Saul "Canelo" Alvarez was charged again Saturday with running down an elusive, defense-minded fighter, and this time he found him enough to claim victory.
Alvarez was kept away by a jabbing, backpedaling Erislandy Lara in front of a sellout crowd at MGM Grand, but the former junior-middleweight world champion showed he'd learned some lessons in how to handle such frustration after failing last year on this stage against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
By landing more power punches than Lara, applying enough pressure to cut Lara near the right eye and back him up often enough, Alvarez emerged with a split-decision triumph.
On the judges' scorecards, Dave Moretti gave Alvarez a 115-113 edge, Levi Martinez awarded Alvarez a 117-111 score and Jerry Roth scored the bout 115-113 for Lara.
Moretti had the bout 105-104 after 11 rounds, but gave Alvarez the 12th after the 23-year-old charged from his corner, hammered Lara with a handful of the 73 power shots to the body he landed all night and dominated the final three minutes of action.
"I came to fight, I didn't come to run," Mexico's Alvarez (44-1-1) said afterward. "You don't win by running. You win by hitting."
A product of the distinguished Cuban amateur boxing system, the southpaw Lara (19-2-2) leaned on a strategy of keeping Alvarez at bay with his jab. He landed 55 jabs to Alvarez's nine, and backed up repeatedly to cause extended periods of inactivity.
"I 100% thought I won the fight," Lara said, boasting a 107-97 advantage in total punches connected. "I felt I was in control. It didn't seem like he did much in there. I know one thing, I made him look bad in front of all of his people."
While Lara patiently waited for openings to strike, Alvarez early on seemed overanxious and found himself trailing on Moretti and Roth's scorecards after seven rounds.
Lara's cut emerged in the seventh. He said afterward it had no effect on him, but Alvarez won five of the final six rounds on two scorecards and four of six on Roth's.
"I wanted to leave a good taste in the mouth of my fans," Alvarez said. "He's a great boxer, and I respect him, but he has to throw more punches. I'll give him a rematch when he learns how to fight."
Alvarez struggled against the slippery Mayweather last year, and failed to corner the unbeaten veteran champion. This time, he chased the body instead of the head and did enough, impressing his promoter Oscar De La Hoya.
"It was excellent, considering the way he put his combinations together and chasing a guy who was on his bicycle every single second," De La Hoya said. "Remember, Lara was the most avoided fighter on the planet before this."
Lara scoffed that Alvarez's body work "had no force" on him, "none of those hurt me. I didn't respect him before the fight and I don't respect him now. I want a rematch."
Earlier, former three-division world champion Abner Mares of Hawaiian Gardens returned to the ring after an 11-month layoff following his first career loss and showed rust before beating Puerto Rico's Jonathan Oquendo by unanimous decision.
"I'm happy I got the win and that's all that counts," Mares (27-1-1) said after winning by scores of 96-94 and 98-92 twice on judges' scorecards.
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