When junior middleweight Erickson Lubin was about 3 or 4 years old and growing up in Orlando, Florida, he tagged along with older brother Michael to the boxing gym. Lubin would watch him train and, like many little brothers, wanted to imitate his big brother.
"I kept asking to box and to go in the ring with him," Lubin said. "I watched him train. It looked fun."
Eventually, Lubin was allowed to try boxing. He was also practicing karate but eventually quit that and began to box as his main sporting activity. He had his first amateur bout at age 8.
"I watched a lot of Floyd Mayweather fights, videos of Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Winky Wright and Oscar De La Hoya, one of my favorites," Lubin said. "I try to take a little bit from all of their styles. A little Hagler when I want to brawl, Floyd when I want to box, De La Hoya with the range, Meldrick Taylor with the combinations."
Lubin would go on to compile a record of 143-7 and win gold medals at the 2013 Police Athletic League nationals and 2013 U.S. National Golden Gloves. On his 18th birthday (Oct. 1, 2013), Lubin, heralded as a lock to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, surprised many and signed a professional contract with Iron Mike Productions, the now-defunct promotional company that had Tyson as its figurehead.
The signing drew a public rebuke from USA Boxing. The organization that oversees American amateur boxing lashed out at Tyson, accusing him of poaching a top Olympic prospect.
Lubin had his first professional fight a month later and, now under the guidance of adviser Al Haymon, has moved quickly and impressively. The 5-foot-11 southpaw with skills, speed and power has become one of the top, young talents in the sport and is the 2016 ESPN.com prospect of the year.
Lubin, 21, known as "The Hammer," said he has no regrets about going pro rather than pursuing the Olympics. The amateur system was undergoing major changes -- such as the removal of head gear -- and he had just beaten 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Yasnier Toledo, of Cuba, in a major upset at the 2013 Independence Cup.
"I spoke to my team and my coach, and we felt that was our Olympic gold-medal win, beating that dude," Lubin said. "So we met with a few promoters. I went into the pros hot. I had just won the 2013 Golden Gloves. That stuff from USA Boxing didn't bother me too much. It made me feel special and it gave me a lot of exposure."
Lubin, trained by Jason Galarza, said he still has a good relationship with Tyson and that the company did a good job of moving him before closing shop.
"They moved me real fast and now I'm at a point where I'm almost fighting for a world title," Lubin said. "I told myself before I turned pro that I wanted to be going for a world title in four years. Mike and his team put the right opponents in front of me. At 7-0, I fought Norberto Gonzalez, who was almost a contender. They built me very well."
Lubin (17-0, 12 KOs) is closing in on his goal of that title fight within four years. After winning his four 2016 bouts, including early knockouts of experienced Daniel Sandoval (TKO3) in June and Juan Ubaldo Cabrera (KO2) on Dec. 10, Lubin is scheduled to face Mexico's Jorge Cota (25-1, 22 KOs) in a semifinal eliminator March 4 on the Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia undercard. A Lubin victory will move him a step closer to a mandatory shot at titleholder Jermell Charlo.
"I'm moving at the right pace and getting the right fights," Lubin said. "My past 6-7 fights have all been against guys with great records and been good fights. I feel like everything is going great for me."
While Lubin hopes to fight for a 154-pound title in 2017, he also has other goals.
"Everybody wants to make that money and be like Mayweather, but my ultimate goal is to unify the titles," he said. "I want to unify titles and I want to be pound-for-pound. That would put me with the greats. I want to unify at 154 and do the same thing at 160 and 168."
First things first against Cota.
"I'm gonna seize the moment," Lubin said. "I will shut the mouths of the people who say I am too young."
The rest of the top 20 rising stars:
2. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (29, Ukraine, light heavyweight, 12-0, 10 KOs): The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist is trained by Robert Garcia and in the same Egis Klimas-managed stable that boasts Sergey Kovalev and Olympic teammates and close friends Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk. Gvozdyk is a near-complete fighter who is strong offensively and defensively. He has a ram-rod jab, is patient and wears down opponents. He won his four 2016 bouts by knockout, finishing with an impressive, eighth-round KO of former title challenger Isaac Chilemba on the Andre Ward-Kovalev card in November.
3. Egidijus Kavaliauskas (28, Lithuania, welterweight, 15-0, 12 KOs): "The Mean Machine" was a 2008 and 2012 Olympian with around 400 amateur fights who is in the same Egis Klimas-managed stable that boasts Sergey Kovalev and Vasyl Lomachenko. Kavaliauskas is a beast on offense and solid on defense. Trainer Robert Garcia has compared him to a younger Gennady Golovkin. A ruptured right biceps limited Kavaliauskas to two late-year fights in 2015, and although he was 4-0 in 2016, he missed time due to a broken foot. He's a good bet to be his nation's first world titleholder.
4. Felix Verdejo (23, Puerto Rico, lightweight, 22-0, 15 KOs): Hailed by many as Puerto Rico's next big star, Verdejo was a 2012 Olympian and 2014 ESPN.com prospect of the year. He remains one of boxing's most talented and exciting up-and-comers, not to mention a big draw at home and in New York. He was 3-0 in 2016 but twice went the distance against lesser opponents. He was due for a mandatory shot at titleholder Terry Flanagan in late 2016 but didn't fight after suffering injuries in an August motorcycle crash that put him in the hospital for five days. He's OK and due back Feb. 3 in a tune-up for the title fight.
5. Ivan Golub (27, Ukraine, welterweight, 13-0, 11 KOs): The Brooklyn, New York-based southpaw went 270-32 as an amateur and was a five-time Ukrainian national champion. As a pro, he is moving quickly and had a strong 2016 in which he went 4-0 (all KOs), culminating with an impressive, third-round knockout of experienced James Stevenson in September.
6. Jarrett Hurd (26, Accokeek, Maryland, junior middleweight, 19-0, 13 KOs): Although he had a limited amateur career (40 fights), he has made big strides as a pro in a short time. He's patient and mature on offense (wicked right uppercut) but needs defensive polish. When he knocked out then-unbeaten Frank Galarza in November 2015, Hurd opened many eyes and continued doing so in 2016 in his two wins: knockouts of then-unbeaten Olympian Oscar Molina and ex-title challenger Jo Jo Dan. Hurd has had outstanding sparring with Austin Trout, Lamont Peterson, Dominic Wade and Antoine Douglas.
7. David Benavidez (20, Phoenix, super middleweight, 16-0, 15 KOs): The younger brother of former interim junior welterweight titleholder Jose Benavidez Jr., David turned pro at age 16 in Mexico because he was too young to fight in the U.S. He has heavy hands and a crowd-pleasing style. He went 4-0 in 2016, including his 10th-round knockout of gatekeeper Denis Douglin. He has gotten tremendous experience in the gym, having sparred with Gennady Golovkin, Peter Quillin, Kelly Pavlik, Gilberto Ramirez and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy.
8. Gervonta Davis (22, Baltimore, junior lightweight, 16-0, 15 KOs): Davis, a dynamic talent and protégé of Floyd Mayweather, has all the skills in the world. A southpaw, he has a tremendous blend of power and speed. He won a 2012 National Golden Gloves title and numerous tournaments during an amateur career in which he went 206-15. If there's one knock, he needs to mature emotionally. Davis was limited to only two fights in 2016 but scored explosive knockouts in both. Now it's time to sink or swim: On Jan. 14, he'll challenge Jose Pedraza for his world title.
9. Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller (28, Brooklyn, New York, heavyweight, 18-0-1, 16 KOs): Miller is a big man (6-foot-4, 285 pounds) with a big punch, an even bigger personality and a chance to make his mark. The former kickboxer has tremendous charisma and KO'd all three of his 2016 opponents on national television, including 2015 Boxcino finalist Donovan Dennis and experienced Fred Kassi. Managed by Steve Nelson (who helped guide Hasim Rahman to the heavyweight title), Miller is in the running to land a spring world title shot against Joseph Parker.
10. Jose Ramirez (24, Avenal, Calif., junior welterweight, 19-0, 14 KOs): Ramirez was a superb amateur, going 145-11, winning 11 national titles and making the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. He has shown speed and power and is a good body puncher, but his most dangerous weapon is a fight-altering left hook. He was 3-0 (2 KOs) in 2016 and is a major draw in his home region of Fresno, California, where he drew 13,700 to the Save Mart Center for his Dec. 2 knockout of Issouf Kinda. Top Rank figures to step up his opposition in 2017.
11. Ivan Baranchyk (23, Russia, junior welterweight, 13-0, 10 KOs): New York-based Baranchyk -- "The Beast" -- received excellent exposure on Showtime's "ShoBox" and continued to impress. Baranchyk, approximately 120-30 as an amateur, went 4-0 in 2016, including the 10-round distance in his past two fights. In 2016, he boxed exclusively at the Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Oklahoma, where he has become a popular figure. In the gym, he has gotten tremendous sparring with Avtandil Khurtsidze, Ievgen Khytrov, Sergey Derevyanchenko and Ivan Golub.
12. Rob Brant (26, St. Paul, Minnesota, middleweight, 21-0, 14 KOs): Brant was an excellent amateur -- he counts a 2010 National Golden Gloves title among his accomplishments -- and has done everything right during his steady pro rise. Although he's known more as boxer than puncher, make no mistake: He has pop. He has stopped eight of his past nine opponents, including DeCarlo Perez, whom Brant scored a devastating knockout against on Showtime's "ShoBox" in January. It was the first of Brant's three wins in 2016 that put him on the short list to face world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders.
13. Joseph Diaz Jr. (24, South El Monte, California, featherweight, 23-0, 13 KOs): Diaz, a 2012 U.S. Olympian who fights with joy, is on the verge of a becoming a player in the talent-rich, 126-pound division. He is not a big puncher, but he can run opponents ragged with his aggressive, non-stop punching style. In 2016, he went 4-0 and fought twice on HBO, scoring decision wins against former title challenger Jayson Velez and tough Horacio Garcia. A title shot in 2017 is possible.
14. Diego De La Hoya (22, Mexico, junior featherweight, 16-0, 9 KOs): The last name catches the eye, but the kid can fight. He's a first cousin of Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya (also his promoter), which means he has big shoes to fill. So far, he has been up to the task. The former member of the Mexican National team had more than 250 amateur bouts and went 3-0 in 2016, including his most recent wins coming against his best opponents: a seventh-round knockout of then-undefeated Rocco Santomauro and a decision over Luis Orlando Del Valle. Golden Boy thinks very highly of him, placing De La Hoya on Canelo Alvarez's past two undercards.
15. Takuma Inoue (21, Japan, bantamweight, 8-0, 2 KO): Inoue is the gifted younger brother of junior bantamweight titlist Naoya Inoue, already a two-division titleholder at 23. Takuma could be just as good. He was 52-5 as an amateur and is a former Japanese high school national champion. He doesn't possess the power of his brother but is a similar prodigy who has faced quality opposition. He won two bouts in 2016 and was due to challenge world titleholder Marlon Tapales on Dec. 30 but suffered a fractured right hand and withdrew.
16. Jason Quigley (25, Ireland, middleweight, 12-0, 10 KOs): "El Animal" is an aggressive puncher with a growing fan base. Quigley has been boxing since he was 7 and is a former amateur standout. In 2013, he won gold at the European championships and became the first Irish fighter to win a silver medal at the world championships. He was 3-0 in 2016, including his two most recent wins against his best opponents, a shutout decision against James De La Rosa and a first-round, three-knockdown destruction of Jorge Melendez.
17. Rashidi Ellis (23, Boston, welterweight, 17-0, 12 KOs): Nicknamed "Speedy," Ellis was 60-11 in a limited amateur career that included three New England Golden Gloves titles. As a pro, he has shown excellent speed, skills and underrated power. Now getting a push from Golden Boy, Ellis was 3-0 in 2016, including by far his biggest and most impressive victory, a resounding, first-round knockout of Eddie Gomez on Dec. 16, just two weeks after the birth of his first child, a son. Ellis has gained experience sparring with Canelo Alvarez.
18. Ryan Martin (23, Chattanooga, Tennessee, lightweight, 17-0, 10 KOs): "Blue Chip" Martin was 202-22 and won several national titles as an amateur. When he didn't make the 2012 Olympic team, he was chased by several promoters. He signed with Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, whose short-lived tenure in promotion was a disaster. Martin wound up inactive for 11 months (most of 2015/part of 2016) and in a lawsuit. He got back on track in April after hooking up with K2 Promotions and went 4-0 in 2016. He has ring intelligence, smooth skills, speed and recently began training with Abel Sanchez.
19. Luis Nery (22, Mexico, bantamweight, 22-0, 16 KO): A strong southpaw puncher, Nery had a handful of amateur bouts but has emerged as a fighter to watch. He was 5-0 (4 KOs) in 2016 against solid opposition, including a fourth-round KO of former interim junior bantamweight titlist David Sanchez and a second-round stoppage of former two-time flyweight title challenger Richie Mepranum.
20. Jack Catterall (23, England, junior welterweight, 17-0, 9 KOs): Catterall, a quick southpaw, hasn't faced any recognizable names, but he won his three 2016 fights and was selected to serve as one of Floyd Mayweather's sparring partners when he was preparing for his 2015 mega fight with Manny Pacquiao. He also sparred with Canelo Alvarez to get ready for James Kirkland. Those assignments alone are meaningful and show the kind of potential Catterall has.