The stylistic clash of the year took place Saturday night at the sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena.
At a contracted weight of 155 pounds—with no meaningless belts on the line—only unadulterated boxing was to be had for once. It was just the top two light middleweights in the world trading punches with the helm of the division at stake. It was close. When the two best boxers a weight class has to offer square off, it usually is.
Lara did what he does best.
He implemented the counterpunching, fleet-footed attack that makes him—even after defeat—the most complex boxer at 154 pounds. His jab was lethal, and he followed it up with a beauty of a straight left that skewered his opponent like an arrow.
Lara has mastered the more subtle side of the sweet science. He floated across the ring. He tagged his opponent repeatedly, landing 107 of the 386 punches he threw for a connection rate of 28 percent, 5 percent better than his Mexican counterpart (97 out of 415).
Outworked early, Canelo Alvarez eventually caught up to his foe. Alvarez's looping hooks to his opponent's midsection thudded more loudly as the fight went on. He didn't falter down the stretch as most expected him to.
Aggression was the name of the young superstar's game.
Alvarez traced Lara's footsteps, breathing down his neck as often as he could and emptying out his wide array of combination punches when in position. His jab was almost nonexistent, but he connected on 38 percent of his power punches, landing 88 of 232, 36 more than Lara (52-140) and at a higher percentage. In addition, 73 of these punches were to the body. That was the story of the fight: Canelo's ruthless body assault vs. Lara's rangy punching and elusiveness.
The first three rounds seemed to be all Lara. Rounds 7-9 were Canelo's. All of the other rounds were complete toss-ups. Each man enforced his own game plan at his own pace.
Two of three judges sided with Alvarez's pressure and heavier punches, one of whom was Levi Martinez, who turned in a suspicious 117-111 scorecard for Canelo, awarding the slippery Lara just three rounds.
But it was Martinez who was the odd man out in favoring Vasyl Lomachenko's tactical work in "Hi-Tech's" split-decision loss to the rough Orlando Salido this past March.
Alvarez's decision victory was not a byproduct of corruption but an illustration of the wonderful duality of the sport.
Four months ago, Martinez preferred Lomachenko's calculated punching to Salido's aggressive tactics. Lara's technicality wasn't enough overall for Martinez this weekend. It's subjectivity like this that makes boxing so fascinating.
Any other night, a few extra rounds could have gone Lara's way, and the entire state of the division would be altered. The Cuban stylist would have picked up the biggest win of his career and possibly propelled himself into the popularity a pugilist of his talent deserves.
Of course, things didn't turn out that way. But pay-per-view-headlining fights should have these sort of high stakes.
But there he was, the red-headed fistic sensation chasing down glory one rigorous test at a time. He's only 23, and his run of competition over his last four fights is in a class of its own, including bouts with cutthroat brawlers (Alfredo Angulo), indecipherable southpaws (Austin Trout and Lara) and, of course, the sport's top dog in Floyd "Money" Mayweather.
This weekend, he was given a slight nod over a man just as deserving of a win as he was. It was a close fight. It was a good fight, a contrast in styles so fantastic that controversy was imminent from the moment the two took those four steps leading into the ring.
The pinnacle of the sport promises to produce this level of drama. That's the nature of the beast.