He’s a versatile and accomplished fighter who has only suffered two setbacks in 28 pro bouts. One was extremely close against a super star fighter, Canelo Alvarez, and the other was such a terrible decision that the judges who scored the fight for his opponent, Paul Williams, were suspended indefinitely. And to his chagrin, he’s been avoided by some of the big name fighters in his division since then, although you could make the case he is partly to blame for it.
His name is Erislandy Lara and he’s the current WBA (Super) World Super Welterweight title holder. This weekend at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Lara 24-2-2 (14) will defend his title against Cleveland native and 2012 U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha 20-0 (9). An impressive performance on Showtime by Lara just might land him a future fight with a name opponent.
A highly regarded amateur, Lara defected from Cuba in 2008 on his second attempt and made his pro debut in July of that year. In his first high profile bout sporting an undefeated record of 15-0-1 (10) he fought former WBO welterweight titlist Paul Williams 39-2 (27) in a 154-pound title eliminator on HBO at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Lara lost a highly controversial majority decision by the scores of 115-114, 116-114 and 114-114. The public outrage over the decision led the New Jersey Athletic Board to conduct a full review. Although they found no evidence of wrongdoing, all three judges were suspended indefinitely pending additional training.
Lara won five bouts in a row after the Williams debacle and then fought Mexican star Canelo Alvarez in a 155-pound catch-weight bout. Lara used the ring and boxed beautifully but two of the judges favored Canelo’s body punching and he lost a split decision. It was a very even fight and of the 89 media members polled, 34 scored it for Alvarez, 30 saw it for Lara and 25 scored it a draw. That was a little over three years ago and since that good showing against Canelo, Lara hasn’t done enough for anyone to demand seeing him fight one of the other big name title holders in the division such as Jermell Charlo 29-0 (14), the WBC light middleweight champ or Demetrius Andrade 24-0 (16), who is the WBA (regular) super welterweight champ.
This has been a continuous theme with Lara. He had a lot of juice coming out of the Canelo fight because in the eyes of many he did enough to win. After fighting Canelo he scored three consecutive wins over upper-tier regional guys Ishe Smith, Delvin Rodriguez and Jan Zaveck. Then in May of 2016 he fought Vanes Martirosyan who had never held anything bigger than a minor title.
This was a rematch. Three-and-a-half years earlier they had battled to a technical draw in a fight that was stopped in the ninth round after Martirosyan received a bad cut from an accidental head butt. Lara-Martirosyan II went the distance and was another difficult fight for Lara who retained his WBA title via a unanimous decision, but didn’t look all that impressive. In fact, more than a few observers thought Martirosyan won.
Lara’s straight left hands probably were the difference, tilting the fight in his favor, but his showing didn’t endear him to boxing fans. For them, the frustrating thing watching Lara is that he’s never busy enough. He picks his spots but there are too many lulls during certain rounds, enabling an opponent who works hard for the entire round to make up the lost ground. In his next fight after Martirosyan, Lara stopped 37-year-old Yuri Foreman in a bout that achieved nothing more than keeping him busy.
Since the Canelo fight Lara hasn’t capitalized off of his great showing. There have been no big fights or unification bouts. And a lot of that is due to Lara’s boxing style – he’s more of a technician who looks to make his opponents miss but seldom lays any hurt on them for doing so. Boxing fans enjoy watching technicians but not necessarily one who lands punches in single digits.
The demand to see Lara isn’t there and at age 34, time is running out. When you couple his sometimes complacent style with a few bad showings such as being awarded a gift draw against Carlos Molina and getting dropped twice by the 4-1 underdog Alfredo Angulo before coming back to stop him and then having to fight Martirosyan twice in order to score a close win, the word underachiever comes to mind regarding Lara’s perception with fans.
The 154-pound division is competitive. A strong showing by Lara on Saturday could stimulate fans to want to see him fight one of the winners who are fighting on the same card with him. In the co-main event Jermell Charlo defends his WBC super welterweight title against Erickson Lubin 18-0 (13) and before that Jarrett Hurd 20-0 (14) defends his IBF super welterweight title against Austin Trout 30-3 (17). Lara handed Trout his second career defeat back in 2013 and if Trout were to upset Hurd there would be interest in seeing Lara and Trout fight again, only this time it would be a unification bout.
All the pressure is on Lara not just to win, but also to stand out and shine. A tremendous boxer, he has all the requisite tools needed to be a borderline great fighter. His biggest problem is that he fights with little to no sense of urgency and has turned in horrible performances right at the time when looking good might have helped his career. His dull and disappointing showings have given managers and promoters an excuse to avoid him. He’s all but been forgotten heading into this weekend. If he turns in another stinker against Gausha, he’ll again be relegated to the back of the line. And that would be a shame because he has the physicality and talent to provide Charlo, Lubin, Hurd or Andrade a stern challenge if he can give the fans a reason to want to see those fights involving him.
The sand is almost through the hour glass regarding Lara’s time to score a signature fight. Hopefully he grasps how important it is for him to not just beat Terrell Gausha, but to do so in an impressive manner. And that won’t be easy because Gausha is a pure boxer himself and two boxers facing each other tends to be more high tech than bombs away. So there’s a good chance Lara-Gausha won’t be exciting unless Lara changes his stripes and I don’t see that happening.
Some fighters get more out of boxing than they deserve, like Floyd Mayweather, whereas other fighters don’t get out of it what they deserve. And I’m afraid Erislandy Lara may be one of them.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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