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Is Erislandy Lara Getting the Shaft?

Kelsey McCarson

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“Erislandy Lara, if you don’t know by now, is the best junior middleweight in the world right now,” Ronnie Shield, Lara’s trainer, told me during Christmas week. “There are a lot of good junior middleweights out there, but from a technical standpoint, no one is going to beat Lara right now.”

Despite the assertion, something many in boxing would agree with, Erislandy Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs) seems to be getting the shaft. Coming off arguably his best year as a professional prizefighter, Lara is now left wondering why one of the fighters he knocked out last year, Alfredo Angulo, is getting the nod against superstar Canelo Alvarez for a March 2014 bout.

Lara and Angulo met last summer in Carson, California. After it appeared he may get knocked out himself, Lara stopped Angulo suddenly in Round 10 of a rugged and fan-friendly fight, landing a vicious left hand that smashed Angulo’s eye into an enormous hematoma. Lara showed everything in the fight. He easily outboxed Angulo early in the bout before having to pick himself off the floor in Rounds 4 and 9. Angulo landed devastating hooks in the fight, the kind that separate most men from their senses. But Lara took them on the chin and rose to the occasion for the win.

Then in December, Lara fought fellow southpaw slickster Austin Trout in Brooklyn, New York. The two junior middleweights were by-and-large considered to be the two most avoided boxers in the 154-pound division. While Lara’s career has been shutout thus far from big money fights against superstar competition, Trout shined in an easy win over Miguel Cotto in 2012 and came oh-so-close in a decision loss to Canelo Alvarez in 2013.

The bout with Trout was supposed to be a barnburner, but it wasn’t. Lara dominated every minute of every round in what has to be considered his most impressive performance to date. He knocked Trout down to his knees with a lead left hand in Round 11 to put a stamp on his masterpiece, a 12-round unanimous decision win over a man who dominated Cotto and went toe-to-toe with Alvarez.

But Lara, age 30, hasn’t seen much fruit from his 2013 efforts so far. Despite being the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board No. 1 contender to Floyd Mayweather’s lineal 154-pound championship, there’s been nary a mention of Lara as a possible opponent for Mayweather’s next bout. In fact, Lara seems to have boxed himself out of the Mayweather sweepstakes altogether. Does any among you foresee Mayweather moving from likely opponent (and multiple knockout loss sufferer) Amir Khan in May to someone as staunch and dangerous as Lara in September?

And Lara still can’t seem to get Alvarez in the ring. When I visited Lara’s camp back in November 2012, Luis DeCubas, Jr., Lara’s manager, told me they had been trying to get a fight with Alvarez for years. Years! He said the Alvarez camp knew how dangerous Lara was, and that he expected to have to force the issue in order to land the fight.

But the fight hasn’t happened yet, and it appears not to be on its way anytime soon. Instead, Alvarez has selected Angulo for March, likely because he considers a bout with Angulo much more winnable than one with Lara.

Lara is getting the shaft. But, maybe, it’s just his lot in life.

Lara was born in 1983 in one of the poorest areas of Guantánamo, Cuba. He never met his father. His mother, Marisol, was an alcoholic. He was raised by his grandmother, Silvia, who died when Lara was just 11 years old.

Lara used boxing to cope and began fighting in Cuba’s youth competitions. Before he knew it, he was a teenager moving up the ranks and vying for an Olympic spot on the best boxing team in the world. Lara became captain of the Cuban national team and won a world championship in 2005.

Lara attempted to defect from Cuba during the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil. After having a few drinks with teammate Guillermo Rigondeaux, the two decided to make their move to Germany with boxing promoter Ahmet Oner, who had helped Yuriorkis Gamboa and Yan Barthelemy defect from Cuba a short time earlier. The two men were hidden away by Oner until they could be smuggled safely out of the country.

But it never happened.

The two languished for three weeks, fugitives in a strange land. Cuba worked diligently with Brazilian authorities to search for the missing boxers. Lara and Rigondeaux decided to turn themselves in. Upon their return to Cuba, the two were branded traitors and placed on indefinite suspension. The men were then confined to their homes and not allowed to fight.

“It was a pointless existence,” Lara said of the matter. His country was giving him the shaft.

Four months later, Lara again made contact with Oner. Lara set off alone with 20 strangers on a smugglers ship. The six-hour trip from Cuba to Mexico took 17 hours, and the smugglers made sure to grab 10 times more for Lara’s passage once they learned he was a championship boxer. Lara was getting the shaft again, but it was worth it.

“It was a very difficult decision to leave Cuba which is why it took me so long to leave, but I did it for the right reasons,” said Lara. “I did it to better my life and better my family’s life and that is what I’ve done. I came here to work hard and fight and obviously my ultimate goal is to move my family in Cuba over here to the United States.”

Lara has four children. Two of his children remain in Cuba with his mother, who he keeps in contact with and hopes to have come live with him in the United States. His other two children and wife are with him in Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston, where Lara now lives and trains. Lara met his wife, Yudi, during his two-year, two-fight stint in Germany under the management of Oner. After parting ways with Oner and signing with DeCubas in 2008, Lara moved to Miami for a while, but ultimately wanted to move to Katy so he could focus on his work with Shields as well as live in a more family-friendly environment. Lara also signed with Al Haymon in 2012.

“Being on the sea, not knowing whether you are going to live or die—whether I’d make it or not,” he said. “I’m grateful to God I was able to pass that stage of my life and now that is why I work so hard in this country to make the most out of my life. I believe that God put every human being on this planet for a reason.”

Let’s hope that reason isn’t Lara getting the shaft. Despite all he’s been through to get here, despite rising through the ranks and proving himself an elite contender, Lara still doesn’t seem to be getting the fights he deserves.

Is it his style? Shields doesn’t think so.

“If you really know boxing, then you will love Erislandy Lara,” said Shields. “If you don’t know anything about boxing, then you will not love him because the kid knows how to fight. He knows what to do inside of that ring. That’s all that’s important.”

But what about television?

“The networks love it,” said Shields. “Showtime really likes him. That’s why you see him on Showtime all the time. What people need to do is really study boxing. When you study boxing, you know it’s not about two guys going in the ring and slugging it out…that’s not what boxing is about.”

Shields said the Cuban style, something much maligned by some in the boxing media today, is the epitome of the sweet science.

“The Cubans really know what the sweet science is,” said Shields. “Some people say it’s the sweet science, but they don’t fight like it’s the sweet science. Boxing is a hit-and-don’t-get-hit sport. The Cubans have perfected that. A lot of people see these guys go toe-to-toe, blood-and-guts…but those guys’ careers don’t last long. But the Cuban style, they can fight 15-20 years if they wanted to…the Cubans are boxer-punchers. They know how to hurt you. But at the same time, they’re not getting beat up. After boxing, they are able to go a live a normal life. Half the other guys out there are not able to do that.

Despite not seeming get the fights he’s earned, Shields said he still expects big things to happen for Lara in 2014.

“I expect Lara to fight for a world title in March. Definitely, it’s going to happen in March.”

And so we wait. Will Lara continue to get the shaft? Or will 2014 be the year he finally gets the fights he deserves?

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Emerging Heavyweights: Three to Watch

Ted Sares

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Victor Faust (Viktor Vykhryst), a 6’6” 232-pound Ukrainian heavyweight (and long-time amateur) is a product of the great amateur program in the Ukraine–one that has produced the likes of the Klitschko brothers, Oleksandr Usyk, Vasily Lomachenko, and more recently Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

At first glance, his amateur record does not appear stellar, but a closer review indicates several SD’s or MD’s.

Earlier this month, on Sept. 20, he scored a frightening one punch KO when he fought the more experienced Gabriel Enguema (10-9) in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. It was his third KO victory in three professional fights—all in 2020. The end came as a result of a Doctor Steelhammer-like perfect straight right to knock the Spaniard out cold. It brought back memories of Wladimir’s KO of Calvin Brock in 2006. Faust displayed skills, size, a solid chin, and power in dispatching his opponent.

“…Soon everyone will …see how skillful he is. He’s the complete package and will compete in massive fights sooner rather than later.” Erol Ceylan (Faust’s German promoter)

Oh yes, Faust beat Romanian Mihai Nistor in the amateurs and the talented Nistor in turn halted Anthony Joshua in the amateurs back in 2011. (Nistor also went 1-2 with Filip Hrgovic and lost to Tony Yoka in 2012.) Of course, one must be circumspect when using logic in boxing. Now that Nistor has turned pro, he will be worth following as his style is very much Tysonesque.

There are others who have—at a minimum– the same potential as Faust.

Tony Yoka

tony

Hard-hitting Frenchman 6’7” Tony Yoka (8-0) has beaten far better opposition than Faust and has a far better amateur record. In fact, he beat Filip Hrgovic and Joe Joyce in the 2016 Rio Games on the way to a Gold Medal. Recently, he dismantled veteran and fellow Frenchman Johan Duhaupas, a fringe contender with some notable notches on his belt. The end came in the first round by virtue of a crunching right uppercut.

Yoka perhaps could be slotted above Faust at this point.; he just might be the best of the new guys on the block. However, there are some dicey anti-doping issues that have tainted his reputation, though they do seem to be mostly resolved at this point.

Arslanbek Makhmudov

Arslanbek

This Russian “Lion,” 6’5 ½”, 260 pounds with an imposing muscular frame, is still another hungry prospect ready to break into the next tier. Nicknamed the “Lion,” — he also has been called “Predator” and “Beast — he is 10-0 (10 KOs).

He now lives and fights out of Montreal. The holder of two regional titles, he stopped a shot Samuel Peter in one round this past December.

“I’m confident that with my team, Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions, I will reach my goal of becoming heavyweight champion of the world,” —Makhmudov.

This all said, The Lion needs some work on his technical skills as size can only go so far.

Makhmudov’s next opponent is Canadian heavyweight Dillon “Big Country” Carman (14-5) whose claim to fame is that he KOd comebacking Donovan Ruddock in 2015 in Toronto. This one will end differently for “Big Country.”

Others

Arguably, classy Americans Stephan Shaw (13-0), and Jared Anderson (6-0 with four KOs in the first round) could be added to the above. Filip Hrgovic and Efe Ajagba, both 6’6”, have already moved up.

A good yardstick is 6’5” American Jonathan Rice who lost a 10-round bout to Ajagba, was TKO’d in the seventh round Makhmudov, lost a 6-round decision to Tony Yoka, and a lost 6-round decision to Shaw.

Have I missed any?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com of on Facebook.

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Jermell Charlo Unifies Super Welterweights Via Solar Plexus Punch

David A. Avila

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WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo knocked out IBF and WBA titlist Jeison Rosario with a knockout punch delivered to the solar plexus on Saturday to add two more belts to his collection.

“I’m definitely bringing home the straps,” said Charlo.

Shades of Bob Fitzsimmons.

Back in 1897, Fitzsimmons used the same solar plexus punch to dethrone Gentleman James Corbett for the heavyweight title in Carson City, Nevada.

In another casino city Charlo (34-1, 18 KOs) floored Dominican Republic’s Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) three times at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. He and his brother co-headlined a heavy duty pay-per-view card with no fans in attendance on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Charlo jumped on Rosario quickly in the first round when he charged and clipped him with a left hook to the temple. Down went the two-belt champion for the count. But he got up seemingly unfazed.

For the next several rounds Rosario was the aggressor and put the pressure on Charlo who was content to allow the Dominican to fire away. Occasionally the Houston fighter jabbed but allowed Rosario to pound up and down with both fists.

After allowing Rosario to get comfortable with his attack, suddenly Charlo stopped moving and connected with a short crisp counter left hook and right cross in the sixth round. Down went Rosario again and he got up before the count of 10.

Charlo said it was part of the game plan.

“I’m growing and I realize that the knockout will just come,” he said.

Charlo was in control with a patient style and allowed Rosario to come forward. But the Dominican was more cautious in the seventh.

In the eighth round Charlo jabbed to the head and then jabbed hard to Rosario’s stomach. The Dominican fighter dropped down on his seat as if felled by a gun shot. He could not get up and convulsed while on the floor. The referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 21 seconds of round eight.

“That jab that got to him must have landed in a vital point,” said Charlo after the fight. “I hope he recovers and bounces back.”

Charlo now has three of the four major super welterweight world titles.

WBC Super Bantamweight Title

Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) captured the WBC super bantamweight title by unanimous decision over fellow Mexican Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs) in a battle between southpaws. The war between border town fighters was intense.

Nery, a former bantamweight world titlist, moved up a weight division and found Alameda to be a slick southpaw with an outstanding jab. At first the Tijuana fighter was a little puzzled how to attack but found his groove in the fourth round.

But Alameda, who fights out of Nogales, Mexico, began using combinations and finding success.  A crafty counter left uppercut caught Nery charging in a few times, but he managed to walk through them.

In the final two rounds Nery picked up the action and increased the pressure against the slick fighting Alameda, He forced the Nogales fighter to fight defensively and that proved enough to give the last two rounds for Nery and the victory by unanimous decision. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 for Nery who now holds the WBC super bantamweight world title. He formerly held the WBC bantamweight title.

Roman Wins

Danny “Baby-Faced Assassin” Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) managed to rally from behind and defeat Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs) in a battle between former world champions in a nontitle super bantamweight clash. It wasn’t easy.

Once again Roman fought a talented southpaw and in this fight Payano, a former bantamweight titlist, moved up in weight and kept Roman off balance for the first half of the fight. The jab and movement by the Dominican fighter seemed to keep Roman out of sync.

Roman, who fights out of Los Angeles, used a constant body attack to wear down the 35-year-old Payano and it paid off in the second half. Then the former unified world champion Roman began to pinpoint more blows to the body and head. With seconds left in the 12th and final round, a left hook delivered Payano down and through the ropes. Sadly, the referee missed the knockdown. It didn’t matter as all three judges scored it identical at 116-112 for Roman after 12 rounds.

“I made some adjustments and picked up the pace and got the win,” said Roman who formerly held the WBA and IBF super bantamweight world titles.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

Arne K. Lang

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

The Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, was the site of the first pay-per-view boxing event in the United States since the Fury-Wilder rematch on Feb. 22. There were six fights in all, five of which were title fights and the other a title-eliminator. They were divided into two tiers but bundled into a package that cost approximately a dollar a round with a facile intermission tossed in at no extra charge.

The headline attraction of the first “three-pack” – and the most anticipated fight of the evening – found WBC world middleweight champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The Ukrainian gave Gennady Golovkin a hard tussle when they fought in November of last year at Madison Square Garden – GGG won a unanimous decision but the scores were tight and many thought Derevyanchenko deserved the decision – and the expectation was that tonight’s match would also be very competitive.  But it really wasn’t although the rugged Derevyanchenko rarely took a backward step.

The fight went the distance and there were no knockdowns, but Charlo buckled his knees at the end of round three and Derevyanchenko ended the fight with cuts above both eyes. The judges had it 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112.

With Canelo Alvarez apparently headed to 168 and GGG showing his age at 38, one can make a strong case that the undefeated 30-year-old Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) is now the top middleweight in the world. Derevyanchenko, who was 23-1 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing before turning pro, saw his pro record decline to 13-3 with all three losses in middleweight title fights.

The middle fight of the first tier was a lusty encounter between Mexican-American super bantamweights Brandon Figueroa and Damien Vazquez. Figueroa, one of two fighting brothers from the Mexican border town of Weslaco, Texas, was a huge favorite over Vazquez, a Colorado native who moved to Las Vegas as a freshman in high school and had fought extensively in Mexico where he made his pro debut at age 16. But Vazquez, the nephew of former three-time world super bantamweight title-holder Israel Vazquez, came to fight and gave a good effort until the fight turned lopsidedly against him.

In the middle rounds, Figueroa’s high-pressure attack began to wear Vazquez down. Vazquez had a few good moments in rounds six and eight, but when his right eye began swelling from the cut above it, he was fighting an uphill battle. He took a lot of punishment before referee Gary Rosato halted it at the 1:18 mark of round 10.

Figueroa, 23, successfully defended his WBA 122-pound title while improving his record to 21-0-1 with his 16th KO. Vazquez declined to 15-2-1.

The lid-lifter was a WBO bantamweight title defense by John Riel Casimero with Duke Micah in the opposite corner. Micah, from Accra, Ghana, came in undefeated at 24-0, but Casimero had faced a far stronger schedule and was a substantial favorite.

A Filipino who was been training in Las Vegas under Bones Adams, Casimero took Micah out in the third round. The Brooklyn-based Micah was somewhat busier in the opening frame, but the tide turned quickly in favor of the Filipino. Casimero hurt Micah with a left hook in round two and went for the kill. He wasn’t able to finish him, but Micah was on a short leash and referee Steve Willis was quick to step in when Casimero resumed his attack after the break. The official time was 0:54.

Casimero (30-4, 21 KOs) was defending the title he won last November with a third-round knockout of favored Zolani Tete in Birmingham, England. He was slated to fight this past April in Las Vegas against Naoya Inoue, but that fight evaporated as a result of the coronavirus. After the bout, Casimero called out Inoue (and others): “I’m the real monster,” he said. “Naoya Inoue is scared of me. You’re next. I would have knocked out anyone today. If Inoue doesn’t fight me, then I’ll fight Guillermo Rigondeaux, Luis Nery, or any of the top fighters.”

Check back shortly for David Avila’s summaries of the remaining fights.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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