Exclusive Interview With Cuban Sensation Erislandy Lara

Laraby James Slater - There are at present a number of Cuban fighters, who were all standouts at amateur level, busily garnering lots of attention and ink. Now invading the pro game, we have the incredibly fast KO artist that is Yuriorkis Gamboa, unbeaten heavyweight Odlanier Solis, the Glen McCrory-trained trio that comprises of heavyweight Mike Perez, super-middleweight Luis Garcia and super-bantamweight Alexei Acosta - and a 26-year-old light-middleweight named Erislandy Lara who just might be the best of the bunch.

As with fellow Cuban defector Gamboa - himself one of the most exciting featherweight prospects in the world right now - 26-year-old 154-pounder Lara is a lightening-fast, big-punching wannabe star who is catching the eye of fight fans the world over.

A southpaw who is unbeaten in 5 bouts as a pro, Lara had over 300 amateur fights and he won a gold medal down at welterweight at the 2005 World Amateur Championships. Shortly afterwards, Lara chose the option so many other Cuban boxers were forced to take if they wanted to make it in their chosen sport, and fled - leaving behind his family in the process.. Sent back to Cuba by Brazilian authorities in 2007, Lara was banned from boxing indefinitely in his homeland. Trying to escape again, in 2008, the 26-year-old made it to Mexico - on a speedboat!

From there he wound up in Germany and he was then signed by Ahmet Oener's Arena-Box stable. Now living in Miami, Florida along with Gamboa and heavyweight Solis, Lara is well on his way towards achieving his goal of becoming a world champion.

"I was 12 years old when I first put the boxing gloves on," Lara informed me via his translator Ricardo DeCubas. "I was a good baseball player at first, but then I made the transition into boxing. All the kids from my neighbourhood liked to box on the streets and in the gym and I grew to really like it. At first I was scared of boxing. I watched it on T.V and it scared me. But my uncle was a boxer and gradually the fear went away."

So far, in a pro career that began with a four-round points win in Turkey in July of 2008, it has been Lara's opponents who have had the need to feel any fear. Winning three of his next four outings inside a single round, the 26-year-old's punching power has been thrilling to see. However, Lara says he never goes out looking for the KO.

"I describe myself as a technical specialist. I never, ever go looking for a KO. If one comes it just comes. I have a very wise trainer and sometimes I spar a little with Yuriorkis - I spar with lots of other guys too. We do what is called combat school - controlled, learning sparring. I enjoy training a lot. I use my brain in a fight, I am patient in the ring and I use my skills."

Trained by Ismael Salas, who also coaches Gamboa, Lara sees himself dropping down in weight soon.

"I can make 154 easily but I see myself dropping down to 147 very soon. I want a big money fight at welterweight. My team and I want to move very fast. Davey Moore (the 1980s light-middleweight) was a (WBA) world champion after just nine fights, and we are looking at going the same route."

Before he gets in with a reigning world champion, though, there is another fighter Lara has on his more immediate hit list, as he explains.

"The fight I'd really like in the very near future is a fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Junior. I want to tell everyone, I will fight him any time any place. His father was a great fighter who I respect, but I feel his son has not inherited his strengths and is not as good as some people say. I will beat him and prove this. My team and I want a good test for my next fight, against someone who is a name fighter and is looked at as a solid. They have mentioned Ben Tackie for me, and I also really want Chavez [Junior] of course."

Lara had a vast number of amateur bouts before leaving Cuba - as so many of his countrymen did.

"I had 320 amateur fights. I only lost ten of them. It has given me great experience [having all those fights] and now I feel no pressure at all when I fight. I also feel no pressure being moved so fast, I want to be moved fast. I feel great and I want to win world titles at 147, 154 and 160. It is also very important for me to be a good world champion, a long reigning world champion, one who defends his title a lot, and regularly against the very best challengers."

None of this was even worth dreaming about when Erislandy was living in Cuba. Indeed, he knew at an early age he had to leave if he was to make it as a boxer. Though he painfully had to leave behind his mother, his sister and his two sons, Lara did what was necessary.

"I had to defect from Cuba, I had no choice as I had absolutely no future in Cuba. I live in Miami now and I am grateful to be in the position I am in. I will not let myself or my team down. I have had to make sacrifices [in leaving my family behind] and now I will become world champion to make it all worth it."

(Note: this interview was conducted shortly before Lara fought, and won on points, on the Pacquiao-Hatton bill on May 2nd)

Lara next fights this coming Friday, May 22nd, in Miami Beach.

Article posted on 21.05.2009

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