Erislandy Lara remained unbeaten after his ESPN2-televised 10 rounder against Carlos Molina at the Cosmopolitan Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., on Friday, but the former Cuban amateur star lost his perfect record and much of the luster he had coming into the Friday Night Fights main event.
Lara was held to a draw by Molina and many observers, including one of the official judges, thought the highly touted junior middleweight prospect should have lost the fight.
Molina (17-4-2, 5 knockouts), who soundly outworked Lara, won the fight by a 97-93 tally on one scorecard. However, the other two judges scored the fight even, 95-95, making the bout a majority draw.
The bout’s verdict was not an unjust one. Lara (15-0-1, 10 KOs) had his moments in the fight, particularly in the middle rounds and the ninth round when he nailed Molina with flush left hands. The slick southpaw got enough done against Molina, a tough and cagey fringe contender from Chicago, for ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas to score the fight a draw.
However, it was not the performance anyone expected from Lara, who is so talented that he was considered a top-10 contender in some areas of the boxing world. Lara had won his last four bouts by first-round knockout and he was expected to continue his KO streak on Friday despite the fact that Molina, who was coming off a near two-year layoff, had never been stopped.
Lara’s problem may have been that he was looking to live up to those expectations. He neglected his jab and gave up much of his usual ring generalship while stalking Molina with the goal of landing his vaunted straight left or left uppercut in the early rounds of the bout.
Molina, who had won nine consecutive bouts since dropping a close majority decision to undefeated prospect Mike Alvarado in early 2007, took full advantage of Lara’s offensive mindset.
The 27-year-old fringe contender doesn’t have much punching power but he’s an aggressive boxer with a firm command of some of the finer points of the sport. Molina didn’t merely out-hustle Lara. He evaded Lara’s money punch (the left) by moving to his left and he forced the Cuban to over extend himself as he tried to connect. He feinted Lara out of position and made him miss by bobbing and moving his head as he stepped forward with his jab.
And once inside Lara‘s reach, Molina would double and triple up on his left hook or go to the heavy favorite’s body with both hands. Molina never hurt Lara, who mainly covered up whenever the 9-to-1 underdog was inside, but he got a lot of work done.
Lara did not get much done and he didn’t seem to fight with much intensity until trainer Ronnie Shields commanded him to step up his pressure prior to the fifth round. Lara came out of his corner with purpose in the fifth by working his jab, sneaking shots to Molina’s body and by finally connecting with some straight lefts, but he inexplicably took his foot off the gas pedal midway through the sixth round.
Lara landed quality punches down the stretch of the bout, particularly in the ninth round, but he did not look like one of the hottest prospects in the sport as he was believed to be. He certainly did not have the look of a bona fide contender or the future world-beater his management has touted him to be.
The only bright side to Lara’s disappointing outing (apart from not losing the fight) is that he may have looked vulnerable enough for some of his fellow junior middleweight prospects and 154-pound contenders to fight him. Lara has been clamoring for name opponent since early last year, but so far he’s had no takers.
Maybe that will change. If not, a rematch with Molina doesn’t sound so bad.
In the opening bout of the Friday Night Fights broadcast, Yudel Jhonson, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist from Cuba, stopped former welterweight contender Richard Gutierrez in the seventh round of a scheduled 10-round junior middleweight bout.
Jhonson (10-0, 7 KOs), a smooth and mobile southpaw boxer, used of his significant height and reach advantage and patiently controlled Gutierrez (26-6-1, 16 KOs) with his jab until a right hook staggered the Colombian veteran into the ropes in the seventh round.
Jhonson landed a few follow-up shots as Gutierrez, who didn’t appear to be seriously hurt, before referee Russell Mora waved the bout off at 1:09 of the round.
Also on the undercard, Yunier Dorticos (12-0, 12 KOs), a cruiserweight prospect from Cuba, stopped Colombian journeyman Jose Luis Herrera (16-11, 16 KOs) in the second round of a scheduled four-round bout.