For years Erislandy Lara antagonized Saul Alvarez, slandered both Alvarez’ credentials and the business celebrating the superficial charms of a manufactured heartthrob. One pictures Lara watching the mania that follows Alvarez, flabbergasted at the idea that red hair, freckles, and a winning smile could be more endearing than the tribulations and sacrifices of a Cuban defector’s journey. Alvarez represented first and foremost a seven figure payday for Lara. But beyond that, beating Alvarez, sabotaging the bandwagon and hype-train, would strike a blow for men who gave up more than dessert to pursue their dreams. Last night, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Lara got his much coveted crack at the new idol, and squandered it, losing a split decision in a fight that lined his pocket while doing nothing to alleviate his grudge.
It is unlikely that Lara, Houston via Guantanamo, Cuba, was going to find any satisfaction against Alvarez regardless. Stopping Alvarez would certainly have provided it, and in a way, so too would being stopped by him: such definitive ends are always the most satisfying. But neither man came close to establishing anything resembling dominance. Lara, a southpaw, used his better footwork to circle Alvarez, knifing in with jabs and crosses before sliding out to his left. Alvarez’ measured approach, so effective against the immobile and undersized, looked dangerously predictable against Lara, who exploited advantages in reach and speed to tag Alvarez beyond the stocky Mexican’s reach. As he had against Austin Trout, Lara forced Alvarez, Juanacatlán, Mexico, to lead, luring the natural counter-puncher outside his comfort zone. Struggling to cut off the ring, Alvarez’ pressure amounted to little more than an ungainly trudging occasionally halted by Lara’s sharp blows. But as the fight wore on, Lara became increasingly cooperative.
Despite his Cuban pedigree, Lara’s defense is hardly the Iron Dome. While countryman Guillermo Rigondeaux uses subtle upper-body movement to dematerialize before approaching blows, Lara’s defense is largely predicated on fully abandoning his prior position. Against Alvarez, Lara was frustratingly elusive in the early going, but the tax such escapes demanded of his fitness began to tell in the middle rounds. Alvarez missed less, and paid less for his misses, as a tiring Lara squandered counter-punching opportunities with his inactivity. Moreover, with Lara committed to a high guard, Alvarez, 155, found opportunities to further devitalize him with body shots.
A pattern developed over the remainder of the bout, with Lara, bleeding from a cut over his right eye, stinging with jabs and crosses while Alvarez ripped combinations that, while perhaps not as effective as the crowd’s reaction implied, appeared no less damaging than Lara’s sparse yet accurate output. With the fight slipping away, Lara, 155, went on the offensive; but his increased activity, constrained by his fatigue and the caution ingrained by his Cuban programming, struggled to rival the flash and frequency of Alvarez’ combinations.
In a fight where neither fighter was able to sustain any prolonged advantage, where meagre effectiveness was wrought from modest aggression and ring generalship bore an unflattering resemblance to retreat, the judges were faced with a conundrum. Dave Moretti and Levi Martinez scored it for Alvarez 115-113 and 117-111 respectively, while Jerry Roth offered a dissenting card of 115-113 for Lara.
Despite the win, Alvarez is unlikely to receive much credit from his detractors, who can either trumpet Lara’s cries of robbery or diminish the Cuban fighter retroactively to tarnish Alvarez’ accomplishment. But the fact remains that, until Floyd Mayweather is again coaxed above welterweight, Alvarez has established himself as top dog in the junior middleweight division. And he is the ideal fighter for the role, a polarizing fighter who, like a screen, is illuminated by the projections, favorable and otherwise, of aficionados.
Alvarez, 44-1-1 (31), is now a pay-per-view fighter, if only because he appears on pay-per-view, and there is a suspicion that the criteria for his success on this platform will be determined only after the buys are tallied, to ensure Alvarez is the star Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime need him to be. The move to more pay-per-views is one of the many trends currently at work on Showtime, along with intended mismatches devolving into unexpectedly entertaining affairs, and, as our own Carlos Acevedo pointed out, the favorites nevertheless winning every time out. Perhaps best among these trends however, is Alvarez’—the future of Golden Boy Promotions—willingness to test himself. He has fought four straight fighters that many pegged to beat him, but only Mayweather accomplished that feat. True, his competition may be influenced by the demands of selling pay-per-views, but it is Alvarez forcing these fights. His obvious flaws—dubious stamina, poor footwork, and inability to effectively cut the ring off, to name a few—only make his matchmaking more commendable.
Lara, 19-2-2 (12), would likely have to grit his teeth to endure the preceding two paragraphs. In the aftermath of the fight, he once more wore his grudge like a crown of negativity, expressing bitterness over, essentially, earning a million dollars to face a fighter he labeled overrated, a fighter who was under no compulsion to give Lara, the self-proclaimed, “Most Avoided Man in Boxing” the opportunity. Given twelve rounds to unmask Alvarez as a fraud, Lara failed, if only because a fraud should never have sniffed victory, let alone been awarded it. If it is any consolation, Lara far better embodies his other moniker, “The American Dream.” Having escaped privation and scant prospects to eventually headline a pay-per-view on the Las Vegas strip—how many of his fellow fighters, American or otherwise, dream only of that?