Erislandy Lara: Cuba's Uncrowned World Champion
Lou Eisen / November 8, 2012 - 2:43pm
The small island of Cuba, a mere 90 miles south west of Florida, is currently experiencing a big resurgence in the world of professional boxing. Right up until Fidel Castro grabbed power in Cuba, the small island was a veritable boxing factory, producing many world champions in almost every weight division in boxing. That ended abruptly when Castro decided to ban all professional sports.
Many Cuban fighters, unable to leave the island for greener pastures in the United States, fought in the amateur ranks for years for Cuba. That is why Cuba dominated the international world of amateur boxing for so long. Their teams were chock full of supremely talented professional amateurs. Occasionally some fighters did manage to leave the island by precarious means. Some also made it out in the days and weeks immediately after Castro assumed power.
Now, more and more Cuban fighters are choosing to brave the risk of a dangerous raft ride to Florida and freedom in order to pursue their dreams of fistic glory. Guillermo Rigondeaux and Yuriorkis Gamboa are the two most prominent names that always appear whenever today's top Cuban pro boxers are discussed and deservedly so. Joel Casamayor has been the most successful Cuban fighter of recent times.
There is another Cuban boxer whose outstanding talent merits mentioning in the same company as his esteemed countrymen. His name is Erislandy Lara Santoya and he is 29 years of age. Born in Guantanamo, Cuba, Lara now resides with his wife and children in Miami Beach, Florida. Remember his name because he is about to join his fellow Cubans in the upper echelons of the championship elite.
He is supremely skilled and he shows it every time he steps into the ring. He is also blessed with a tremendous amount of poise in the ring mixed with superior boxing intelligence. In short, he's the complete package.
On Nov. 10 at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, Lara will face the toughest test of his young career, when he fights fellow junior middleweight, and former American Olympian, Vanes Martirosyan (W32 KO22) in a WBC title elimination bout. Lara's record of 17 wins, with 11 knockouts and one loss is rather impressive. Especially since he has really never been beaten in the pro ranks.
On July 9, 2011, at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Lara gave Paul Williams the worst sustained beating of his career. Lara pummeled Williams mercilessly for the full 12 rounds only to come a cropper when the decision was announced as an inexplicable majority decision in favor of Williams. It was, simply put, the worst boxing decision seen in Atlantic City in 50 years.
Lara earned many new fans that night for his stoic forbearance after the decision was announced. HBO, to their credit, derided the decision as corrupt, disgusting and shameful. The decision was so terrible it is painful to even have to list it on Lara's record. Suffice to say, anyone who has followed Lara's career knows that he is destined for greatness.
Boxing experts agree that Erislandy Lara is one of the top junior middleweights in the world today along with Vanes Martirosyan and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. Both Alvarez and Lara have their own unique styles and mindsets in the ring. Lara is much more technically sound than Alvarez and very difficult to hit squarely. He is very patient and takes his time picking his spots. He is also a deadly accurate puncher and gets tremendous leverage on all of his shots.
Alvarez is more of a bull. He is a Mexican version of Joe Frazier. Alvarez likes to pressure his man into the ropes and wail away with both hands until his opponent crumples unconscious to the canvas. Alvarez is easier to hit than Lara. Alvarez has yet to meet an opponent in the ring that he truly respects. That will change once he faces Lara.
Lara has more than enough ring smarts and boxing finesse to avoid Alvarez's rushes while at the same time piling up the points. As Lara told The Fight Network in a recent interview, "A fighter's most potent weapon is his brain. You would have to be foolish to fight Alvarez straight on. That is playing to his strengths. The best way to beat Canelo is to outwit him in the ring and I will do that when we meet."
Lara has knockout power in his left hand. He is deceptively powerful in that his punches have an added kick to them because they tend to land flush. Lara's one round demolition of a woefully overmatched Ronald Hearns showed off his hand speed and punching accuracy to great effect. Lara is lightning-quick, when it comes to taking advantages of his opponent's mistakes and weaknesses.
His quick knockout of Ronald Hearns almost looked like a sparring match so vast was the disparity in talent between Lara and the easily vanquished Hearns. Since the Williams fight, Lara has been trying to knock out his foes rather than give other corrupt judges a chance to cheat him again.
If Lara has any drawbacks it is that he tends to throw one shot at a time, rather than putting his punches together in combinations. He likes to pot shot his opponents. He looks for an opening to land one big left hook at a time. He is more of a boxer than a slugger per se but he does have more than enough power to earn the respect of his various opponents.
Lara likes to create angles and use lateral movement to create openings for his left hand. He very rarely stands in front of a guy and slugs it out. That is not his style. Against Martirosyan he may not have a choice. Little is known about Lara's chin, thanks to his superior ring defense. He never stands still long enough to allow his opponent to land more than one shot at a time.
As his career continues to progress towards an inevitable world title shot, Lara has become much more comfortable with adapting his Cuban style to professional North American boxing. Lara will most likely get a world title shot sometime in 2013. Taking all of that into consideration, he has really only had 18 pro fights so far in the U.S. He won't hit his full prime before he gets 25 pro fights under his belt, at which time he will already be the junior middleweight world champion.
What makes Vanes Martirosyan such a formidable opponent for Lara is that he presents a whole new set of skills that Lara has never before faced. Martirosyan is very good at fighting on the outside and that will make it difficult for Lara to pot shot him during the fight. Given Martirosyan 's ability to keep the fight on the end of his jab and the power he possesses in his straight right hand, Lara may be forced to come in and fight him on the inside. That is not his game and he is not strong enough to beat Martirosyan via a toe-to-toe slugfest.
Lara's strength is his brain and his ability to outthink his opponent. Although Martirosyan can fight well on the outside, he is in fact, much more dangerous on the inside. He has lethal power in both hands and terrific hand speed, which is a lethal combination. Lara will wait and pick his spots. He is a natural counter puncher who waits to pounce on his opponent's mistakes. Martirosyan will initiate most of the action and keep throwing right hands off of his jab all night long. Lara's best bet is to try to avoid facing Martirosyan head on although there will be moments where, he will have to stand and fight. That kind of scenario does not favor Lara. Mind you, he still has enough pop in his left hand to make Martirosyan respect him.
Look for Lara to get inside Martirosyan's jab and counter with right hooks to the head. In his most recent bout, Lara scored a one-sided unanimous decision over tough Freddy Hernandez on June 30th in California. Lara stands 5'9" tall, which is not very tall for a junior-middleweight fighter these days. Hernandez stood 5'10" tall, one inch taller than Lara. In fact, in most of his pro fights, Lara is the shorter man in the ring, which has forced him to make certain adjustments during the fight in order to properly and effectively deal with his opponent's height and reach advantages.
If Martirosyan makes a mistake such as admiring his own work, or not bringing his jab back quick enough or backing out straight up, Lara will hit him and drop him. Lara's focus on defense will be not allowing Martirosyan to land more than one good shot at a time. If he allows Martirosyan to get off multi punch combinations, it could be a very long night but a short fight for the budding Cuban star.
Lara has complete confidence in his ring abilities and is genuinely willing to fight anyone in the junior middleweight or middleweight division, including the world middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez. Lara is able to think on his feet and make split second adjustments during a fight as quick as any elite fighter in the world today. He is able to size up his opponents quickly, and then proceed to implement his game plan for the fight.
Martirosyan is dangerous precisely because he is so adept at fighting on the inside and outside and at boxing and slugging. Lara has an advantage being a southpaw and that is guaranteed to give Martirosyan trouble during the fight. Martirosyan has to always remember to move counter clockwise to stay out of range of Lara's lightning left cross, which can be shortened into a hook, depending how close Lara may be to Martirosyan's chin. Both fighters bring a lot to the table. This fight will come down to a battle of wills and who is best able to enforce their will on the other man. Both men have never been beaten as pros. The winner of this fight will face Saul Alvarez, which in the end, may end up being no victory at all.