No one will ever accuse Erislandy Lara of being a good sport leading up to his showdown tomorrow night against Mexican teen idol Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. But Lara, who has needled poor Alvarez for months—crashing press conferences, providing caustic quotes for click-bait fodder, and cyberbullying “Canelo” on (anti) social media—shows no remorse for being at a perpetual boiling point. In his mind, at least, it was his nasty-as-he-wants-to-be attitude that forced Alvarez into accepting such a dangerous assignment.
“I forced this fight,” Lara seethed during a telephone conference a few days ago. “It wasn’t because he wanted to take this fight. We’ve been after this fight for two years and I’ve been putting pressure on social media and interviews and jumping on stage. That’s what pressured him to take this fight. I know he didn’t want this fight and on July 12th you’re going to see the reason why he didn’t want this fight.” Somebody, quick, give this man a Pepto-Bismol sponsorship.
Whether he wanted it or not, Alvarez, 43-1-1 with 31 knockouts, is risking his standing as one of the top box-office draws in North America by facing a crafty southpaw who shoots an accurate jab nearly as often as he spits out bile. Methodical behind a high guard, Lara may be a little too calculating to exploit two flaws Alvarez shows in nearly every fight: lapses of concentration and questionable stamina. In the ring, there is something about Alvarez, 23, that suggests an actor who slightly underplays his role. This is not an intense Method practitioner—De Niro, Brando, or even John Garfield—under the lights, but a glib talent too often at ease before the cameras. At some point during every fight, Alvarez takes his foot off the pedal and begins to coast. But does Lara, 19-1-2 with 12 knockouts, have the kind of work rate that will push Alvarez to the edge? Dropped twice by Alfredo Angulo before rallying to score a stoppage last year, Lara, from Guantanamo Bay but now living in Texas, is a former world amateur champion whose reputation as a pro may have been oversold when he was robbed of a decision against Paul Williams three years ago. Since then, Lara has been inconsistent in the ring but unfailing in his outlook beyond the ropes: this man is a genuine misérable. Not only has Lara badgered Alvarez, but he has also heckled his own promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, specifically its embattled figurehead Oscar De Hoya. For years, Lara, 31, felt that he had been neglected by Golden Boy while they fawned over Alvarez. It would make Lara something close to happy if he could upset Alvarez and send Oscar De La Hoya stumbling to a Failcon. As a man who fled Cuba on a motorboat, Lara views Alvarez as a pampered media creation—in short, a fraud. If Alvarez has any fugazi in him, then Lara will be there to expose it tomorrow night in the City of Illusions.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine, and Esquina Boxeo.