Erislandy Lara has occupied the precarious position in which Billy Joe Saunders will find himself Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Cuban southpaw speaks from experience when he says he believes Saunders will have to completely out-box Alvarez to have a shot at winning on the scorecards against boxing’s biggest star. If their 12-round, 168-pound title unification fight is competitive, Lara can’t see any way England’s Saunders will leave the ring with his WBO super middleweight title and Alvarez’s WBA and WBC belts.
The two-division champion thinks Saunders has the intelligence and technical skill, though, to frustrate and upset the Mexican superstar.
“Saunders is a good boxer,” Lara told BoxingScene.com. “It’s a good fight. Obviously, Canelo needs to go out there, put his pressure on Saunders and put his combinations together. I think Saunders really has to win this fight clearly because if this is a really close fight, I can’t see Saunders winning a decision in Texas. But if he has a smart plan in place, he can definitely win the fight.”
Three American judges – Nevada’s Tim Cheatham, California’s Max De Luca and Connecticut’s Glenn Feldman – have been assigned to score this main event between Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) and Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs).
The 31-year-old Saunders is the most skillful southpaw Alvarez has agreed to fight since he beat Lara by split decision in their 12-round junior middleweight match in July 2014 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The official result of the Alvarez-Lara fight caused controversy, particularly because another American judge, Levi Martinez, scored a bout that seemingly could’ve gone either way 117-111 for Alvarez. Martinez gave Alvarez nine rounds, whereas Dave Moretti scored seven rounds for Alvarez (115-113) and Jerry Roth credited Lara with winning seven rounds (115-113).
The 38-year-old Lara remains bothered by the fact that Alvarez never gave him a rematch.
“Everyone who watched that fight knows who the clear winner was,” Lara said. “Canelo, being the great champion that he is – and if you look at the past great champions, when there were close fights, they fought those rematches – and Canelo never wanted to fight that rematch. Looking back, that was a little disappointing.”
Now that Alvarez appears committed to boxing at the super middleweight limit of 168 pounds for the foreseeable future, Lara doesn’t think he’ll ever get a second shot at the four-division champion.
Lara (28-3-3, 16 KOs) knocked out huge underdog Thomas LaManna (30-5-1, 12 KOs) in the first round Saturday night to win a vacant version of the WBA middleweight title. He expects to move back down to the junior middleweight limit of 154 pounds for his next fight.
Nevertheless, Lara considers Alvarez a much-improved fighter than the developing 23-year-old contender he encountered nearly seven years ago.
“He’s definitely gotten better as a fighter,” Lara said. “There’s no question about it. Obviously, there’s some fights in there where he was the big favorite, which he should’ve won. But obviously with experience and hard work, he definitely has gotten better.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.