No one questions Erislandy Lara’s stature as one of the world’s elite 154-pound fighters. In the prestigious Ring Magazine ratings, he holds down the third spot among junior middleweights behind champion Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez.
His backstory is intriguing,too. After being thwarted in his first attempt to defect from Cuba, Lara’s clandestine departure in 2008 from his native island to Mexico in a harrowing speedboat ride across the Yucatan Channel comes straight out of a Hollywood script. In one of biggest fights, against Paul Williams in ‘11, he universally is regarded as having been robbed after losing a majority decision so egregious that it prompted the state commission to suspend all three judges. At the very least, “The American Dream” ought to be a sympathetic figure.
Why, then, is Lara held in such low esteem by so many boxing fans and even panned by a high-profile pundit such as HBO’s Jim Lampley, who recently placed the skilled southpaw on his derisive Anti-Gatti List?
To put it kindly, the WBA 154-pound world champion is a “technical” boxer, a proponent of the so-called “sweet science.” Putting it bluntly, Lara is a “runner,” whose reluctance to play Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots with his foes infuriates rank-and-file fans who crave a war, not a chess match.
You see none of the admiration for Lara that many had for the elusive Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker in the 1990s. Perhaps in a reflection of fans’ changing tastes, Lara seems to possess a style only old-school purists could love, a common trait among boxers who come up through the fertile Cuban amateur pipeline. Nonetheless, Lara (20-2-2, 12 knockouts) holds a no-doubt unanimous-decision victory over Austin Trout (the No. 3 contender on Ring’s list) and even earned the nod on one of the scorecards in a controversial split-decision loss in 2014 to Alvarez, a darling of the all-action crowd.
Chicago fans will have a first-hand opportunity on Friday at the Pavilion to cheer or boo Lara, 32, when he defends his WBA “regular” belt against “ESPN2 Friday Night Fights” staple Delvin Rodriguez (28-7-4, 16 KOs). The scheduled 12-rounder, which will be aired live on Spike TV (8 p.m.) as part of the ambitious Premier Boxing Champions series, is an unabashed showcase for the champ, in that Rodriguez, 35, was blasted out in three rounds by Miguel Cotto two fights ago and had a split-draw against a seven-loss journeyman in his last.
Regarding his notoriety as a member of the Anti-Gatti List, Lara told the Sun-Times through a translator during a news conference on Wednesday in the Loop, “It’s just [Lampley’s] opinion. Everybody has opinions. This style has taken me where I am, fighting against the best in the world. No way am I going to change it.
“Boxing is supposed to be a sport, not just about blood and guts. It’s also about longevity. It’s about being a champion for a long time. i want to be able to enjoy my life after boxing.”
The co-feature on Spike will be a light-heavyweight bout between fast-rising Russian Artur Beterbiev (8-0, all by KO) and late sub Alexander Johnson (16-2, 7 KOs). Despite his short resume, Beterbiev is the No. 7 contender at 175 pounds in the Ring ratings, one spot higher than Chicago-based Andrzej Fonfara. Beterbiev, 30, this week signed a management agreement with boxing power broker Al Haymon.
PBC FIGHT NIGHT
When, where: Friday at the Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Ave., 11 bouts, part of the Premier Boxing Champions series. Undercard fights start at 5:15 p.m. Doors open at 5.
TV: Live Spike telecast begins at 8 p.m.
Featured TV fights: Erislandy Lara (20-2-2, 12 KOs) vs. Delvin Rodriguez (28-7-4, 16 KOs), 12 rounds, for Lara’s WBA world super-welterweight (154 pounds) title; Artur Beterbiev (8-0, 8 KOs) vs. Alexander Johnson (16-2, 7 KOs), 10 rounds, light heavyweights.
On the undercard: Artur Szpilka (18-1, 13 KOs) vs. Manuel Quezada (29-9, 18 KOs), 8 or 10 rounds, heavyweights; Anthony Peterson (34-1, 22 KOs) vs. Ammeth Diaz (32-11, 23 KOs), 10 rounds, junior welterweights; Eleider Alvarez (16-0, 9 KOs) vs. Anatoliy Dudchenko (16-0, 9 KOs), 10 rounds, light heavyweights.
Tickets: $151, $101, $51, $31, plus applicable service charges. Available through Ticketmaster (800) 735-300, www.ticketmaster.com and the Pavilion box office (312) 413-5740.