The feeling was all too familiar for Erislandy Lara. He was sure he had won. He must have won. But then came the verdict, along with disappointment.
Lara (17-1-2, 11 knockouts) was on the wrong end of controversial decisions in his two most high-profile fights.
The first time was a Showtime main event against Paul Williams in 2011, one of the most egregious bad decisions in recent memory.
The judges in Atlantic City, N.J., that summer night clearly didn’t see what everyone else saw: a decisive, if not wide, victory for Lara. But Williams was ruled the winner by majority decision, which led to an investigation by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission.
Then in late last year, Lara seemed well in control against fellow contender Vanes Martirosyan in the main event of an HBO Boxing After Dark broadcast from Las Veags,when a gruesome cut suffered by his foe caused an early end to the bout.
Many observers had Lara ahead at the time of stoppage, but once again he was on the wrong end of a bad decision (though this one couldn’t compare to the Williams controversy) and settled for a technical draw with Martirosyan.
But this time will be different.
This time, Lara says, he’ll exit the squared circle the winner, no matter what the circumstances are. The 30-year-old Cuban has a third crack at a major fight, when he faces Alfredo Angulo on a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on Saturday.
“I’ve had a lot of good fights, I’ve been on the wrong end of those decisions, but this is the one,” Lara said through his manager Luis DeCubas Jr., referring to the two controversial decisions.
“At first, obviously it’s a little frustrating, but when I go back and look at it and think about it, I know what type of world-class fighter I am. I know I beat them both. I just have to look forward and keep trucking.”
For once, the 2005 amateur world champion is a sizeable favorite heading into a major fight. Lara’s blend of power, speed and guile present a matchup quagmire for the hard-charging Angulo (22-2, 18 knockouts). The majority of experts are tapping Lara to easily outpoint the 30-year-old Mexican. What would a win over Angulo mean?
“Angulo’s one of the top guys in the division,” said Lara, THE RING’s No. 4-rated junior middleweight. “He’s a good puncher; he’s fought a lot of good guys. ÔÇª He’s a big name guy, this is definitely a fight that can catapult me.”
Lara defected from Cuba around the same time as two other top fighters from his communist homeland: Yuriorkis Gamboa and Guillermo Rigondeaux.
Gamboa has been a star in the sport for some time, regularly headlining on HBO, while Rigondeaux broke out with a dominant victory over Nonito Donaire in April.
Is Lara the next Cuban boxer to attract worldwide acclaim?
“No question about it,” Lara said. “I was in the big fights before both of them. I fought Paul Williams, who I feel is better than anybody either of them fought, including Donaire.
“I thought Rigondeaux put on a great performance, and you know, now it’s my time, because after the Williams fight no one wanted to fight me. Now it’s my opportunity to be back on the stage.”
With a sterling performance Saturday, maybe this time, Lara won’t have that queasy feeling in his stomach after the winner is announced.
Photos / Gene Blevins-Hoganphotos-Golden Boy, Holly Stein-Getty Images
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor for USA TODAY Sports. He’s a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger