my speed and power. Now I think more. Look at my last few fights at 147; I’ve been much smarter, sticking to the game plan, more focused, and I’ve never really been hurt. As I’m getting older, I’m getting wiser. I’m (avoiding) getting hit with those shots.”
Of course, we know what happened to Khan in his fight with the much bigger Alvarez; he suffered another brutal KO. The fact is the Prescott setback had become a distant memory by that time, however. He had overcome it.
Trainer Robert Garcia, who was in Nonito Donaire’s corner when he changed Fernando Montiel’s career with one punch in 2011, said it won’t be easy for Lubin to duplicate Khan’s feat.
It could come down to his mental toughness.
“He was really hurt,” Garcia said. “His body wasn’t reacting. He was trying to get up, his legs and arms were stiff. That was a really bad knockout. It’s hard to recover from those. The fact he’s a kid probably helps, though. His body is healthy.
“… He will need some professional (psychological) help to recover, from someone who knows how to talk to him. And his team and family should all be a part of it.”
Another key, Garcia said, will be matchmaking. He believes any younger fighter in Lubin's position should be eased back into the mix.
“He went in against a solid world champion, probably the best 154-pounder out there. That was a big risk for him,” Garcia said. “They should start off slowly (when he comes back), pick the right opponents for a while to build up his confidence.
“But whether he can come make it back again depends on the kind of character he has.”
Lubin had recovered enough from the knockout by the time he was interviewed in the ring to understand his mission.
“I got caught with a nice shot on the chin and couldn't recover in time,” he said. “I didn't see the punch coming, so I have no excuses. I'm young and have plenty of fight left in me. This is just a minor setback. I'll be back sooner than later and hungrier than ever.”