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2014 Boxing Preview: Erislandy Lara, not Pacquiao, is the real potential threat to Mayweather

If you want competition for Floyd Mayweather in 2014, Erislandy Lara is the fighter you should rally around, not Manny Pacquiao.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As 2013 comes to a close, boxing chatter has once again been infested by the speculation over a never-gonna-happen Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao fight. Mayweather, now 45-0, says he's not interested in the fight, and with Pacquiao an arguable 1-2 in his last three fights (2-1 wouldn't change Floyd's tune, though), Mayweather is going to great lengths to point out that Manny doesn't even deserve the bout. "Leftovers," he calls Manny, as if a fight with Amir Khan is somehow more legitimate.

Some of Floyd's most lovingly blind supporters, following their main man's every decision or statement like Charlie Prince doting over Ben Wade, have taken up the argument. It's quickly squashed by pointing out that Pacquiao is the biggest money fight for Mayweather, who above all else values money over everything (which is fine, This Is A Business, after all).

But for those fight fans who want to see a fight that (1) could potentially be made, since promoter issues aren't in the way, and (2) might actually be competitive and test Mayweather at age 37, it's not Manny Pacquiao that people should be shouting about. It's not Marcos Maidana, either. And it's not Amir Khan, though to everyone's credit, no one is shouting for that fight except for Amir Khan.

It's Erislandy Lara, the "regular" WBA junior middleweight titlist.

A slick southpaw schooled in the Cuban amateur ranks, Lara (19-1-2, 12 KO) is by no means a flawless fighter or an unbeatable sort. Style-wise, however, he likely offers Mayweather the most compelling matchup available of all the fighters at 140, 147, or 154 pounds.

The arguments against Lara will be that he doesn't have a fanbase. Neither did Robert Guerrero, and neither does Maidana. None of them bring anything to the table as PPV B-sides, but then that's why Floyd's the A-side. If he makes almost all of the money on the PPV, he should be expected to be the entire draw. Khan is only considered viable because of UK money; in the States, Amir Khan is no more a star than Paulie Malignaggi.

Lara is certainly beatable, and we've seen the likes of Carlos Molina (who left with an "unlucky" draw) prove that in the past. Mayweather would have to be the favorite, because he's Floyd Mayweather, and every time anyone's thought there was something for him to worry about in recent years going into any fight, he's proven that he can adapt and overcome. Mayweather is an artist in the ring, a man who eats, sleeps, and breathes boxing, which is what separates him from his imitators, much the way that Roy Jones Jr's inimitable natural gifts made for a style that only served to get others knocked out.

But if we look back at the fighters Mayweather has fought in recent years, who really has the style that Lara does? Canelo Alvarez, Robert Guerrero, Miguel Cotto, Victor Ortiz, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, and Oscar De La Hoya were all good fighters. None of them gave Mayweather much trouble over 12 full rounds -- Oscar and Cotto gave him some issues, but Floyd made his adjustments. None of them had the style of Lara, either.

Lara's last fight on December 7 was a masterclass victory over Austin Trout, himself a pretty damn good fighter and made by Lara to look like a pure also-ran. Trout gave Lara no more trouble than some mediocre nobody might have on the same night. And he seemed to be fighting with something of a chip on his shoulder, trying to prove something to the general public and to his promoters at Golden Boy. "I'm a world class fighter," his performance suggested. "Give me the world class fights."

Lara wanted Canelo Alvarez, but that fight's not going to happen. Too much risk. And that might be why a fight with Mayweather doesn't happen. Floyd fights for Floyd. But if you want to see something that might actually turn out to be interesting after the bell has sounded, you might want to beat the drum for Erislandy Lara. Forget Manny Pacquiao.

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