LAS VEGAS – The Canelo Alvarez-Erislandy Lara fight featured the combination of two legendary Latino boxing traditions. Alvarez, the 23-year-old matinee idol from Guadalajara, represented the Mexican school of boxing – the art of controlled aggression. Lara, the amateur world champion from Guantanamo, represented the Cuban school of boxing – mastery of the ring and technical precision.
Both junior middleweight contenders upheld the storied boxing traditions of their proud cultures during their hotly contested bout at the MGM Grand on Saturday. Alvarez marched forward and attacked the body of his elusive opponent, landing especially hard with the signature punch of Mexican boxing – the left hook to the body. Lara employed a stick-and-move strategy, making Alvarez miss and making him pay.
Unfortunately for Lara, the Mexican style of boxing is more often rewarded by professional judges and that was the case on Saturday to the delight of the Alvarez fans who packed the Grand Garden Arena.
Alvarez won a split decision by scores of 117-111 from Levi Martinez and 115-113 from Dave Moretti. Judge Jerry Roth scored the fight for Lara by a 115-113 tally. Many boxing writers and fans agreed with Roth’s score, and more than a few believe the fight could have been a draw.
There were also many fight scribes and fans who thought Alvarez deserved the decision and saw no controversy at all in the scoring. Those same observers thought Lara moved his feet more than his hands during the fight and has no right to cry “robbery.”
Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 knockouts) certainly agreed with that sentiment.
“There’s a saying that to make love, you need a partner, and it’s the same thing with boxing, to make a fight you need a partner,” Alvarez said through Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Eric Gomez at the post-fight press conference.
“The first couple of rounds I was just trying to cut the distance,” Alvarez continued when asked if Lara’s stick-and-move tactics frustrated him, “but after a few rounds I was able to get inside and work the body. When I did that he started moving and running.”
After being soundly outmaneuvered and out-landed in the first two rounds, Alvarez’s vicious body attack enabled him to work his way into the fight during the middle rounds. The former junior middleweight champ appeared to take command of the bout when a big left uppercut landed to Lara’s right eye, producing a nasty cut that bled for the rest of the fight.
“When I cut him with that uppercut he ran even more,” Alvarez said, “but I thought I landed the harder punches and that’s why I won the fight.”
Alvarez threw more punches (415 to 386, according to CompuBox’s ShoStats) but connected with fewer total shots (97 to Lara’s 107). Lara soundly out-jabbed the crowd favorite, connecting with 55 of 246, while Alvarez only landed nine of 183 jabs (for a dismal 5 percent connect rate).
However, Alvarez made up for his lack of jabs in the power-punch department, connecting with 88 of 232 hard shots (73 of which were to Lara’s body). Lara landed 52 of 140 power punches, none of which were to the body.
Still, the shots Lara landed to Alvarez’s head – mostly jabs and straight lefts – were quality blows. Alvarez, however, appeared unfazed when he was caught and continued to march forward throughout the fight.
“I never really felt his punches,” Alvarez said during the post-fight presser. “You can’t really get hurt against a guy who is constantly on his back foot and backing away the whole fight. But I think he felt my power because he wanted to get away.
“I was prepared to pressure a boxer who moves a lot but I didn’t think it was going to be that long of a marathon.”
Lara and his team were unapologetic for the amount of lateral movement employed, reminding Alvarez’s fans at the post-fight press conference that art of boxing is to hit and not get hit.
“I did my job and it was disgraceful what they did to me,” Lara (19-2-2, 12 KOs) said through his co-manager Luis DeCubas Jr. at the post-fight presser. “Whoever that judge was who had it nine rounds to three for Alvarez, there’s no words to explain for him having Canelo winning that many rounds.”
When Lara’s trainer Ronnie Shields heard Martinez’s score of 117-111, he thought for sure it was for his fighter.
“The styles are different,” said Shields when he was asked why he didn’t implore his fighter to move less and punch more between rounds. “Canelo’s a guy who likes to stand in front of his opponent and throw punches, and as you saw, all night long Lara was making Canelo miss and he made him miss badly. Lara was landing clean punches, so I told him to continue doing what he was doing.”
“If you look at the first five rounds, we had it four-to-one. When you see your guy doing more than his opponent, that’s what you want to see, so you don’t ask for more.”
Lara staged a mini-rally in the final three rounds, when Alvarez typically fades a bit. The savvy southpaw landed one-two combinations and flashy right hooks on the fly as Alvarez loaded up and missed with big head shots, though he still continued to tag Lara’s body.
Roth scored Rounds 10 and 11 for Lara, which earned the Cuban the fight on the veteran judge’s scorecard. Moretti scored Round 10 for Lara. Martinez scored the final round for Lara. It wasn’t enough.
Lara lost for only the second time as a professional. His first setback came via majority decision against Paul Williams in 2012, a fight almost every observer apart from the official judges scored for Lara.
“This was worse than the Paul Williams fight,” Lara said of Saturday’s decision. “We need to do an immediate rematch, and I will show that I’m better than him just like I showed tonight. Oscar (De La Hoya) was a great boxer; he knows in his heart that this was a robbery, and so does Canelo.”
De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions, which desperately needed Alvarez to win on Saturday due to the company’s recent split with former CEO Richard Schaefer and the potential loss of Al Haymon-managed fighters (of which Lara is one of), is not eager to grant Lara’s wish.
“There’s 10 guys in line who want to fight Canelo,” De La Hoya said. “Lara just got his shot, now he has to get back in line.”
De La Hoya acknowledged the trouble Lara gave the star of his promotional stable but he didn’t see any controversy in the decision.
“This fight reminds me of my fight with Pernell Whitaker,” De La Hoya said, recalling his somewhat controversial decision over the super slick American southpaw in 1997.
“Lara was the most avoided boxer on the planet. Why? Because of what he did tonight. And what did he do?”
The many Alvarez fans who attended the post-fight presser answered: “Run!”
“I apparently ran in my fight with Felix Trinidad and I lost the fight,” De La Hoya said, recalling his controversial majority decision loss in 1999. “And that was just for three rounds!”
De La Hoya’s showdown with Trinidad broke the pay-per-view buy and revenue records for a non-heavyweight bout, and a big part of the appeal of that fight was the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle.
Alvarez has a potential pay-per-view bonanza in front of him if a fight with RING and WBC middleweight champ Miguel Cotto, Puerto Rico’s most beloved fighter since Trinidad, can be made. The only fight bigger than Cotto vs. Canelo is Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao, which most fans have given up on due to boxing’s Cold War.
However, De La Hoya has pledged to try do business with his former promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, which currently works with Cotto, and Arum seems willing to give peace a chance (provided Schaefer and Haymon aren’t in the mix), so Cotto-Alvarez is one super fight that might get made.
Alvarez and De La Hoya didn’t want to speculate on who might be next, but the soon-to-be 24-year-old star reminded the media that he will never avoid a challenge.
“I wanted to take the Lara fight because you guys said that I wouldn’t, and because he talked too much about me,” Alvarez said. “He said he’d take me to school, well guess what? I don’t think anybody wants to go to that school.”
Alvarez’s final comment was for the fans.
“I’m always going to take the best fights and the hardest fights, the fights you want to see.”
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer