When viewing Canelo-Lara at first blush, it is not quite as easy to automatically pick a clear winner. When delving more into the figures and data, it is not any clearer. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez has the dogged tenacity, that explosive, ever-pressuring fight style, the speed, and power, but Erislandy Lara is far better skilled and the technician, more experienced and poised, and--while not up to Canelo's level--possesses a good amount of speed and pop. Many of those traits could give one man that vital edge over the other, but a few oddities are also present.
For Canelo, he has shown negligible improvement from his loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (though, in all honesty, he was few years off from facing someone like him, regardless). As mentioned in the preview for that bout, he lacks that "boxing brain" to put all of his physical gifts together and make proper use of them. He relies too much on furious combo-throwing, his pressuring style can easily be exploited by a top-level opponent, and his defense is nothing to write home about. That and the gap in skill and versatility should automatically favor Lara, who may have the same height as the Mexican star, but also has a five-inch reach advantage.
I have long been high on Lara, but the Lara of the past year has not felt like the Lara of past times. He was the first person to make the perennially-tough Alfredo Angulo quit on his stool last June, but was in deep against him (getting knocked down twice in the process), and despite handling Austin Trout with ease, it wasn't in the most scintillating manner, either. While he is a very fine specimen of a an all-around fighter, he seems to have dulled, or even regressed, ever so slightly recently.
Interestingly, Angulo would get stopped again in his next fight--by Canelo this time, only more emphatically and within the same ten round span, no less. Lara has not faced many brawler-types and Canelo, for all of his deficiencies, is a much better fighter than Angulo. Normally, I would pick the more sound Lara, but his recent outings and Canelo's style has made me hesitant to go all-in and think he will handle him easily. It'll be an interesting bout to watch unfold, but…
Prediction: Alvarez, UD. While I am much higher on Lara than Alvarez as a whole and would like to see him validated on a greater stage, I think Canelo may pose more trouble for him than the other way around at this juncture. Victory hinges primarily on two things: him pressuring and making Lara uncomfortable, and Lara being more off his game than recent times. That is the biggest question, as the Cuban, when on-point, can definitely get scrappy and make sport of someone like Alvarez. That may very well happen (Lara, UD, if so), but right now, I am unsure…
Outcome: Canelo, SD. (In a rather unremarkable fight, Erislandy Lara seemed to do more to lose the fight than win it, though he was trying to do everything he could in opposite. More than anything, that was the key folly for the Cuban: he overthought the concept of the entire fight in his quest to ensure victory. Two to three-punch combos, move around the ring, keep moving, few more punches, wash, rinse, repeat. By firing the cleaner shots down the pipe, keeping the ever-stalking Canelo Alvarez on the move and staying away from his barrages, Lara would be poised for victory.
On paper, it looked sound. In reality, and as executed, it was certainly not. While he stuck with his goals, at large, Lara fought in a very piecemeal manner and spent much more time moving about the ring than actually fighting. He was rigidly married to his "foolproof" plan to outbox the Mexican superstar with superior technique and prowess, and looked confident and assured along the way, but it was to the point that he was blinded from seeing what he was actually doing.
Compounding the problem as well was that Canelo was fighting in a more measured and methodical manner himself. Though he stalked and let go a string of strong punches as per usual, there was less of a droning quality to it and more of a sense of purpose. Lara was able to block some those shots and back away from others, but still, he appeared to be more affected by his punches than Canelo was of his. When combined with the relatively close punch stats, this helped aid in the impression that Canelo was the more effective fighter in the match, as he led when Lara ran, had the more impactful shots, and did an overall better job at making his case.
Though the former fought slightly better and more purposeful than in recent times, Canelo did not look any more remarkable than usual. Lara had the tools and ability to beat him that night, but instead, did the equivalent of using trigonometry to solve "8x8". If he took the reins and used his technique more assertively to pick off Canelo, used his footwork to quickly evade his incoming attack, and go more on the offensive, he likely would not have been scratching his head at the end of the bout. Mayweather-Canelo alone presented a good set of blueprints to best him, ones that Lara could have certainly emulated with his own physical set.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a sizable contingent that felt Erislandy Lara won the fight. That should help make the case for Canelo-Lara II, particularly when Canelo Alvarez did not lose too much in victory and remains a very potent boxing draw (though he remains a serious work-in-progress, as well). The fight in of itself was unspectacular and far from what it could have been, and though a sequel seems likely, will the promoters want to take a chance on Tour-de-Lara on the big stage, again?
[UPDATE (07.26.14): Outcome added.]