Fighting

These two boxers in the 154-pound division pumped up for their unification bout Saturday

WBA super welterweight champion Erislandy Lara connects with a punch on Vanes Martirosyan during their title fight at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on May 21, 2016.
WBA super welterweight champion Erislandy Lara connects with a punch on Vanes Martirosyan during their title fight at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on May 21, 2016. Getty Images

Although far from trendy and an obvious small sampler, two title unification bouts within a week’s span helps reduce the proliferation of world champions.

In the aftermath of Anthony Joshua’s lopsided decision victory over Joseph Parker to consolidate three major heavyweight crowns Saturday in Wales, Erislandy Lara and Jarrett Hurd will have their unification opportunity Saturday night in Las Vegas. Lara and Hurd will fight in a 154-pound title match with two major sanctioning body belts at stake.

“I said it before and I’m going to say it again — I’m going to clean out the division,” Lara said in a recent conference call. “And that has been my plan from the beginning, and I’m going to stick to my plan.”

One can’t blame Lara for anxiously pursuing a unification bout. The native of Cuba won the World Boxing Association belt in December 2014 and later added the International Boxing Organization title. Lara (25-2-2, 14 KOs) has made five successful defenses since his title-winning performance against Ishe Smith.

Despite his three-year stint as champion, Lara’s notable fights occurred during his run toward the title, when he lost disputed decisions against Paul Williams and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, scored a technical knockout victory over Alfredo Angulo and won a lopsided decision against Austin Trout.

“I don’t look for one specific fight; I don’t look at the last fight or the last four fights because my whole life, I’ve been preparing for this — since Cuba,” Lara said. “It was during my whole amateur career — 350 plus amateur fights, several world champions across the amateurs. Now my whole pro career, I fought the top guys.”

Hurd (21-0, 15 KOs) won the vacant International Boxing Federation belt in February 2017 and made a successful defense against Trout eight months later. According to Hurd, the bout with Trout prepared him for the left-handed, boxing-minded Lara.

“It definitely helped me, not only to fight Trout but just going to two training camps with southpaws,” Hurd said on the same conference call that featured Lara. “I only fought three southpaws in my career before Trout. So now I have a lot of experience with them.”

Hurd, 27, doesn’t anticipate Lara to deviate from a strategy of keeping the fight at a distance.

“I feel like Lara has a little bit better foot movement than Trout,” Hurd said. “And one thing about Trout, he took his chances in my fight. He stayed in there with me. I don’t think Lara is going to take that many chances. He’s a very disciplined fighter.”

But in boxing, perception weighs heavily, and Lara, 34, also is aware of his recent ring performance, when his unanimous decision victory over Terrell Gausha on Oct. 14 lacked the repeated exchanges showcased in the Hurd-Trout bout on the same card. The majority of the crowd that attended the card at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was displeased with the Lara-Gausha performance but cheered the Hurd-Trout bout.

AROUND THE RING

Now that he is a recognized champion by three of the sport’s four major sanctioning bodies, Joshua will face repeated questions about unifying the fourth belt against Deontay Wilder, the World Boxing Council titleholder.

Wilder intensified the hype following his 10th-round TKO win over Miami resident Luis Ortiz on March 3.

“One hundred percent, 100 percent, you are asking me, do I want to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world?” Joshua said when asked if he wanted to face Wilder after Saturday’s fight. “I am not into the hype. I am about the business. So let’s talk business.”

For Joshua, the only drawback against Parker was the end of his career-starting 20-fight knockout streak.

Nonetheless, Joshua controlled the bout with solid left jabs and straight rights to the head. Joshua (21-0) won the bout on two judges’ scorecards 118-110 and 119-109 on the third.

Coming up

Saturday (10 p.m., Showtime): Erislandy Lara vs. Jarrell Hurd, 12, for the unified WBA and IBF super-welterweight titles; Caleb Truax vs. James DeGale, 12, for Truax’s IBF super-middleweight title.

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