As is the case in most sports, defense wins championships in boxing. Unfortunately, defense usually doesn’t win you many style points with fans and media—something Erislandy Lara knows all too well.
A slick-boxing southpaw, Lara has been a 154-pound titleholder since June 2013, when he overcame two knockdowns against Alfredo Angulo to earn a 10th-round TKO and an interim championship.
But even though the 33-year-old Cuban has defended his title successfully four times since being elevated to "regular” champion in 2014, in addition to losing a disputable split decision to Canelo Alvarez in a non-title fight, Lara can’t shake the rap that he’s a “boring” fighter.
That label—plus his strong showing against Alvarez—has made it difficult for Lara to entice top-caliber opponents to get in the ring with him.
“Lara is difficult to fight, and he’s not that big of a star,” says Steve Farhood, a boxing historian and Showtime analyst. “As a result, fighting him for big-name boxers is high-risk, low-reward.
“With the exception of [his fight against] Angulo, Lara mostly fights a specific type of style virtually every time. He’s a supremely gifted boxer with excellent speed, Cuban know-how, always a lot of movement, lot of jabs, and you’re going to have to chase him.”
To Farhood’s point, Lara has just three stoppage victories in 12 fights since March 2013. However, those three particular triumphs were pretty impressive: a first-round wipeout of veteran Ronald Hearns (then 26-2), the TKO of Angulo (then 22-2) to claim his title and a third-round stoppage of former champion Jan Zaveck (then 35-3) in November 2015.
Also, Lara dropped ex-champ Austin Trout (11th round, December 2013) and Delvin Rodriguez (sixth round, June 2015) in unanimous decision title defenses.
Erislandy Lara (23-2-2, 13 KOs) insists he’s going to try to add to his knockout tally Friday night when he makes the fifth defense of his crown against another ex-world champion in Yuri Foreman (34-2, 10 KOs) at Hialeah Park Racing & Casino in Miami (Spike, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
It will be Lara’s first bout since May 21, when “The American Dream” earned a unanimous decision in a rematch with Vanes Martirosyan in Las Vegas.
Should he defeat Foreman as many expect, Lara hopes to finally secure a fight against another big-name opponent, with his short-term goal being to “unify the division then move up to win the middleweight titles.”
In order, he desires a rematch with fellow 154-pound champ Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs), a clash with 160-pound champion Gennady Golovkin (36-0, 33 KOs) or a fight with left-handed former 154-pound titleholder Demetrius Andrade (23-0, 16 KOs).
Neither Alvarez nor Andrade have fights on the horizon, while Golovkin has a March 18 title unification battle with Daniel Jacobs in New York.
Lara says he studied Golovkin’s fifth-round stoppage of 147-pound champion Kell Brook on September 10, as well as Alvarez’s ninth-round knockout of Liam Smith in his 154-pound title defense a week later, and he believes his style would conquer any potential opponents.
“I don’t think I could make Canelo miss any more than he did [in our first fight], but I would land more punches and win rounds clearer [in a rematch],” Lara says. “Golovkin put a beating on the smaller Brook, took punches well and was never hurt. But I’m more of a sharpshooter.
“My lateral movement is far superior to Brook and would give [Golovkin] more problems. Brook landed shots, but couldn't hurt him. I will hurt GGG with clean shots.”
Although Golovkin vs. Lara intrigues Farhood, he’s not so sure the average fan is much interested in a fight that might offer “minimal action” because of the Cuban southpaw's slick defensive skills.
“I’ve always viewed boxing as a sport with a place for big punchers like Arturo Gatti, Mike Tyson and Gennady Golovkin, but also for pure boxers like Lara and [122-pound champion] Guillermo Rigondeaux,” Farhood said. “I don’t want to see Lara or Rigondeaux every time out, but that doesn’t mean that their skills can’t be appreciated as viewer-friendly against the right style of opponent.”
While Lara is adamant about wanting to knock out Foreman—who was stopped in both of his defeats—the champ’s trainer says he’s not about to let his fighter get reckless.
“It’s not up to Lara to change his style in order to beat the other guy at his own game,” says Ronnie Shields, who trains Lara and fellow 154-pound champion Jermall Charlo at the Houston-area Plex Boxing Gym. “Lara’s going to continue doing what he does best and winning the way he knows how—by boxing.”
For complete coverage of Lara vs Foreman, visit our fight page.