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Alvarez-Lara: Best against the best

July 12, 2014
Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara face off during their weigh-in © Getty Images
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Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the unified junior middleweight champion, but he made his plans official on Thursday when he announced that he will take a second consecutive fight in the welterweight division, where he is also a unified champion, in a September rematch with Marcos Maidana.

Miguel Cotto, for years one of the best at junior middleweight and a former titleholder, moved up in weight and won the middleweight world title by stopping Sergio Martinez in the 10th round on June 7.

So with Mayweather and Cotto out of the 154-pound weight class, at least for the time being, that leaves former unified titleholder Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez and reigning titlist Erislandy Lara as clearly the two best in the division.

What a novel concept that in a sport where too often the best in a division actively avoid one another, Alvarez and Lara are going to meet in a scheduled 12-rounder on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a bout they both demanded.

"Canelo-Lara is a matchup for the ages," Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya said at the final pre-fight news conference. "It's a match-up that doesn't come by every day. You will be watching the best 154-pound fighters in the world today, in the same ring, for the same prize, for honour and glory."

Erislandy Lara insulted me and my country. He insulted my ability to box, and I take that seriously. This is more than just a fight for me. On Saturday, I'm not only fighting for my honour, I'm fighting for the pride of my country.
Canelo Alvarez

Lara stalked Alvarez for quite some time, using social media to harass him and then crashing his post-fight press conference to confront him face-to-face and demand a fight following Alvarez's 10th-round knockout victory over Alfredo Angulo in March.

Alvarez calmly told Lara that his press conference was not the place to make his next fight. But Alvarez later told his handlers to get the fight done, showing once again that he is serious about fighting the best opponents.

Remember, Alvarez went against the advice of his team and demanded a fight last year with then-titleholder Austin Trout, who was considered a tremendous threat. Alvarez outpointed Trout to unify belts and then stepped up to face Mayweather, who handed Canelo his only defeat. But Alvarez dared to be great and continued the trend by steadfastly insisting on Lara as his opponent when it came time to set up his next fight after Angulo.

"This fight is important because Lara and I are the best two fighters in our weight class," Alvarez said through a translator. "He might not have the most recognisable name, but in the boxing world everybody knows he is the most dangerous opponent. This will be a very important victory."

De La Hoya, who consistently fought the best possible opponents during his Hall of Fame career, admitted he was not in favour of Alvarez fighting Lara.

"When people say I didn't want this fight for him, obviously it wasn't the first choice," De La Hoya said. "As a promoter, you don't want the most difficult fight out there for him. But this is what Canelo's all about. Ultimately it's his decision, and his decision is a very calculated decision. He's confident in his abilities and he wants to fight the very best. That's the bottom line.

"And me as a promoter and me as an ex-fighter, I look at it in two ways. Here I was as a fighter fighting the very best, just like Canelo's doing, and as a promoter this wasn't my first choice. But you have to go with what the fighter says, with what the fighter feels. And this is what is most admirable of Canelo Alvarez - that he wants to please the fans. He wants to give the fight fans the most difficult fights out there."

Technically, Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 KOs) and Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs) are not fighting at junior middleweight because the maximum contract weight is 155 pounds and, therefore, Lara's belt will not be at stake - Alvarez didn't want to fight for it. But the reality is that the fight will crown the de facto best junior middleweight in the world.

"Supposedly, they say he's the best at 154 pounds, but I think I'm the best," Lara said through a translator. "I think it's a good thing that the best are fighting the best."

Not only are they considered the best, but they have contrasting styles and a simmering dislike for each other that has added some spice to the promotion.

Canelo Alvarez demolished Alfredo Angulo in March for a 10th-round knockout victory © Getty Images
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Alvarez, the Mexican star who turns 24 next Friday, is the more aggressive fighter with a bigger punch. Lara, the 31-year-old former Cuban amateur star who defected and now lives in Houston, is a technically gifted southpaw from Cuba's amateur machine.

"He's a fighter that moves very well. He has very tight defence, but the thing that doesn't move well is his feet, his legs," Alvarez said. "We know his style; he has a very difficult style. But we've prepared to break down that style. We worked for a difficult style, for a southpaw. Without a doubt we had the right sparring partners. It's not an easy fight, but we've prepared for everything."

Lara has said repeatedly that he will take Alvarez to "Cuban boxing school."

"The Cuban style is the best style in boxing," Lara said "Everybody knows that we win the most medals at the Olympics, at international tournaments. And that's shown throughout our history.

"It's a good style match-up because I know Canelo's going to try to press forward and press for action, and that's a style I like. I like guys that come and fight, and I pick them apart, like I've done to several guys coming up. These are the fights I like. I like guys who come to fight and I like to put them in the dirt, and that's what I plan on doing."

Adding intrigue to the match is how they performed against recent common opponents, Trout and Angulo. While Alvarez struggled to victory against Trout and later demolished Angulo, Lara was in a life-and-death fight with Angulo in which he had to survive two knockdowns and then rolled past Trout in his next fight.

And here's a stat to chew on, courtesy of CompuBox: Alvarez connects on 52 percent of his power punches, the highest among tracked fighters. But Lara's opponents land only 20 percent of their punches, third-lowest among tracked fighters. Something's got to give on Saturday.

Then there is the element of their distaste for each other. Besides Alvarez's desire to fight elite opponents, he took the fight because Lara's repeated insults raised his ire.

"Lara has said so many things behind my back and on social media for such a long time now that, yes, this fight is and has become personal," Alvarez said. "He's a good fighter but he talks a lot. He's offended me. I'm going to have an answer for everything he has said. I'm going to shut him up once and for all.

"Erislandy Lara insulted me and my country. He insulted my ability to box, and I take that seriously. This is more than just a fight for me. On Saturday, I'm not only fighting for my honour, I'm fighting for the pride of my country. This fight will give me personal satisfaction. It's about fighting the best and beating the best. The media and the fans know that this is a dangerous fight, and them knowing that will make my win that much better. It's a personal satisfaction to be fighting the best and beating the best."

Said Jose 'Chepo' Reynoso, Alvarez's trainer, through a translator, "His pride was hurt because of all of the smack Lara has been talking. He wants to punish Lara thoroughly. Canelo looks at Lara as an obnoxious little child that needs to be put in his place."

Alvarez could have picked any opponent to fight, headlined his own pay-per-view and made the minimum $1.5 million (£870,000) he'll make on Saturday. But he picked Lara because of a competitive spirit.

Lara, however, said he doesn't owe Alvarez any gratitude for giving Lara his biggest fight and biggest payday, $1 million (£580,000).

"Absolutely not. I don't owe him anything other than left hands," Lara said. "I forced this fight. 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 or interviews and jumping on stage. That's what pressured him to take this fight. I know he didn't want this fight, and on [Saturday] you're going to see the reason why he didn't want this fight."

Whatever we see, and however it was made, it is the best against the best.

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

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