Changing of the guard

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Peter Cariño

Conrad M. Cariño

On July 12, two of the top dogs in the junior middleweight (154 pounds) division will square off to decide who is indeed the best in that division after Floyd Mayweather Jr. We are talking about Mexican Saul Alvarez and Cuban Erislandy Lara.

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The bout is actually more than just Lara putting his 154-pound title on the line; it is also about showcasing the next superstars in that division because Mayweather is expected to retire in a few years.

As I write this column, Alvarez is a favorite entering the fight, but there are a number of observers who are giving Lara a chance to beat the popular Mexican.

Alvarez’s most high-profiled fight was against the still undefeated Mayweather on September 14, 2013, where the American registered a majority decision. Although one judge had the fight even at 114-114, it was obvious that Alvarez got an almost one-sided beating in the hands of Mayweather.

Alvarez (43-1 with 31 knockouts) would stop compatriot Alfredo Angulo in the 10th round on March 8, 2014. Angulo (22-4 18 KOs) was also a stoppage victim of Lara, also in the 10th round on June 8, 2013.

Lara (19-1 with 12 KOs) and Alvarez have another common opponent in Austin Trout. On April 20, 2013, Alvarez scored a unanimous decision win over Trout and deposited the American on the canvass in the 7th round.

Lara would also score a unanimous decision against Trout on December 7, 2013. The Cuban scored an 11th-round knockdown in that fight.

It’s very easy to “intellectualize” the outcome of the Lara-Alvarez fight, and there are many pundits who believe that the boxing skills and slickness of the Cuban will earn him a victor over the Mexican. Well, not so fast!

On the surface, Alvarez looks like a boxer looking to sneak in a punch whenever the opportunity arises. On the other hand, it is easy to be awed by the slickness and counterpunching skills of Lara. But then, how could some pundits overlook how Lara failed to completely dominate a crude puncher like Angulo, who was even able to knock down the Cuban in rounds four and nine in their fight.

When Angulo quit in the 10th round, the scores were particularly close or with two scoring it at 85-84 and 83-86, all in favor of Lara.

On the other hand, when the referee stopped the Alvarez-Angulo fight in the 10th round, Alvarez way ahead with two judges scoring it 82-89 and the third 83-88, all in favor of Alvarez.

It’s easy to see who is the harder puncher of the two and that is definitely Alvarez. But when it comes to boxing skills, it is foolish to dismiss the Mexican as a fighter who simply looks to land that one big one or a big bunch of punches.

The Mexican is good at enticing his opponent to throw punches so he could up the tempo. And when the tempo increases, the Mexican finds the opportunities to land his punches.

And while Alvarez has a good jab, his right cross can come out of nowhere without notice, or without a jab preceding it.

I am not denigrating Lara, because the Cuban is among the finest counterpunchers in the sport today, and his straight left is very accurate.

Yet if given a chance to place a bet, I would put my money on Alvarez.

It is easy to state that a slick boxer can easily beat a bull-strong fighter, but as the saying goes “wait until the first punch lands,” or let’s see how Lara can handle the punching power of the Mexican.

Of course in boxing, anything can still happen. Or Lara can steal a win if he can land consistently on the Mexican and doesn’t crumple under the pressure of his opponent. This is a fight worth watching.

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