- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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With Floyd Mayweather Jr. returning to the welterweight division for his next fight and Miguel Cotto moving up in weight to challenge for the middleweight championship in his next bout, that leaves Mexican star and former titleholder Canelo Alvarez and reigning titlist Erislandy Lara as the two best 154-pounders in the world.
Many thought that Alvarez would look to avoid the quick and technical Lara, a southpaw who had been calling him out. But Alvarez told his promoter, Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy, that he wanted Lara -- and now he has him. They will meet July 12 in the main event of a Showtime PPV card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas after agreeing to terms over the weekend, Schaefer told ESPN.com on Monday.
The fight will be a 12-round nontitle bout at a maximum weight of 155 pounds, one over the division limit, Schaefer said. Alvarez did not want to fight for the title, and Lara had no choice but accept those terms if he wanted to fight Alvarez, one of boxing's cash cows.
"I've been working hard to get this done," Schaefer said. "We were able to finalize everything and both fighters were fine with the terms and so now we have a fight -- a great fight -- between the two best junior middleweights in the world not named Floyd Mayweather."
The final issue that needed to be resolved was the fact that Lara was already signed to make his first title defense against former titlist Ishe Smith on May 2 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on a Fox Sports 1 card being used to help promote Mayweather's welterweight unification fight against Marcos Maidana the next night at the MGM Grand.
However, Schaefer said that Smith agreed to step aside and allow Lara to face Alvarez instead. The terms of that agreement were not disclosed, but it's no surprise that it was worked out given that Lara adviser Al Haymon also is Mayweather's adviser and Mayweather Promotions represents Smith.
Schaefer said Smith will stay on the May 2 card against an opponent yet to be determined.
"We're good to go. We got a deal in place. We're happy and we're ready to fight," Luis DeCubas Jr., Lara's co-manager, told ESPN.com. "It's a fight Lara has wanted. He's been after it for a few years. Now it's time to get ready in training. I think he really has earned this fight. This is a fight where the fans win. They'll see the two best junior middleweights who aren't Floyd Mayweather."
DeCubas said Lara would have liked to defend his title but has no problem making it a nontitle bout if that's what it took to get Alvarez in the ring.
"The weight is 155 max, which we have no problem with," DeCubas said. "It doesn't matter. We got the fight we wanted."
Lara has been calling out Alvarez and was disappointed when he elected to fight Alfredo Angulo on March 8. Lara, despite being knocked down twice, stopped Angulo in the 10th round in June only to watch Angulo go on to get the fight with Alvarez instead of him.
After Alvarez knocked out Angulo in the 10th round, Lara showed up at the postfight news conference and challenged Alvarez once again.
Alvarez dismissed him at the time but a few weeks later told Schaefer in a meeting to map out his schedule that he wanted to fight Lara next.
"It reminds me a little of the fight Canelo had with Austin Trout," Schaefer said of the unification fight Alvarez won by decision against Trout last April. "Everybody was saying before we made that fight that Canelo was afraid to fight Trout, but he pushed for the fight even when some people in his camp didn't want the fight. When Canelo came to the office to meet with me a few weeks ago, he had one name in mind. He wanted Erislandy Lara.
"He said he feels Lara is, next to Mayweather, the best fighter at 154 and he wants to challenge himself against the best. A lot of people felt he wouldn't fight him, but he wants to show he is not afraid to fight anybody. I tried to mention some other names, but he was very clear: 'Don't talk to me about anyone else. I want Lara.' That's what he said."
For comparison, Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 KOs), 23, scored a knockdown and won a narrow unanimous decision against Trout and then went on to lose a lopsided decision to Mayweather in their September blockbuster before rebounding to knock out Angulo. Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs), a 31-year-old Cuban defector living in Houston, stopped Angulo in June and fought again in December, authoring a one-sided decision against Trout, whom he knocked down in the 11th round.
"You see what Canelo did when he fought Trout and what Lara did to Trout," Schaefer said. "It will be interesting to see how Canelo will deal with Lara, who is a talented and gifted fighter. He showed that will against Angulo to overcome adversity, and he has superb boxing skills."