Light middleweight is not known for its glamour. It lacks the depth of welterweight, the fizz of super-flyweight, the marketability and concussion of heavyweight and the drama of every other weight class in between. It is perhaps fitting, then, that the division is home to Erislandy Lara, 25-2-2 (14), one of boxing’s most notorious love/ hate fighters who polarises the boxing fan base with his technical but unspectacular wizardry. And yet he is involved in one of the more intriguing match ups to take place so far this year, as he faces Jarrett Hurd, 21-0 (15), this weekend in an attempt to unify his WBA and IBO titles with the American’s IBF belt.
In any other division, a unification fight for three world title belts would be huge news. Unfortunately for the Cuban, the fact that it’s not is nothing new. Put bluntly, he torpedoes his own pay-per-view ambitions with a style many fans find too negative, too unexciting, too cautious to be worthy of the purchase. His split decision loss to Saul Alvarez divided the boxing community down the middle; some cried robbery, while others were thrilled that their faith in confrontation had finally been rewarded, and that Lara’s refusal to engage had been punished.
As always, there’s elements of truth on both sides. If you subscribe to the theory of ‘hit and not get hit’, you will also appreciate the need to do both in somewhat equal measure to produce a meaningful fight. In that respect, his underwhelming loss to Alvarez was justified despite landing more punches than the Mexican, having spent the entire 12 rounds not only on the back foot but practically on horse back.
However, that one fight doesn’t make him a dull fighter. His fights against Austin Trout and Ishe Smith for example (both of which also went the full 12) were fascinating contests in which he out-punched the pair of them in nearly every round. But his performance against ‘Canelo’ has cast a long shadow, and he has been struggling to re-emerge into the limelight ever since.
A win against Hurd, however, will be a step closer. Despite his limitations, Hurd is undefeated, and is on a seven fight knockout streak which has seen him despatch the likes of Austin Trout, Tony Harrison and Jo Jo Dan before the final bell. He has a powerful uppercut and, as well as using his reach to fire shots from range, is equally comfortable fighting on the inside.
This is what he intends to do on Saturday. “I plan on being the aggressor the entire fight. I’ve been… working on techniques to improve my footwork to stay on top of Erislandy Lara. We are not trying to go to the scorecards, so hopefully I can be the first man to stop him, which I hope to do in the later rounds.”
He will need every ounce of his experience to execute this game plan, experience which amounts to less than you might think; it took him 17 contests to face someone of merit (a knockout win over New York favourite Frank Galarza). Before this he had been facing local opposition in the boxing backwaters of America, fighting regularly for little money in front of hardly anyone. His win over Galarza was his break out fight; four fights later he was world champion, including a first defence.
This is testimony to a shallow division, and is why he goes in as a big underdog despite his record and his belt. Lara by contrast has faced what few elites the division has produced, and despite losing to two of them (to Alvarez and to Paul Williams three years earlier), did so in highly contentious fashion – many felt he should have been given the nod over Williams too. The Austin Trout he outpointed was a much better fighter than the Austin Trout knocked out by Hurd, while Alfredo Angulo and Ishe Smith were notable fighters at the time he faced them.
As a result, the ball lies in Lara’s court, and he can make the fight as watchable or as dull as he sees fit. Hurd, who’s come-forward style leaves him exposed at times, is tailor-made for the Cuban’s counter-punching, and if he is so inclined, Lara may take advantage of this to force a high-profile stoppage that would do his career the world of good. The sensible money, however, is for Lara to pot-shot from distance and earn himself a clinical points win. Whether it earns him any news fans, however, is a different story.