By Jake Donovan
Erislandy Lara scored a wide decision win over Ishe Smith to retain
his version of the 154 lb. Friday evening at Illusions Theatre in San Antonio, Texas.
Scores were 119-109 (twice) and 117-111 in their Showtime-televised headliner.
The bout opened up threatening to pan out as ugly as advertised. There was little offered by either fighter in a round that included a takedown along the ropes, and Smith getting in Lara's face and jawing at the Cuban after the bell sounded to end the round.
Much to the delight of fans in attendance and viewers at home, action picked up from that point, resulting in what turned out to be a decent fight after all. Lara was well in control from round two through at least the middle of the fight, too sharp and fleet-footed for Smith, whose best moments came when he landed to the body, albeit only throwing one punch at a time for a lot of the rounds.
Smith picked up the pace in round seven, enjoying by far his best round of the fight to that point. Lara reduced his punch output, perhaps saving up for a big finish. Smith was smart enough to take advantage of the moment, throwing in combination to the body and offering the occasional chin check upstairs in rounds seven and eight.
After getting cursed out by head trainer Ronnie Shields in back-to-back rounds, Lara resumed the art of hit-and-don't-get-hit, picking up the pace in round nine and closing out the fight strong. Smith never stopped trying, especially over the course of the second half of the fight, but just couldn't find a way to prevent Lara from sticking and moving.
"I did my best. I tried to make it a fight," said Smith, who falls to 26-7 (12KOs). "It's a tough style to face, ripping and running with that amateur style. I did what I could."
The loss is Smith's second in his last three fights. The former reality star - having appeared on the first season of the now-defunct boxing reality series 'The Contender - became the first-ever Las Vegas-born fighter to win a major title with a 12-round decision over Cornelius Bundrage last February. His reign was short-lived, losing the belt to Carlos Molina in his first defense last September.
A tune-up win over Ryan Davis in May allowed Smith to regain his in-ring confidence, though the fight came as a substitute for when this bout was originally scheduled. Lara pulled out of the fight, though, to instead accept a more lucrative assignment versus Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez in July.
The payday was worth it, but Lara had to eat a loss after 12 rounds of what was deemed by two of the three judges as too much moving and not enough sticking. The Cuban southpaw learned his lesson in his first fight back, boxing his way to the second defense of his alphabet 154 lb. title.
"The first round, I wanted to see what he had, and dominated him every round after that," insists Lara, who improves to 20-2-2 (12KOs).
As the bout with Alvarez took place at a catchweight of 155 lb., Lara was able to retain his title, a belt that puts him as the leading candidate - from an alphabet rankings perspective - for Floyd Mayweather, who was at ringside as the show's leading promoter.
Such a fight will likely never happen, but it doesn't stop the fighter dubbed 'The American Dream' from reaching for the stars.
"I want to fight the best. I want to fight Floyd Mayweather," Lara demanded afterward.
Badou Jack suffered a disastrous 1st round loss to begin his 2014 campaign, but ends the year on a high note. The transplanted Swede, now based in Las Vegas, battered Francisco Sierra en route to a 6th round stoppage in the televised co-feature.
The bout was arguably over well before it began. Sierra somehow put on more than 27 lb. since Thursday's weigh-in, entering the ring at an even 200 lb. for a bout scheduled for just over the super middleweight limit.
As expected, Jack was the far more fluid fighter from the beginning of the contest. The once-beaten super middleweight drew blood early, as Sierra spent most of the night fighting through a cut outside of his right eye.
The fight was stopped when Sierra stopped fighting back. Jack landed at will, with Sierra largely unresponsive until profusely protesting when referee Rafael Ramos stepped in to stop the contest.
The official time was 1:58 of round six.
Jack moves to 18-1-1 (12KOs) with the win, his second straight. Sierra falls to 26-8-1 (23KOs), having now lost five of his past seven bouts.
In the opening bout, Ohio's Chris Pearson remained unbeaten after scoring a 10-round decision over a game Steven Martinez in their super welterweight scrap.
Martinez was well in control early on, landing the more telling blows as well as forcing the action. Pearson adjusted midway through the fight, taking over around round four and never looking back. The former amateur standout was timing Martinez coming in, picking apart the 24-year old Nuyorican throughout the second half of the contest.
Scores were 97-93 (twice) and 98-92 in favor of Pearson, who improves to 11-0 (9KOs). Martinez falls to 15-2 (12KOs), snapping a three-fight win streak.
The bout was originally scheduled to take place during the summer, but Pearson withdrew after suffering an injury during training camp.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox