By Cliff Rold
In what has been a trend this summer, we have what appears to be the best kind of even match on paper. Both fighters are in their prime, both have standout talent, and neither can afford a loss.
In the last two ‘even on paper’ matches, Vasyl Lomachenko routed Gary Russell Jr. and Terrence Crawford waded through a flashy start to thrash Yuriorkis Gamboa. Will we get another decisive outcome on Saturday?
The stakes are high. This is about more than the future at Jr. Middleweight and perhaps even Middleweight. This is also about behind the scenes drama at Golden Boy Productions and the long-term potential of its biggest draw. Canelo was badly outboxed by Floyd Mayweather, and his passive resistance was hard to ignore. Now he’s got another crafty technician and a chance to keep his ship routed towards the future.
For Lara, the future is now. At 31, he has the best chance of his career to break from the pack. He’s fought a solid assortment of tough outs at 154 lbs. but in this non-title affair he has something more. He has a star to play off of. Can he use that star to cast the best light on himself?
The two best active Jr. Middleweights in the world lock horns. It’s hard not to be excited.
Let’s go the report cards.
Title: WBA ‘Regular’ Super Welterweight (2014-Present)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 155 lbs.
Hails from: Houston, Texas (Born in Cuba)
Record: 19-1-2, 12 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-0, 1 KO (all interim title fights)
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, TBRB), #2 (BoxRec, Ring), #3 (ESPN)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 3 (Carlos Molina D10; Paul Williams L12; Austin Trout UD12)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Welterweight (2011-13, 6 Defenses); WBA/Ring Jr. Middleweight (2013)
Weight: 155 lbs.
Hails from: Juanacatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico
Record: 43-1-1, 31 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 7-1, 4 KO
Rankings: #1 (Ring, BoxRec), #2 (BoxingScene, TBRB), #3 (ESPN)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 7 (Miguel Vazquez SD4, UD10; Carlos Baldomir KO6; Lovemore N’dou UD12; Kermit Cintron TKO5; Shane Mosley UD12; Austin Trout UD12; Floyd Mayweather L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Lara B; Alvarez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Lara B; Alvarez B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Lara B; Alvarez B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Lara B; Alvarez B
In terms of hand speed, both men can be quick to target but neither is particularly blazing. A narrow edge may fall to Alvarez. That edge expands in combination punching. When he lets them go in multiple, Alvarez is both quick and creative. He’s also spotty. His offense isn’t always consistent. Lara could use that to his aide by relying on his legs.
In terms of feet, Lara holds the advantage and uses his feet much more. He can press or circle, whereas Alvarez is more often planted as he looks for counter combinations. If Lara is able to force Alvarez to walk into counters, he can get away before Alvarez can get his combinations going. Mayweather tied Alvarez in knots with movement.
Lara doesn’t have the speed or offensive variance of Mayweather, but he’s a naturally bigger man and southpaw. He’s also likely to have the edge in reach and stands taller than Canelo despite their listed heights being the same. Lara is somewhere between Austin Trout (whom he defeated) and Mayweather (who he’d like to face) in term of technical efficiency.
Canelo got by Trout in a tough fight but it was far closer than the scores.
The defensive postures of both men could be an x-factor. Alvarez is hard to catch clean and can be underrated defensively. His head movement is excellent and he blocks shots well. If Lara comes forward, Alvarez will be in position to counter.
Lara also blocks well and uses distance to evade shots. As shown in his war with Alfredo Angulo, if one can get inside on Lara his chin is there to be found. Lara came off the floor twice in that encounter and showed great heart, but Angulo is dramatically slower than Alvarez.
He might not hit as hard. Angulo can hurt anyone if he catches them. He rarely could find Alvarez earlier this year. Lara’s defense will work best if he pops Alvarez with accurate 1-2’s and then moves and forces constant resets. If he stays in close for too long, he’s giving Alvarez chances.
The knockdowns against Angulo raise an issue of vulnerability but Lara has otherwise shown a solid beard. Alvarez, outside a wobble against Jose Cotto, has as well. In terms of intangibles, the question mark for both men is about their complete approach. Lara can be brilliant (as he was against Trout and Paul Williams, an abominably bad decision). He can also be flat, as he was in a close draw with Carlos Molina and stinker against Vanes Martirosyan. Alvarez showed up big in spots against Trout and has handled the gimme’ fights the way he was supposed to.
However, when the spotlight was brightest, he never went for broke. Unable to find Mayweather, Alvarez never bit down and swung for the fences. It may reflect his style, more boxer than his knockout highlights indicate, but it was still disappointing. What is not disappointing is his recent fight selection. After a long development period, the reins have been let loose. Trout, Mayweather, and Lara is a commendable slate over his last four fights.
So too is Lara’s resume. He has chased fights where he could find them and made himself a factor. He’s not unblemished, but with less than 25 fights he’s close to a who’s who of his division.
These two have earned their place and earned our attention this weekend.
Lara’s wait for a major opportunity arrives at the biggest moment he could ask for outside a Floyd fight. While the politics of this fight, discussed in a column earlier this week, make it a notable candidate for a shifty decision, let’s assume everything comes out clean. Alvarez, for all his success, is still light on wins over quality Jr. Middleweights. He easily could have lost the Trout fight with different judges (though the consensus favored him) and his best wins have come largely against fighters with styles designed for him.
Lara, at Jr. Middleweight, has faced a wider range of styles and has a deeper amateur background. He hasn’t been as consistent but some of that is because he hasn’t been as fortunate in matchmaking. Lara struggled with Molina, for instance, but so have other contenders. Molina was someone he couldn’t just turn down. That range of competition will serve him well here.
In some respects, this fight could end up being a more competitive version of Guillermo Rigondeaux-Nonito Donaire. Lara isn’t as slick as his Cuban compatriot, and Alvarez isn’t as talented as Donaire, but there are some parallels. Like Donaire, Alvarez has the flashier highlight reel while Lara needs to win more to stick as a factor.
Lara’s need will outweigh Golden Boy’s need for an Alvarez win. Rising to the occasion, look for Lara to have a career best performance. It won’t always be pretty, but his accuracy and movement will leave Alvarez standing still too often. The pick is Lara by decision, probably split or majority, #BecauseBoxing.
Report Card Picks 2014: 30-14 (Including Staff Pick for Barthelemy-Mendez)
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org