Erislandy Lara has escaped from Cuba and the wrath of smugglers, so the thought of taking on Mexico’s most popular fighter isn’t making him flinch.
“Anyone who comes to this country is dreaming to get an opportunity like this opportunity,” Lara said. “Now, I’ve got it. Now, it’s time to work.”
Lara, 31, was smuggled out of Cuba in 2008 and has gone 19-1-2 as a professional, landing the shot at junior-middleweight Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Saturday night in the Showtime pay-per-view main event at MGM Grand thanks to consecutive victories over the same men Alvarez has recently vanquished, Alfredo Angulo and Austin Trout.
Alvarez and Lara scored 10th-round technical knockouts of Angulo -- although Angulo twice knocked down Lara in their June 2013 fight at StubHub Center in Carson -- but southpaw Lara convincingly dominated Trout in December while Alvarez had more of a struggle.
Lara was there on the post-fight news conference stage to confront Alvarez after the Mexican beat Angulo in March, calling him out for a showdown that Alvarez ultimately accepted despite concerns Lara is capable of outboxing Alvarez as Floyd Mayweather Jr. did last year.
Emboldened by his amateur pedigree, Lara said Thursday at the fighters’ news conference, “The Cuban school is the best school in boxing. You see the Olympics, the World Championships, the Pan-American Games ... Cubans win the most medals. That’s shown throughout history.”
To parlay that experience into lucrative purses, Lara endured the threat of getting thrown overboard during his Cuba escape, and was left to wait out tense negotiations before reaching freedom in Europe.
He came to the U.S., training in Houston, to win bouts at casinos like Fantasy Springs in Indio before breaking through with a majority decision loss to Paul Williams in 2011 scoring that was mostly viewed as robbery.
Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 knockouts) told boxing reporters Thursday that he’s aware Lara is still largely an unknown to casual boxing fans, “but you guys know he’s the best guy out there for me.”
Alvarez said in training camp he’ll move quicker around the ring than he did against Mayweather.
Said Lara: “We’re going to wait for him, let’s wait and see what he can show.”
Alvarez on Thursday admitted he’ll gain weight following Friday’s weigh-in and expects to be able to corner and bully Lara, subjecting him to heavier punching than Angulo delivered to Lara.
“I’m not worried about that,” Lara said. “Every fighter I’ve fought has been heavier than me and I’ve been able to deal with them. Everyone goes into the ring how they feel comfortable. I have no problem with him blowing up to whatever he wants.”