By: Hector Franco
This upcoming weekend, one of boxing’s more underappreciated pugilists will be moving up the weight scale to join the middleweight division.
Two-time WBA junior middleweight champion Erislandy Lara (27-3-3, 15 KOs) will make his middleweight debut against New Jersey’s Thomas Lamanna (30-4-1, 12 KOs) for a vacant version of the WBA middleweight title.
Lara, 38, is just a couple of years from reaching 40. Meaning, the move to middleweight was likely an opportunity for the Cuban stylist to maximize any remaining opportunities that will be available to him in his career.
Throughout the years, Lara has been in some significant matches, most notably in July 2014, losing a controversial split decision to Canelo Alvarez. His last two noteworthy bouts came in 2018 and 2019.
In 2018, he took on Maryland’s Jarrett Hurd in the Boxing Writers Association of America fight of the year. A knockdown in the 12th round made the difference in a split decision loss for the WBA and IBF junior middleweight titles.
The following year, in 2019, Lara challenged current WBO junior middleweight titleholder, Brian Castano. On the line was the WBA 154-pound championship. While he would build an early lead, a second-half surge by Castano saw their showdown end in a draw.
The move up in weight will give the aging fighter a less strenuous time on the scale.
“I feel like I’ll be a bigger puncher at middleweight, and that will be the main difference,” Lara stated to Boxingscene.com. “Having an extra six pounds behind my punches might not seem like a lot, but it is a big difference.
“Not having to lose those extra pounds has me feeling like a monster.”
Lamanna, Lara’s upcoming opponent, will be one of the biggest of his career. Although the 6’1 New Jersey fighter is the underdog and not as well known, he is coming off two straight stoppage victories in Mexico.
Against Lamanna, Lara finds himself in a situation where how he wins will be just as important as winning. A dominant stoppage victory will only help Lara in getting a big fight at middleweight.
“Thomas Lamanna is a tall middleweight with a lot of experience, and I’m taking this fight very seriously, like always,” Lara said. “I arrived weeks ago for training camp, and Ismael Salas immediately got me working on the fundamentals of boxing.
“At this stage in my career, I’m all action, fighting on the inside and letting my hands fly. I’m going to make a statement in this fight with a knockout.”
At middleweight, the landscape seems to be open although fractured, with more fights being discussed rather than made. The division has four champions with Gennadiy Golovkin (IBF), Jermall Charlo (WBC), Demetrius Andrade (WBO), and Ryota Murata holding another version of the WBA title.
When Golovkin was holding court at the top of the division in the mid-2010s, Lara was one of the few fighters that called for a fight with the Kazakhstani puncher. Unfortunately, Golovkin is currently tied to future fights with Murata and Jaime Munguia.
The fight that has the best chance of happening would be against Jermall Charlo. The Texas native, since moving to middleweight, hasn’t faced elite competition on a consistent basis.
Both men used to be trained by Ronnie Shields, giving the bout a natural storyline. If Lara comes out victorious against Lamanna, it would be a unification bout.
At this point, Lara has arguably done enough to make it on the International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot after he retires. Being inducted, however, is something else entirely. The move to middleweight for Lara is motivated to be mentioned with some of the greatest boxers to come out of Cuba.
“I think I’ve done enough to be considered one of the best Cuban boxers of all time,” Lara stated. “Winning a world title at middleweight will certainly help me get closer to the top of the list. Every fighter wants to be remembered for what they accomplished in the ring, and I’m no different.
“I’m fighting for my legacy and want to be remembered as one of the best to ever do it.”
The country of Cuba’s boxing legacy reverberates throughout amateur and professional boxing. Fighters like Luis Rodriguez, Jose Napoles, Kid Gavilan, Sugar Ramos, and Kid Chocolate are names that Lara wants to be mentioned with.
The last run of Lara’s career at middleweight will give him that opportunity.
Erislandy Lara-Thomas Lamanna will take place on May 1 at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA, as the main event on FOX leading up to the Andy Ruiz-Chris Arreola PPV.
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