The fan turnout for the Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara kick-off press conference at El Pueblo Historical Monument in downtown Los Angeles was strong, as expected.
Those fans, almost all of whom were there to cheer for Alvarez, are to thank for one of the better matchups between top-rated contenders getting made.
They are also the reason many cynical hardcore fans thought the fight would never happen.
Alvarez is one of boxing’s few crossover stars. The 23-year-old Guadalajara native has dedicated fans who buy tickets to watch him fight – lots of them. And the former 154-pound champ always does strong TV ratings (both in Mexico and the U.S.) whenever he fights.
So why does he needs Lara, a talented southpaw with a difficult style? The former Cuban amateur standout doesn’t have a fraction of the fan support that Alvarez has, which makes him the “High Risk, Low Reward” poster boy for the junior middleweight division.
In recent decades, “A-side” fighters like Alvarez don’t always take risky fights, at least not when there isn’t a ton of money to be made with the matchup, which is why Lara – who had been calling Alvarez out from the moment he dominated Austin Trout last December – admits that the popular redhead caught him off guard by accepting his challenge.
“I was definitely surprised that he took this fight,” Lara told media through co-manager Luis DeCubas Jr. at Tuesday’s press conference in L.A. “I was so sure that Canelo didn’t want it that I took a fight with Ishe Smith (for May 2). But once he accepted, I set my sights on him and now I’m focused on winning the most important fight of my career. This is a fight that’s going to change my life and my family’s life forever.”
Canelo-Lara will headline a Showtime PPV event on July 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where Alvarez scored an impressive 10th-round stoppage against Alfredo Angulo just two months ago. At the post-fight press conference for the Angulo fight, Lara politely confronted Alvarez face to face at the podium, although his attempt to drum up interest in their fight was smugly dismissed by the freckle-faced star.
“There wasn’t too much interest at that time,” Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 knockouts) said through Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Eric Gomez on Tuesday. “I asked the audience at the press conference if they wanted to see that fight and the only person who responded was Lara’s manager.
“But after the press conference, fans spoke up on social media and on the street. They told me to fight this guy and shut him up. I found out about what he had said about me on Twitter. It offended me and all Mexican fighters. He said Cuban fighters always take Mexican fighters to school – that’s bulls__t.”
Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs) was supposed to take Angulo to school last June but his walk in the park with the rugged Mexican pressure fighter quickly turned into a grueling battle of attrition. Lara, who was often backed to the ropes, absorbed a brutal body attack and was dropped with left hooks in Rounds 4 and 9. However, the 2005 world amateur champ landed the sharper head shots throughout the entertaining fight and scored a 10th-round stoppage when Angulo turned his back on the action after his grotesquely swollen left eye was injured.
Angulo’s better-than-expected performance against Lara led more than a few hardcore fans to pick him to beat Alvarez on March 8. However, Alvarez rebounded from the first loss of his career – a majority decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. – by issuing a one-sided beatdown to his countryman.
Lara’s trainer Ronnie Shields believes their respective performances against Angulo is what prompted Alvarez to accept Lara’s challenge.
“We trained to stay off the ropes (against Angulo) but Lara likes to go there sometimes during his fights,” Shields told RingTV.com. “He loves to test guys that way. Obviously, that didn’t bode well for us. But we got back to boxing in the center of the ring after the first knockdown and that’s where he did most of the damage to Angulo.
“Lara is a boxer but he likes to take chances. That’s his way of challenging himself. So, if Canelo sees Lara as vulnerable, that’s good for us, because Erislandy Lara has power, too. Can Canelo take it?”
Lara’s co-manager Bob Santos doubts Alvarez can take a direct hit from Lara, who has scored nine first-round knockouts during his five-and-half-year pro career.
“Canelo made a big mistake taking this fight,” Santos told RingTV.com. “A motivated Lara is going to be tough to beat.”
Santos, who also serves as Lara’s strength and conditioning coach, says Lara was not 100-percent motivated for Angulo.
“We couldn’t get him to watch film on Angulo,” said Santos. “He watched five minutes of Angulo and was like ‘Please, I’ve got this.’
“He never trained with any intensity for that fight. He will for this fight.”
Santos thinks Alvarez knows that he’s in for the toughest fight of his career, and he believes that it took more than mere fan demand for him to agree to face Lara.
“Al’s a master at what he does, I’ll put it that way,” said Santos, referring to Lara’s adviser Al Haymon. “Al is second to none at getting people to work together.”
Regardless of how or why the fight was made, it’s a done deal and it presents a fascinating matchup of styles for fans to debate.
Both fighters possess quick and heavy hands. Lara probably has more one-punch power with his straight left and left uppercut, but Alvarez puts combinations together better than the southpaw. Both fighters move around the ring well and both possess solid defense – Alvarez moves his head to avoid punches, while Lara usually covers up behind a high guard to protect against incoming shots.
Alvarez has twice as many fights as Lara but thanks to the Cuban’s extensive amateur background their ring generalship is about even, though many hardcore fans would give Lara the edge in this category.
Alvarez is viewed as the bigger, physically stronger man and he raised some eyebrows by refusing to fight for Lara’s WBA “regular” title, which would have mandated that both fighters weigh-in at the junior middleweight division limit of 154 pounds. Instead, both can come in at 155 pounds, which is what Alvarez weighed for the Angulo fight.
“Obviously, he can’t make 154 pounds anymore,” Lara said. “It’s doesn’t matter to me. This fight is called ‘Honor and Glory’ – that’s what will be on the line.”
Lara said he wasn’t concerned about Alvarez rehydrating to 170 pounds or more by fight night.
“We didn’t put a rehydration limit clause in the contract,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much weight he puts on after the weigh-in. We’re going to take him to school.”
Alvarez acknowledged that he has a difficult assignment in front of him.
“His style is tricky, there’s no doubt about that,” he said, “but I’ve fought many different styles, including difficult boxers. I’ll be ready for him.
“I don’t think he will be as difficult as Mayweather was. Mayweather wins one round at a time and does just enough to win each round without engaging with you. I think Lara will be a little more aggressive. So will I.
“I’m going to prepare for a Lara that moves all over the place but if he comes to fight, like he says he is, I’ll be ready for that. I have the ability and the arsenal to win this fight.”
Email Fischer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer