by Cliff Rold
In one of the best top to bottom cards of the year (Showtime, 10 PM EST/7 PM PST), the Jr. middleweight division takes center stage with two highly compelling fights on paper and another with at least some potential to surprise. How strong is this cast of characters?
They represent three of the TBRB, and five of the Ring Magazine, top ten in the division.
It promises to shake up 154 lbs. in a big way by the end of the night. Will we see a dramatic shift to younger, fresher faces? Will a pair of veterans hold their spots and use their elder status to take their foes to the learning tree?
Given the wealth of matches on this single night, where does one start?
Let’s go the report cards, focusing this week on grading just the potential of each matchup.
Jermell Charlo, 153 ½, (29-0, 14 KO) - WBC, 1 Defense; #2 TBRB/Ring/Boxing Monthly, #3 ESPN/BoxRec
Erickson Lubin, 153 ¼, (18-0, 13 KO) – #8 Ring, #9 ESPN
Matchup Potential: A
The 27-year old Charlo doesn’t have quite the same buzz as his bigger punching twin brother, undefeated former IBF titlist Jermall. That could be changing with three straight knockout wins and a chance to untrack one of the best-regarded prospects in the game. Noticeable at the weigh-in was the edge in height and frame for Charlo. He’s more than an inch taller than Lubin and could rehydrate higher by fight time. If so, could size be a factor along with what should be a difference in physical maturity?
It says something about how much the 22-year old Lubin’s handlers think of him to see him here. He hasn’t been moved soft. His last four opponents were a combined 106-6; he knocked out three of them. However, he has yet to face the sort of veterans Charlo has. There doesn’t appear to be a Vanes Martirosyan or Gabe Rosado in that bunch. In Charlo, he will face a fully mature man while Lubin may still be getting to his prime.
It’s a risk both ways and the skill sets of both men should compliment each other. Both have good feet and work off solid jabs. They’ll be looking to out think while trying to outfight and given neither has yet truly seen the top of the marquee, the hunger factor should be high. This one is the most unpredictable fight on the card and the one with the most potential to steal the show.
Jarrett Hurd, 153 ½, (20-0, 14 KO) – IBF, 1st Defense; #4 TBRB/ESPN, #5 BoxRec, #6 Ring, #8 Boxing Monthly
Austin Trout, 153, (30-3, 17 KO) – #5 Ring/ESPN
Matchup Potential: B+
The 32-year old former titlist Trout hasn’t fought since a May 2016 loss to Jermall Charlo. Will that mean ring rust or earned rest? At his best, Trout is the sort of southpaw who doesn’t leap off the page in any one category. Instead, he does the little things well. He’s defensively responsible, has a pretty good chin and recuperates well when it’s dented, and moves his hands to the head and body. So far, his only defeats are to Charlo, Erislandy Lara, and Saul Alvarez, the last of which could have gone Trout’s way with a little different luck on the scorecards. His best win remains a WBA title defense against Miguel Cotto in 2012.
Hurd hasn’t faced anyone as good as Trout as a professional, nor anything close to the men who have beaten him. At 27, Hurd is just entering the part of his career where such experience is acquired and Trout will be a strong gauge of just how high his ceiling might be. There is a lot to like. Hurd has a good sense of range, throws a nasty uppercut, and always seems relaxed in the ring.
This could be a fight contested at close quarters. What will that look like? Will the older Trout try to drag Hurd into a rougher battle, grappling in spots to contain the energy of his younger foe? Will he try to make Hurd lead so he can counter? Given Trout’s inactivity (since his last fight, Hurd has been in the ring three times) there is a chance this fight plays out competitively but not necessarily memorably.
On paper, it is an intriguing fight but the anticipation from this corner put this a hair below the Charlo-Lubin contest.
Erislandy Lara, 153 ½, (24-2-2, 14 KO) – WBA, 6 Defenses; IBO, 3 Defenses #1 Ring/ESPN/Boxing Monthly/BoxRec, #3 TBRB
Terrell Gausha, 153 ¼, (20-0, 9 KO) - Unrated
Matchup Potential: C+
The 34-year old Cuban champion could as easily be undefeated today as he could have three losses. His defeat at the hands of Paul Williams was grossly controversial and he had a case for victory against Saul Alvarez. Conversely, a draw against Carlos Molina could have been scored a defeat. The southpaw is as fundamentally sound as one could ask for and sticks to what works for him. He jabs, jabs some more, and looks for the straight left. He’s comfortable coming forward, working the perimeter, and not throwing a tremendous volume of punches.
Since the Alvarez fight, it’s felt a lot like Lara was spinning his wheels. Faded versions of Delvin Rodriguez, Jan Zaveck, and Yuri Foreman didn’t excite anyone. For Lara, whose style isn’t always exciting in the ring, that’s a problem. It’s made him almost a forgotten man in a division where he should probably still be seen as its best fighter.
Here Lara is matched with a 30-year old former US Olympian in Gausha. It looks like another fight he should win going away. Gausha may be getting underrated. He has good speed, works to the body, and puts punches together well. If he can force a pace in the fight, and protect his chin, there is a chance he could steal enough rounds for the upset.
The problem is Gausha often doesn’t move his head and can appear somewhat stiff and deliberate at times. Lara is the sort of masterful counter puncher who could walk Gausha into shots all night before slipping away and forcing Gausha to come find him all over again. Gausha is taking a huge leap in professional opponent quality and has yet to make the sort of impression against the gatekeepers he’s fought to make this, the official main event, stand out from the rest of the card.
Starting where things just left off, there just isn’t enough to make a case for Gausha. Lara is more experienced (as a professional and amateur0, well rounded, and fluid. His jab should control Gausha and he’ll be a hard target to find. The pick is Lara by decision or late stoppage.
Hurd-Trout is a tough fight to pick. Hurd looks the part but a foe like Trout is the sort of missing stop along the way that can confirm whether form is truly substance. Trout isn’t likely to test the chin of Hurd and one wonders if he has an extra gear if the fight requires a surge in the final third. Hurd’s steadiness should keep him a step ahead in a lot of exchanges and his uppercut might just score him a flash knockdown. Only very good Jr. middleweights beat Trout. Hurd is the pick to join their ranks with a solid, but hard earned, decision.
Finally, can another Charlo brother upset a critical darling in their first title shot. Many, including this scribe, liked what they saw in Julian Williams (still do) only to learn they’d not seen the upside in Jermall Charlo that should have been more glaring. Jermell doesn’t jump off the screen the way his brother does but he’s still a very good talent. His determination was evident in erasing a near shutout with a stoppage of John Jackson to win his belt.
Lubin looks even better than Williams did. We don’t know about his chin yet, and it won’t be clear who the quicker man is until they face each other, but Lubin looks like the total package when he’s in there. The pick is Lubin in a fight where both men leave fans ready to see them again.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2017: 38-15
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]