By Jason Keidel
In the chatty, promotional underbelly of boxing, it’s not a new narrative to see the champ vexed by a verbose challenger until the man with the belt finally relents.
Cassius Clay made the ritual famous by stalking Sonny Liston. Then he won and became some guy named Ali, who would later crawl under Joe Frazier’s and George Foreman’s skin. In cinema, we had Clubber Lang bait Rocky Balboa into the ring after questioning his manhood.
From fiction to reality, the underdog often chirps until he’s champ. So it is with Erislandy Lara. While technically the champion here and universally respected as a fighter, Lara has little of Canelo’s cash or cachet, and just a fraction of Canelo’s traction among the media.
Lara has made no secret that all of that will change on Saturday. But before he brawls in the ring with Canelo, he chatted on the phone for a few with CBS…
JK: How do you feel?
Lara: I feel great. Ready to go.
JK: You said “His insecurities will surface on July 12, that I guarantee.” Can you elaborate?
Lara: We’re only a few days away. I’ll show it. I talk to get him into the ring. He’s doing his talking now. And the time to talk is over.
JK: Why all the antagonism, calling him out, etc.? Did you feel you had to get under his skin for him to take the fight?
Lara: Yes. 100 percent. I had to, or else he never would have taken the fight. I was respectful for two years and it didn’t work. So I had to do it the other way.
JK: Some athletes talk to fire themselves up. Is that part of your ritual?
Lara: I had to talk to get the fight done. I chopped at his pride. I questioned his manhood. So he took the fight. And that was a mistake.
JK: You didn’t have your first pro fight until age 25. Is that a good or bad thing?
Lara: It’s a good thing, because I’m young and fresh.
JK: Does the fact that you had such an epic journey to get here – defecting from Cuba, then getting caught, then successfully defecting a second time – make you the naturally hungrier fighter?
Lara: A lot of fighters have done that, struggling to come from Cuba. It makes you stronger to overcome the adversity.
JK: Is being a southpaw an advantage in this fight?
Lara: Being a southpaw is always an advantage.
JK: Any fighters you admired growing up?
Lara: Boxing wasn’t my sport, actually. I took up boxing to get out of school early.
JK: Is there a competition between Latin American countries?
Lara: Yes. No question. Latin fighters all over are tough And I’m already a competitive guy.
JK: Under different circumstances, do you think Cuba would have produced many world champions?
Lara: Absolutely. I have no doubt that if Cuba were not a communist country, it would have produced more champions than anyone.
JK: Does part of you still live in Cuba?
Lara: I’m proud to have Cuban blood. But I’m 100 percent American now. This is the place that gave me freedom and the opportunity to provide for my family. That’s why my nickname is the American Dream.
JK: Predictions for the fight?
Lara: You’ll see on July 12.
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Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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