By Andreas Hale
The 154 pound division has become extremely interesting over the past few years with the influx of young and exciting talent that includes Jarrett Hurd, Jermell Charlo, Sadam Ali, Brian Castano, Michel Sort, Maciej Sulecki and others. But there’s one man who sits atop the division who is standing in the way of excitement and could potentially spoil all of the fun for years to come.
34-year-old Erislandy Lara is the man who has used his superb technical ability to sit close to the top of the division for several years. Few are interested in fighting the Cuban and those that do are going to do it his way. With a record of 25-2-2, Lara has never been dominated in a fight and both losses have been disputed by the masses. His 2011 showdown with Paul Williams was one that most onlookers saw as a highway robbery when Williams managed to secure a majority decision despite landing only 21% of his punches while Lara was sharper, economical and more accurate, landing 49% of his punches.
It wouldn’t be the last time that Lara would be involved in a highly questionable as his 2014 bout with Canelo Alvarez was also marred in controversy. Just like all of his fights, Lara slowed the fight down to a snail’s pace and forced Canelo to come forward while the Cuban used a jab to nullify his Mexican opponent’s aggression. All Canelo could do successfully is attack the body in what likely still stands as the least exciting fight of Canelo’s career. Nevertheless, the judges awarded him with a split decision when many onlookers saw Lara as the victor.
And the worst part about both losses is that nobody wanted to see a rematch.
It’s been the story of Lara’s career. He’s not fun to watch and he’s certainly not fun to fight. But he’s technically brilliant and knows how to manipulate his opponents’ aggression. But he rarely takes risks and, as a result, gives little for fans to cheer about.
It’s not to say that Lara is bad for the sport, but when trying to bring new fans to boxing, the last thing you want to do is show them an Erislandy Lara fight. But his superb ability has had him as a staple in the 154 pound division for a half decade.
In order for the division to flourish, somebody is going to have to take out Lara. And as unlikely as it is, Jarrett Hurd is the next fighter willing to step up and attempt to turn back “The American Dream.”
It’s a risky move by Hurd, who could see his dreams to unify the title turned away and the hype that has followed him ever since he stopped both Austin Trout and Tony Harrison go up in smoke. That’s usually what Lara does. Aside from Canelo, nobody has come out of a Lara fight and managed to enhance their profile. The loss hurts and the manner in which they lose is even worse.
Go back and watch Austin Trout mentally check out of their 2013 bout or Terrell Gausha come in with a terribly game plan and get thoroughly dominated. Lara erases prospects and nullifies excitement. Fans may not like it, but he’s damn good at what he does.
But is it good for boxing?
Not really. On paper, a Lara matchup is always intriguing. But in practice, it’s never exciting or filled with drama. Well, except when we get to the scorecards. That’s about the only thing that leaves the crowd holding their breath. Lara is a chess master in a sport where the fans want so see somebody get smashed over the head with a chessboard. As good as he is, Lara will never be appreciated by the masses.
Hurd is in a tough spot, he has yet to build a significant fan base that will forgive an underwhelming performance. But should he pull off the victory, it would go a long way in cementing his place on top of the division. But that’s a tall task for a fighter who isn’t as technically sound or as experienced as many of Lara’s past opponents. There’s no doubt that Hurd is a talent on the rise, but Lara squashing his hype doesn’t help the division at all. It simply sends another star crashing down to earth. Is that what we want?
It’s tough because you can’t blame Lara for doing what he does best. It would be uncharacteristic of him to fight any other way. But the division needs him to step aside in order to see these talented fighters make a name for themselves on top of the division. With Lara there, it’s difficult. Even worse, Lara was Jermell Charlo’s sparring partner so we could be in a situation where unifying the titles cannot happen because Lara has previously stated that he wouldn’t fight Charlo. That certainly doesn’t help matters.
Ultimately, it will be up to Swift Jarrett Hurd to finally force Erislandy Lara to step aside when they meet in Las Vegas on April 7th. It will take a mixture of Hurd’s relentless pressure and Lara’s inactivity to set up a scenario where Hurd could steal a decision. Or, maybe Lara ages overnight and Hurd’s pressure finally breaks the Cuban and the Maryland fighter becomes the first to stop Lara inside of the distance. It’s possible, just not likely.
Whether fans like it or not, the division goes wherever Erislandy Lara decides to take it. And as long as he’s still on top, it’s going to be tough to inject new blood into the division.