BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It has been a tough season for Odell Beckham Jr., the New York Giants’ superstar wide receiver who has popularized both the seemingly impossible one-handed catch and a hairstyle, bleached-blond on top of the wearer’s naturally dark roots, that more and more African-American athletes have adopted as a mark of distinction and possibly as a tribute to its originator. But while Beckham is now out for the season with a fractured ankle, and his struggling team was 0-5 after a 27-22 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 8 in which a grimacing Beckham had to be carted off the field, two of the victorious boxers in Saturday night’s Showtime-televised tripleheader here at the Barclays Center proved that OBJ’s ‘do’ is not through being a thing worthy of imitation.
While most of the public and media attention had been concentrated on the middle act of the three TV fights, which pitted WBC super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo against the much-hyped Erickson Lubin, and the finale and ostensible main event, in which WBA/IBO super welterweight titlist Erislandy Lara took on 2012 U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha, the opening segment, in which IBF junior middleweight ruler Jarrett Hurd would defend his belt against former WBA 154-pound champ Austin Trout, drew comparatively scant attention.
That proved to be a major error in judgment, as the 7,643 in-house spectators and the Showtime viewing audience would happily discover. Where Beckham, when healthy, is adept at catching bombs, his barbershop lookalike, Hurd (pictured in the blue trunks), is more likely to deliver them. After a slow start in which Trout, the clever, 32-year-old southpaw from Las Cruses, N.M., held the upper hand in the first three rounds despite coming off a 17-month layoff that did not noticeably coat him in a layer of ring rust, one thing was becoming evident: the challenger lacked the firepower to continue to stave off the stalking Hurd’s relentless pursuit and intent to deliver far more damaging punches.
Hurd’s power eventually began to turn the tide, and the big bopper from Accokeek, Md., which is considered to be a part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, foreshadowed the eventual ending by connecting with jolting right hands in the fifth round, twice causing Trout to take little bunny hops. Another big right in the sixth again almost caused Trout to go down, at which point the outcome became less a matter of “if” but “when.”
A small window opportunity opened for the game but increasingly desperate Trout in the seventh when he opened a cut above Hurd’s left eye, which Hurd claimed was the result of a head butt. But the taste of his own blood might have done more to ramp up Hurd’s pressure than to tamp it down, and he rocked Trout, who was never floored, with more ripping rights in the eighth and ninth rounds, which had the effect of swelling Trout’s right eye nearly shut.
In a possible nod to diversification, Hurd, 27, momentarily went southpaw in Round 10 and landed an overhand left that had once more turned Trout’s legs to jelly, but he managed to make it to the bell. The reprieve was only momentary; referee Eddie Claudio called the ring doctor over to examine Trout’s worsening eye and the determination was that it was best that the challenger, who several rounds earlier had decided that he would be better served by trying to build on his early momentum by knocking Hurd out, thus taking the judges out of the equation, not be allowed to come out for the 11th round.
It’s hard to find fault with Trout’s rationale for throwing caution to the wind. After 10 completed rounds, he trailed on all three scorecards, by 96-94 (twice) and 97-93, and the shift in momentum toward Hurd showed him landing 265 of 753 total punches (35 percent), according to CompuBox, compared to 208 of 673 (31 percent) for Trout. The disparity seems even more telling in light of Hurd’s superior strength.
“I’m always the one that comes on stronger at the end of the fight,” said Hurd (21-0, 15 KOs), who was making the first defense his title. “We knew we were going to wear Austin Trout down in the later rounds and eventually stop him.”
Trout (30-4, 17 KOs), who was taken to a nearby hospital for observation, was not available for comment, but in losing inside the distance for the first time he had enough valorous moments against an equally determined champion to stamp their fight as an instant classic, and Fight of the Year candidate.
“Wow,” said promoter Lou DiBella. “That was sensational.”
Hurd-Trout would have been a tough act to follow under most circumstances, but Charlo-Erickson, the presumed “fight fans fight,” was a jolt to most observers’ sensibilities, despite its brevity. Much of the attention beforehand had been focused on Lubin, who had just turned 22 on Oct. 1 and, in Charlo’s estimation, hadn’t established enough bona fides to even be granted a shot at the title, despite being the WBC’s mandatory contender.
“I’m fighting a prospect,” the blond-tressed Charlo had said, almost contemptuously, in the lead-up to the fight. “He’s not even a contender. Like I said, I don’t know how he even got this fight. But I have to (fight him) so I can fight the No. 1 guys. That’s what mandatories are all about.”
Lubin presumably had further irritated Charlo by musing about all the good things that would come his way after he wrested the title from the 27-year-old champion. He spoke about “changing the lives” of his parents, Erick and Marjorie, and especially that of his three-month-old son with the sort of financial benefits attendant to reigning champions with burgeoning fan bases.
As if all that weren’t enough, perhaps the 27-year-old Jermell still harbors a grudge toward all the skeptics who have depicted him a lesser talent than his identical twin, Jermall (26-0, 20 KOs), a former IBF junior middleweight champion who vacated that title to move up to middleweight. Perhaps because Jermall was regularly depicted as the harder puncher and thus more entertaining of the twins, Jermell switched trainers, from Ronnie Shields to Derrick James, who was tasked with the responsibility of converting his new pupil to someone as capable of whacking out opponents as Jermall, who continues to be trained by Shields.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and the new-look Jermell has significantly raised his profile as a dangerous dude. He came into the bout having won his three most recent bouts inside the distance, including an eighth-round knockout of John Jackson for the vacant WBC title and a sixth-round kayo of Charles Hatley in his first defense. But Lubin supposedly posed a much sterner test, even if there were some reservations that he was stepping too far up in class and too soon.
Make it four straight now as he delivered a ripping right hand to Lubin’s jaw in the very first round that sent the Orlando, Fla., southpaw crashing to the canvas, where he rolled over onto his side and flopped around like a caught fish. Referee Harvey Dock did the right thing and waved things off after an elapsed time of just 2 minutes, 41 seconds.
“They were giving (Lubin) a lot of attention,” Charlo said of Lubin’s now-diminished status as one of boxing’s flavors of the month. “I was quiet the whole time. They said he was going to take my title. I had to defend it. They (Lubin and his support crew) didn’t know what I was bringing into this and I think he was worried about the wrong things.”
Just as Hurd-Trout will get consideration for Fight of the Year, Charlo’s quickie demolition of a hot property like Lubin now enters the discussion for Knockout of the Year.
Popularity in boxing being tied as it is to a fighter’s action quotient, it was almost a given that Houston-based Cuban defector Erislandy Lara, who closed the night by making his sixth title defense against unheralded 2012 U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha, would provide the fewest thrills and chills. But then, technical proficiency is and always has been the Lara’s stock in trade. He wins not so much by looking good himself, but by making opponents look bad, and he wasn’t about to deviate from his tried-and-true fight plan against Gausha, even though the 34-year-old southpaw dropped the would-be usurper from Cleveland, Ohio, with a straight left for a flash knockdown in the fourth round. Gausha, 29, survived the mini-scare, but he proceeded to be outboxed the rest of the way in a snoozer that seemed even less appealing in light of the fact the two preceding 154-pound championship fights had produced spectacular moments of high drama.
“He came to fight,” Lara (25-2-2, 14 KOs) said of Gausha (20-1, 9 KOs), who never registered double-digit scoring punches in any of the 12 rounds. “I take the rhythm of the boxing match and that’s when I take over. (Gausha was) fighting the best in the division … he knew who he was fighting today.”
All that remains now is how the future plays out for the winners, all of whom professed an interest in unification matchups.
“I’m ready to unify – 2018 is the year for unifications. It don’t matter who it is. I’m ready to take on anyone,” said Hurd. “Team Swift (“Swift” is Hurd’s nickname, although mobility does not appear to be his foremost asset) don’t run from anyone.”
It was yada, yada, yada with both Charlo and Lara, the former an emerging quick-strike artist and the latter and unhurried tactician.
“We’re going to unify,” Charlo said. “The other champions want to fight me and I’ll take any of them. Give me another title. I want Hurd. Hurd just won. Give me Hurd.”
Lara, on the other hand, has visions of mixing it up with former stablemate Charlo, saying, “I don’t shy away from anyone that wants to fight me. I’ll box whoever. Just line them up. I’m not afraid. I have proven that I’m a true champion. I’ll fight Charlo if I have to. We are friends, but business is business.”
Based on Saturday night’s (and into early Sunday morning in the Eastern Time Zone) results, perhaps the most appealing of the possible pairings would be Hurd vs. Charlo. For one thing, they have the more fan-friendly styles. For another, somebody needs to claim the mythical but seemingly coveted crown as king of the OBJ hairstyles. Even in boxing, it matters to care about the hair.
Photo credit: Ed Diller / DiBella Entertainment
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