Erislandy Lara and trainer Ronnie Shields collaborate to solve the Jarrett Hurd puzzle

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The longest-reigning 154-pound world champion Lara and his long-time trainer Shields admit they have a stiff test in Saturday's unification bout with young and powerful titleholder Hurd—but one they say they've seen before and are prepared for.

It’s what usually happens during training camp. They’ll stand there looking strangely at one another trying to solve an impasse, the old-school trainer with a world’s worth of boxing wisdom and the Cuban expatriate with a world’s worth of boxing wisdom.

They are like an old married couple, sharing the same attitude, the same way of going about things and the same vision. When trainer Ronnie Shields first saw former renowned amateur champion Erislandy Lara, he shook his head and thought to himself there were a lot of things Lara would have to alter to flourish.

After this was presented to Lara, he shook his head and told Shields, “That’s not going to work for me.” Shields would suggest something. Lara would try it and immediately dismiss it. Or Lara liked something and Shields would take a look, and try to implore his fighter to change it.

Eventually a compromise is always met and it usually translates into success in the ring. The give-and-take has lasted eight years between the two and has led to incredible results, like Lara winning the WBA super welterweight belt and successfully defending it six times. Lara wouldn’t be where he is without Shields, as one of the world’s top 154-pounders, and Shield’s legacy wouldn’t continue to grow without Lara.

Now, Lara and Shields will be faced with a new challenge in lanky IBF super welterweight champion Jarrett Hurd (21-0-0, 15 KOs) this Saturday, April 7, on the Showtime-televised card (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT) from The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This will be the biggest test for Lara (25-2-2, 14 KOs) since he lost a unanimous, though controversial, decision to Canelo Alvarez in July 2014.

Hurd is 6-foot-1 with a 76½-inch reach, while Lara stands 5-9 with a 74-inch reach. Lara says the toughest opponent he ever faced was the rangy Paul Williams, who owns the other victory over Lara.

“I know he’s a tall guy for the weight,” Lara said about Hurd. “He’s tough, and he likes to come forward, bringing a tremendous amount of pressure. His style is going to bring out the best in me. I love fighting aggressive fighters because it really gives me a lot of openings. I’m ready for whatever he brings to the table.

“The toughest opponent for me is tough to really pick one. I’ve fought fighters of all sizes, heights and styles. And to be honest for me, they are all tough whenever you get in ring with another man. It will be a battle. They have pride and want to win no matter the skill. What I will say is the best fighter I’ve ever fought was Paul Williams.”

His style is going to bring out the best in me. I love fighting aggressive fighters because it really gives me a lot of openings. I’m ready for whatever he brings to the table. Super Welterweight World Champion Erislandy Lara, on fellow titleholder Jarrett Hurd

Lara’s added ammo is right there in his corner—Shields. The two met through Lara’s co-manager, Luis De Cubas Jr., during Lara’s fight against Luciano Perez in Chicago, in December 2009. Lara was 9-0 at the time and De Cubas felt Shields could bring out other areas of Lara’s ability.

But their initial meeting wasn’t exactly ideal.

“When I first met Erislandy I knew he was different,” Shields said. “When I first started training him there were a lot of things that I saw that I wanted him to change. Lara said, ‘No, no, no, that’s not going to work for me.’ He told me that straight out. I tried to suggest things, I wanted him to do this, and I wanted him to do that.

“He would try my suggestions, then tell me he wasn’t comfortable with it. We went through a lot of different stuff, until we found something that I was satisfied with and he was satisfied with. It’s still that way today. Yeah, you can say we’re like an old, married couple. There are certain things he may want to do, and I’ll be like, ‘Nah, nah, that’s not going to work.’

“He’ll bring up something that he wants to try that I don’t like. I think what makes us work is we compromise in between until we get it right. For example, in his fight in Miami against [Jan Zaveck in Nov. 2015], I had been trying to get him to throw a left uppercut like forever. He realized in order for him to throw that, he had to sit down and stand right in front of the guy to do it.”

Lara didn’t feel comfortable in training camp with the punch. He kept making excuses for not doing it. Shields reassured Lara that he was too fast to be countered by Zaveck. Shields said his fighter has the great innate radar to see punches coming from all angles.

“Erislandy had to trust me to do it,” Shields said. “When I tried to get him to throw the left uppercut, he just wasn’t comfortable doing it. In training camp for that fight, I had him throwing the left uppercut every single day. I hoped it would become a natural punch for him.

“When he did throw it in the fight, he knocked the guy out [Zaveck KO 3]. Afterward, he grabbed me and hugged me, and said, ‘You were so right, you were so right!’ Things like that come, and we have a trust between us."

Shields said there are no secrets between Hurd and Lara. The Hurd camp knows Lara will use his movement to create angles and punching creases, then counter. Hurd will move forward and try to entice Lara into a slugfest.

“It won’t work,” Shields said. “Erislandy is too smart. Hurd is a big guy who will be bigger than Lara the night of the fight. He’s a guy who comes forward and throws a lot of punches. You take that away from him, which Erislandy will do, and what does he have left? Lara won’t be there to be hit when Hurd comes forward. He’ll be hitting air and getting countered.”

That’s something both Lara and Shields don’t need to compromise on.

For a complete look at Lara vs Hurd, visit our fight page.

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