As junior middleweight titlist Erislandy Lara prepares to close out 2015 with a title defense, he’d like to make one thing crystal clear.
“In 2016, I want to fight the very best,” Lara told ESPN.com, through a translator.
Lara (21-2-2, 12 KOs) defends his 154-pound title Wednesday against former welterweight titlist Jan Zaveck (35-3, 19 KOs) at the Hiahleah Park Race Track in Hialeah, Florida. The bout headlines a Premier Boxing Champions card on ESPN (8 p.m. ET).
The former Cuban amateur standout is quick to point out he’s far from overlooking the 39-year-old Zaveck. But this bout has every bit the makings of the stay-busy variety, as Lara looks to set himself up for bigger things to come.
In this case, “bigger things” includes a move up to middleweight for the right fight, which manager Luis DeCubas Jr. assures Lara will be ready for at a moments’ notice.
“Lara is the type of guy where he doesn’t need to move up for a tune-up,” DeCubas said. “We don’t have to get used to the weight. We want a big fight and if we move up, we’ll fight [a big name] in the first fight.”
What DeCubas has in mind are showdowns against unified titlist Gennady Golovkin, newly crowned lineal champion Canelo Alvarez or the winner of the Dec. 5 bout between secondary titlist Daniel Jacobs and former belt-holder “Kid Chocolate” Peter Quillin.
Lara, 32, who lost a split decision to Alvarez in a 2014 pay-per-view fight at 155 pounds, believes he has the right style to have instant success at middleweight.
“I think the big advantage is the speed,” Lara said. “I’m faster than everybody at 154, so imagine how much faster I’ll be than the guys at 160. Also, not having to cut the last few pounds is a big advantage to your power later in the fight. So it’s something that I think would benefit me a lot.”
Pressed to make a prediction, Lara believes Quillin will have little trouble defeating Jacobs early next month. But the name he wants above the rest is Golovkin, who has wreaked havoc over the middleweight division to the tune of 21 straight knockouts and 15 title defenses.
“I think Golovkin is a very, very good fighter and I’ve been watching him since my amateur days,” Lara said. “He fought a lot of Cubans so I know his style and how he operates. I know exactly what he’s trying to do.
“If that fight goes off, whether it’s tomorrow or any day, I think it’s a very important fight for both of us and would probably be the toughest test for both of our careers.”
Lara respects Golovkin’s power, but ultimately believes his ring intelligence and speed would set him apart.
“With all of the mistakes he makes in the ring, I would be able to expose those for 12 rounds and dominate him,” Lara said. “He’s one of the better fighters but there are a lot of errors I see in there that I would expose.”
For as talented as Lara is as a defensive boxer and counterpuncher, he has heard the constant critiques about how his low punch output holds him back in the ring. It certainly cost him against Alvarez, where he outclassed his opponent for certain stretches, but wasn’t active enough to convince the judges overall.
“I think [critics] definitely have a point,” Lara said. “That is some of the things we have been working on, which is throwing more combinations, including more punch output and punch differential.
“But when you are in the ring, there are guys who pride themselves on not only offense, but defense and I pride myself on not getting hit. There’s a future after boxing so the defensive skills I learned in Cuba, I like to translate to the pros.”
Lara hasn’t always had the easiest time landing opponents because of the high risk, low reward that comes financially with taking a fight against him. He believes that should change under the new format of the PBC.
“I love the PBC concept,” Lara said. “It’s the best fighters in the world and I think that a lot of them are going to have to fight me because with the PBC next year, a lot of the best fighters are going to start fighting the best. You can’t really hide, you have to fight the best. It’s a great concept.”
If he was forced to do it, Lara would also be open to fighting one of the unbeaten Charlo brothers, 154-pound titlist Jermall and twin brother Jermell, despite their history together. Lara served for years as a sparring partner and mentor, of sorts, for the brothers, under the tutelage of trainer Ronnie Shields in Houston.
“The Charlos are two very good, young fighters and strong kids,” Lara said. “They are starting to mature. They have worked with me for five years and I’ve brought them along well. They are obviously two of the best guys in the division behind me. I feel like I have been able to help guide them.
“Obviously, we have the same trainer and I have been in the ring with them and helped show them tricks of the trade that have benefitted their careers. But everyone knows I’m not afraid to fight anybody so if I have to spar one of them and fight the other, or [vice versa], that’s what I have to do. I don’t look at them like that but I just have to fight whoever they put in front of me.”
Before Lara can entertain future options, he must get through Zaveck on Wednesday.
“I’m looking to show that I’m still the best 154-pounder in the world and one of the best fighters on the whole planet,” Lara said. “I look to dominate guys and make them fight my style. I’m in great shape and ready to go.”