Erislandy Lara finds the turning points in his Greatest Hits

Erislandy Lara has been at a crossroads before, and every time he’s learned something about himself. His first loss taught him that judges don’t always get it right. The fight after that taught him the value of fighting angry. And the first time he went down in a fight, he learned that he has what it takes to get up off the deck.

Erislandy Lara and Alfredo Angulo

Erislandy Lara's fight against Alfredo Angulo in June 2013 saw Lara get off the canvas twice to rally for a 10th-round technical knockout.

As Erislandy Lara prepares to face Delvin Rodriguez on Friday night at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Spike TV (9 p.m. ET/PT), he’s coming in as one of the top fighters in the 154-pound division. How he got there, though, comes down to the way he navigated those crossroads in his Greatest Hits.

3 vs. Ronald Hearns, April 20, 2012, at Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi, Mississippi

There’s fighting with a chip on your shoulder, and there’s there’s doing what Lara did to Ronald Hearns.

The son of boxing great Thomas Hearns may as well have just been a pile of Legos as easily as Lara dismantled him. Lara dropped Hearns with a left 54 seconds into the first round, pounced on him after the count and popped him with another left that drew a standing eight-count at 1:14, then finished the job with another huge left at 1:34.

So why the extra fire? Hearns was Lara’s first fight back after a controversial loss to Paul Williams.

“I felt like I had a lot to prove,” Lara said. “Going into that fight, I was just angry after my last fight, which I know I didn’t lose. I said I can’t leave it to the judges and get me another loss on my record, I’ve got to go out there and knock this guy out.”

Mission accomplished.

“Sometimes you want to relax a little bit and box smart,” he said, "but in this case sometimes you’ve got to fight angry and take the fight out of the judges’ hands.”

2 vs. Paul Williams, July 9, 2011, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey

In the 11th round against Williams, commentator Roy Jones Jr. spent a lot of time talking about how the fight should be stopped because Williams was absorbing too much punishment. Analyst Max Kellerman suggested it should be the final fight in Williams’ career.

The judges didn’t see it nearly so clearly, giving Williams a majority decision that was roundly booed at Boardwalk Hall.

“Even though the judges stole the fight from me, it was one of my best fights. It was my first fight against a top-tier fighter,” Lara said. “Paul Williams was the best fighter I ever fought and the best fighter I probably ever will fight. It was a great performance against a pound-for-pound fighter.”

Lara is still, justifiably, angry when he talks about the fight. The decision also didn’t sit too well with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which indefinitely suspended all three judges and issued a formal apology after the fact.

“I did everything in that fight,” Lara said. “I don’t want to discredit my performance because there was nothing to discredit. Paul Williams was 6-foot-2, 180 pounds that night. When you’re fighting someone that good and that big you’ve got to just win the fight, and I thought I won the fight clearly, nine rounds to three.”

1 vs. Alfredo Angulo, June 8, 2013, at Home Depot Center in Carson, California

Lara had never tasted the canvas before he fought Alfredo Angulo, but that night he went back for seconds.

Angulo put Lara down in the fourth round, and sent him to the mat again in the ninth. Lara had to learn quickly how to get up. He figured it out soon enough, as he came back to stop Angulo in the 10th round.

“It was a war,” Lara said. “It was the best action fight of my career. He dropped me twice for the first time in my career, in my life. Over 400 fights I’ve been in the ring and over 100 in the street, I’ve never been on the deck and this guy put me on the deck twice. It was the best fight so far of my career.”

So what motivated Lara to pick himself up that second time, when many might have conceded the night?

“I was just thinking of my children’s food and if I don’t get off this deck and win this fight how am I going to feed my family,” he said. "It was either get up and fight or I’m going back to Cuba.”

For more coverage of Lara vs Rodriguez, follow our fight page.

Tune into Spike TV on Friday night for Erislandy Lara's 154-pound title fight against Delvin Rodriguez.

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