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Erislandy Lara: “That's what I do. I am a winner”

(Photo © Gene Blevins - Hoganphotos /Golden Boy Promotions)
(Photo © Gene Blevins - Hoganphotos /Golden Boy Promotions)


There’s a knock on Cuban fighters that they aren’t very exciting when they turn pro. Because of a dedicated and regimented amateur system, essentially Cuba’s pro system, and way of showing the rest of the world the country can be isolated and dominant, the boxers who do turn pro end up stuck in an amateur style. They stick and move and defend perfectly but in an oft-times boring fashion. Cuban southpaw junior middleweight Erislandy Lara is not one of those Cubans. With a record of 17-1-2 with 11 knockouts, Lara is tough to watch in fights when matched with difficult styles. See his bouts with Vanes Martirosyan and Carlos Molina, both hard-to-watch affairs complete with holding, headbutts and infrequent fluid exchanges of leather. But when a style suits Lara, as is the case with this Saturday night’s showdown against Alfredo Angulo, 22-2 (18), at the StubHub Center (formerly the Hope Depot Center) in Carson, CA, Lara generally shines (see his first round knockout over an all but done Ronald Hearns or the disputed points loss to the aggressive and defensively challenged Paul Williams). The question is: Is Angulo on the level of the upper-tier fighters like Vanes and Molina, whose styles would trouble just about anyone on any night?
 
“It’s a very interesting fight,” Lara told Maxboxing.com at the press conference announcing the fight. “It’s a boxer/puncher match up. I am focused on winning this fight because I know what a win could lead to.”

“I think, first of all, you have to realize that Alfredo Angulo is one of the toughest fighters out there,” Lara’s trainer, Ronnie Shields, told Maxboxing.com on Wednesday. “It all depends on what he brings for the fight. If he comes in like we expect for him to do, to come in and try and knock Erislandy Lara out, then it’s going to be a very exciting fight. If he comes and tries to sit back and box with Erislandy Lara, then it’s just not going to be exciting. As simple as that. My guy has to fight the fight he trained for. He has to fight his style, so everything is going to be in Angulo’s hands. He’s been talking that ‘[Lara] should stand up like a man and fight me.’ Man, this is what boxing is all about. Two men getting in the ring against each other and the ring is going to be only so big. If [Angulo] is the good fighter that he says he is, then he should know how to cut off the ring. He should know how to handle movement. He should know all these things. He is one of the top 154-pound fighters in the world. It’s how he trains. He should be a seasoned pro to know how to do all that.”
 
The fight is pretty simple. The southpaw boxer Lara will try to stick and move behind sharper punching technique, tighter defense and quicker footwork while Angulo will look to pressure and attack in close quarters. Angulo is going to have to absorb hard shots like a tank in order get his work done while Lara will be looking to walk him into shots.
 
“He’s a strong fighter who will come in shape,” said Lara of Angulo. “He can punch so I have to be in great shape and I have to be ready.”
 
While the notion here is that Angulo is the puncher - and he certainly is - Shields feels his man brings that dimension to the ring as well.
 
“Angulo is known as a puncher. Erislandy is not known as a puncher but what they don’t realize and they don’t know is Lara can punch when he wants to,” said Shields. “When he wants to sit down on his punches, he’s knocked guys out. Look at the some of the guys he put down. Maybe they weren’t the caliber of Angulo but still when you knock a man out, you didn’t hit him with a hammer; you hit him with your power shots. If they are thinking Lara can’t punch, then they are going to be in for a very long night.”
 
Shields agreed that Lara’s power comes from his superior technique.
 
“Absolutely and that is what I work on every single day,” said Shields. “I’ve never changed anything about Erislandy Lara since I’ve started working with him. I think I’ve got him to the point where he throws more punches and more combinations. But other than that, I’ve never stopped him from being a boxer because I know this is what he does best. When you have a fighter, you work on his weaknesses but you don’t turn his strengths into a weakness.”
 
For Lara, this is an opportunity for yet another Cuban boxer to shine. Earlier this year, his countryman, Guillermo Rigondeaux, defeated Nonito Donaire in a 122-pound unification bout that showcased the very best of Cuban boxing.
 
“No question about it. Cuban boxers are the best boxers in the world,” proclaimed Lara. “I know it’s my time. I have to win impressively so that fans will pay more attention to Cuban fighting. It’s our time to take over.”
 
Lara has to win impressively not only to show Cuban dominance but to set himself up for bigger matches down the road. With Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez set for September 14, the time is now to build a case for the winner.
 
“Yes. It absolutely leads to big fights but it doesn’t have to be ‘Canelo’ or Mayweather. The junior middleweight  [division] is stacked with great fighters. There are great fighters out there and guys you can make money with,” said Shields. “With Mayweather, it’s about money for him now. And he has to pick a guy that he will generate money for himself but [interest] for the fans also. But at the same time, the best fighters should be fighting the best fighters. Of course we would like the winner of ‘Canelo’-Mayweather but we also have to be realistic and see what else is out there also.”
 
Shields agreed that this fight is not about “Win this one and get the winner” but rather, it’s a step in the right direction.
 
“Exactly. Build a case and show the people that he is the best or one of the best junior middleweights in the world,” said Shields. “If you go back and look at all these guys’ records, Erislandy Lara is the only guy really at 154 that is in the top five that is fighting any contenders. Everybody else is afraid of contenders.”
 
In Angulo, most see a straightforward brawler. But there is an intelligence there along with more than a few weapons and a tough, relentless nature.
 
“He’s a good right-handed puncher but he also has a good left hand too,” acknowledged Lara. “That’s one of the tactics we are working is not allowing him to get into his game plan and us to get into ours.”
 
This is Angulo’s third fight with trainer Virgil Hunter. It’s an interesting match as Angulo is a pressure fighter and Hunter is thought of as an old-school teacher of refined technique that includes a solid, defensive skill set. Their union has gone 11 rounds so far. The first fight lasted 56 seconds. The second was a rougher than expected fight with unheralded Jorge Silva who gave Angulo some fits with his hit-and-move style. To Shields, it was the same Angulo.
 
“No, I haven’t seen any difference in him,” said Shields, who conceded “Sometimes it takes more than three fights or two fights. Being a trainer for so long, I realized one thing: that when things start happening, you revert right back to what you know best,” assessed Shields. “You hear, ‘Oh, we are working on defense. We are doing this. We are doing that. That’s not for me to worry about; you know? When you have a plan and as long as Lara sticks with the plan, I think we will be victorious.”
 
Should Angulo try and box with Lara rather than pressure and fight him, it could be both out of character and unlikely, assessed Shields.
 
“Well, here is one thing I know; if he comes out and tries to outbox with Lara, it’s going to be an extremely easy fight for Lara, very easy because he won’t be able to outbox Lara,” said Shields. “That’s number one. Number two, [Angulo] has to fight the same way. Maybe they can switch up a couple things while he is coming forward but other than that, Angulo is not a boxer. If he tries to box with Lara, it’s going to be an extremely easy fight for Erislandy Lara.”
 
This fight likely figures to follow a familiar boxer vs. puncher script. What it may come down to is will vs. skill. It all depends on both men. Angulo has to take chances to force his fight on Lara. The Cuban has to be both disciplined in his approach but also ride the edge of chance-taking in order to make a case for being both entertaining and dominant. It should make for an interesting fight.
 
“Obviously, I want to do something special for the fans but more than that, I want to win the fight,” said Lara. “That’s what I do. I am a winner.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
 

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