Color me shocked when Canelo Alvarez decided to meet Erislandy Lara on July 12 in Las Vegas. Lara, long regarded as one of the most fierce and trickiest southpaws in the junior middleweight division, isn’t the kind of fighter a soon-to-be 24-year-old who has struggled against elite-level boxers would normally want to face.
But to his credit, Alvarez picked Lara for his next gig. Either Alvarez thinks he’s improved enough since eeking out a win over Austin Trout and getting his ears boxed off versus Floyd Mayweather, or he doesn’t believe Lara is as competent a boxer as most are led to believe.
Regardless, on paper the Canelo-Lara promotion is the best matched fight of the year, so I polled the smartest folks in the business to see who would win.
TSS Crew Likes Canelo 6-1
I'm picking Canelo to beat Lara by decision. He's a pressure fighter who knows Alfredo Angulo gave Lara a lot of trouble and the blueprint to defeat the Cuban dandy. It won't be easy, but Canelo is stronger than Angulo and will use that strength to wear down Lara. -- David Avila, The Sweet Science
Lara is certainly the most exciting fighter in this bout, but his performances are inconsistent. Alvarez is steadier and will control this bout. Alvarez by decision. -- Aaron Tallent, The Sweet Science
Lara is super inconsistent and you don't know what you're getting. He's looked average at times and special at others... I'm not willing to bet on a temperamental performer. I'll go with the speed and power of Canelo to catch an overly aggressive Lara for a late knockdown to give him the edge on the cards (or possibly KO him). Genuine toss-up, though. -- Blake Hochberger, The Sweet Science
This is a tough one to call. I can see Alvarez landing the heavier punches which should be enough to impress the judges and get a close decision. Lara will likely make things very tricky and bring some frustration for Canelo, but I don't see him landing enough hurtful blows. Could be similar to Alvarez versus Trout. -- Ronan Keenan, The Sweet Science
Lara and his team have wanted this fight for over two years. They finally got it. While Alvarez has improved drastically over that stretch of time, there is nothing in his performances against Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather that tell me he knows how to fight a stylist like Lara. I’m picking Lara by majority decision. -- Kelsey McCarson, The Sweet Science
Eeshh, the guy who drew with Vanes Martirosyan thinks he has a chance to beat young gun Canelo Alvarez…Wait, the guy who fought Martirosyan in a stink-bomb bout then came out and looked like a pugilist-specialist against a top grade technician, in Austin Trout, in his last bout? I'm frazzled....OK, I gotta say first and foremost, I love pick em bouts. This is a coin flip special for me…but I'm going with the Mexican here, with the belief that physicality, strength and accuracy, will win out over the Cuban style of Lara, who could well spend more time being evasive than in launching and landing enough shots to convince the judges he's done more. Canelo wins by a three point margin. -- Michael Woods, The Sweet Science
I haven't seen either guy fight live so I can't make a confident prediction, but there is enough positive buzz around Lara that he is definitely a very live underdog. I think his draw with Martirosyan probably means a lot more than credited. Still, if I had to make a bet, considering risk reward margins and the ol' Vegas breeze, I would lean toward a big win (mid-rounds TKO) for Alvarez. -- Phil Woolever, The Sweet Science

Other Experts Pick Canelo 8-1
I think Canelo's activity and punching volume will be enough to carry the fight. Lara's best chance to win will be by knockout or a series of knockdowns, but Alvarez's chin has looked pretty good at 154 to this point. Saul Alvarez wins by competitive unanimous decision. -- Adam Abramowitz, Saturday Night Boxing
Saul Alvarez is not nearly as fast as he thinks he is. Erislandy Lara is not nearly the boxer his supporters think he is. Alvarez tends to fade in fights' second halves because he commits fully to nearly every punch. Lara tends to waste significant stores of energy by taking way too many steps. Lara will take Alvarez into the late rounds and exhaust him, yes, but he'll not know what to do with an exhausted Alvarez when he gets him there. I'll take Alvarez, UD-12.-- Bart Barry, 15Rounds.com
As much as Lara is the more skilled fighter of the two, the jury is still out as to whether or not he can rise to the occasion in a huge fight and put forth a performance as bold in the ring as he was outside of it to secure the fight. While Canelo's overall craft remains underrated, he'll need to find the perfect balance between counter punching and attacking in order to get the win. In the end, Canelo's well-timed bursts of activity each round and hard punches should be enough to sway the judges in a close fight. Lara will certainly have his moments, but his passive stretches of inactivity throughout the fight will hurt him in the end. Give me Canelo by split decision in close fight. -- Brian Campbell, ESPN
Unlike a lot of other folks whose opinions I've seen this week, I like Canelo here. Mayweather made him look awful, but Lara is no Mayweather. I think he can be gradually beaten up as he was in the Angulo fight, meaning Canelo either does enough to get the late stoppage "El Perro" might have gotten with clear eyesight, or wins enough rounds outright to take a close decision. -- Lyle Fitzsimmons, CBSSports.com
I'm picking Canelo by a knockout between 6-8 rounds. He is too strong for Lara and quick enough to cut off the ring. -- Gordon Marino, Boxing.com
This fight has a bit of a late-money feel and I expect the poll to be close...that said, I reckon Canelo is slightly the better man for all that Lara enjoys the bones of a style advantage. Alvarez, for me, is coming to grips with the problem he's had at the highest level, namely the third punch he throws in combinations and I expect him to start finding Lara in the middle rounds with good shots. His work will be more pleasing to the eye and that will get him over the line in a mildly controversial fight that stirs without really hitting the afterburners. -- Matt McGrain, Boxing.com
Had this fight taken place a year ago, the temptation to join the herd and say Erislandy Lara would prove Canelo Alvarez's kryptonite would have been too much to resist. But Canelo has grown and matured since then. He's taken the experience of fighting a couple of cagey boxers—Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather—and used it to refine his game and become a more well-rounded fighter. This is a statement fight for him—remember, he didn't need to take this fight, he wanted to—and his aggression, combined with an early knockdown, will make up the margin of a split-decision victory. -- Kevin McRae, Bleacher Report
The Lara fight was perhaps Richard Schaefer's finest piece of maneuvering during his on-going war with former business partner Oscar De La Hoya. It's an incredibly dangerous bout for Canelo, De La Hoya's last remaining PPV chess piece, one most promoters would run from at a full sprint. Much respect to Canelo for taking it. That took cajones. Too bad he's going to lose. (Lara, Decision). -- Jonathan Snowden, Bleacher Report
It's going to be a war, but Canelo is out to prove something and his heart will lead him to a victory by decision. Two tough boxer-punchers, it will guarantee be an action-packed fight. This is a tough one, but I see Canelo winning. -- Kaliesha West, World Champion Boxer