In a surprising twist, it was recently announced that Mexican matinee idol Saul Alvarez has agreed to face nifty Cuban technician Erislandy Lara at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on July 12 in a non-title bout scheduled for 12 rounds.
Under normal circumstances—if they even exist in boxing—a fighter as popular as “Canelo” would look for soft touches to maximize his risk-to-reward ratio for as long as possible. It sounds paradoxical, but legitimate attractions like Alvarez—who sold over 350,000 pay-per-views in his last fight and who draws numberless television viewers in Mexico—often have an easier time of it than most. As far back as last November there was speculation that Alvarez was targeting off-brand junior middleweight champion Sergey Rabchenko from Belarus for a fairly safe outing. After all, Alvarez is an ATM for his promoter, his manager, his trainer, and his network. With so many people dependent on his success, it seems almost shocking that Alvarez picked Lara, one of the trickiest southpaws in the business, as his next opponent.
The 31-year-old Lara insulted Alvarez as often as possible on—where else?—social media in order to goad Alvarez. He even crashed the press conference after Alvarez scored a TKO over Alfredo Angulo last March. There, in front of the assembled media, Lara accused Alvarez of cowardice, always fighting words to a Mexican. Even after this fight was officially announced, Lara continued heckling Alvarez. Recently, he posted a cartoonish image of Alvarez on his Twitter feed. In the picture, Alvarez, with his oversized head superimposed on the body of a child, is sitting at a school desk, presumably waiting for a lesson from Lara. Naturally, Alvarez was reportedly even more upset after that stunt. Who wants to be made to look like a muñequito?
— Erislandy Lara (@Laraboxing) April 15, 2014
In his last fight, Lara nearly whitewashed Austin Trout en route to a unanimous decision win at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Now, six years after he defected from Cuba on a speedboat bound for Mexico, Lara, who has a record of 19-1-2 with twelve knockouts, is ready for the biggest fight of his career.
Over the years, Alvarez, who sports a gaudy record of 43-1-1 with 31 knockouts, has earned his share of skeptics for some of the weak competition he has faced since first capturing the imagination of the Mexican public. But in the span of a little over a year, Alvarez will have faced Austin Trout, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Lara, a tough stretch for a fighter whose popularity has often overshadowed his accomplishments.
Alvarez and his handlers are probably thinking about how Lara hit the deck twice against the lumbering Angulo in 2013. That night, Lara recovered from the knockdowns and rallied to stop Angulo in the 8th round but may have raised suspicions about his chin in the process. Even if Alvarez believes his firepower is enough to hurt Lara, this fight is a legitimate risk for him. Let “Canelo” roll the dice. When fighters gamble, the big winners are the aficionados.
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.