In an effort to expand the postseason without overly extending in, several sports have added or flirted with play-in games. Baseball has done it for most of the last decade. The NCAA basketball tournament has expanded them into a small group of “First Four” games. In these exceptional times, even the NBA joined the fun with a one game entry to the playoffs “Bubble” showdown between the Grizzlies and Trailblazers.
In boxing, one can make the case that any fight is a play-in. Single losses in a low activity era are perceived as more crippling than ever. A fighter on their way to a shot at even one of boxing’s cornucopia of belts can find themselves years away from their destination.
Or a second chance.
This Saturday, Showtime (9 PM EST) features a PBC main event between a pair of one-loss Jr. middleweights trying to stay vibrant in one of boxing’s deepest current weight classes. No matter what happens this weekend, both can always know they at least got to a title opportunity. For each, it is their lone taste of defeat.
Gausha and Lubin can circle the date of a shared card, on October 17, 2017, as a point where their fates have crossed paths before.
33-year old 2012 US Olympian Terrell Gausha (21-1-1, 10 KO) came up short in challenging Cuba’s Erislandy Lara for the WBA strap. Gausha came off the floor in round four to go the distance but never really threatened to win. In two fights since, he’s 1-0-1 with the draw coming against former titlist Austin Trout. Many observers walked away feeling Gausha had done enough to win and he enters this weekend with a hint of momentum.
24-year old Erickson Lubin had a more disastrous turn in his shot at the WBC belt. Jermell Charlo knocked Lubin out in the first round. A single left hand so devastated the challenger referee Harvey Dock stopped counting. Lubin wasn’t getting up that night.
Lubin has gotten up in the aftermath, winning four in a row since the Charlo loss. Both Lubin and Guasha feature prominently in the WBA ratings (Lubin at 4, Gausha at 6) and Lubin has also arrived back in the top spot in the WBC ratings. With less than two weeks until the unification showdown between Charlo (WBC) and Jeison Roasrio (WBA/IBF), this weekend is high stakes for both main event competitors.
It doesn’t mean a title shot is necessarily next but it’s a hell of a lot farther away for the defeated.
Both men’s affiliation with the PBC probably keeps them more in the mix than many others in the division but even that only slightly mitigates the minefield. Writing about the current state of welterweight a few weeks back, it was noted the PBC has “a Don King at heavyweight in his heyday level of near checkmate on a single weight class” at 147 lbs.
It is every bit the same case at Jr. middleweight.
Take a quick look at the TBRB or Ring Ratings, a fair enough gauge of the state of the overall division given the way sanctioning bodies tend not to rate each other’s beltholders. Weigh it against the fighters noted as part of the PBC family. The depth of talent the PBC has is plain as day at 154 lbs. PBC fighters make up all of the top six in the TBRB top ten and eight of ten overall. In Ring’s top ten, they occupy the top seven and eight of the top nine. Michael Soro and Patrick Teixeira are the lone outliers in both top tens. Gausha doesn’t currently make either while Lubin sits at number nine in Ring’s.
Fans have benefited greatly from this particular consolidation. The round robin at Jr. middleweight in recent years has featured more than a half dozen contests between current members of the TBRB or Ring top tens at Jr. middleweight already. We’ve had some outstanding fights (Charlo-Tony Harrison II, Jarret Hurd-Lara, Hurd-Julian Williams), upsets (Rosario-Williams) and will soon likely have three major title belts consolidated.
There is no particular end in sight.
Even with the benefit of being part of a shared tent, the PBC’s depth in class demands performance to justify and sell future matches. Gausha and Lubin are fighting to move up a perilous pecking order.
They are seeking to play-in.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org