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Canelo gains arguable split decision over Lara in boxer-puncher classic

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Canelo Alvarez escaped with a split-decision victory Saturday over Erislandy Lara in a light-middleweight showdown on Showtime that fans attending in Las Vegas booed but boxing connoisseurs had to love.

Lara was able to stick and move during the first three rounds, and Alvarez, one of boxing’s most fearsome punchers, almost never hit him with a clean power punch to the face throughout the 12 rounds.

But Alvarez landed heavily to the body, and during the middle of the fight Lara, also bleeding from a severe cut on his right eye, slowed down enough that Alvarez seemed to be pulling ahead after eight rounds and certainly began to dictate the action for a couple of rounds.

Then Lara got second wind and re-asserted his ring generalship, so the outcome after 12 was anybody’s guess. It was a very even fight, and a draw would not have been a disappointment.

The scorecards read 115-113 for Lara, 115-113 for Alvarez and 117-111 for Alvarez. Nothing was unjust about the decision except the lopsidedness of Levi Martinez’s judgment.

It was a classic boxer vs. puncher matchup, with the boxer Lara a slight underdog and therefore in a tenuous position because so many casual boxing fans – and judges -- don’t admire the stick-and-move, hit-and-don’t-be-hit artistry that epitomizes boxing at its best.

A frustrated Alvarez expressed his lack of admiration.

“I came to fight. I don’t come to run. If he wanted to go to a marathon, go to a marathon. He does have a good jab and he moved around, but you don’t win a fight that way,” the 23-year-old Mexican said.

“One hundred percent I won this fight,” Lara replied. “I was controlling all the rounds. I made him look bad in front of his fans.”

There were similar arguments last month when popular slugger Ruslan Provodnikov knocked down little-known Chris Algieri twice in the first round but came out on the wrong end of a split decision.

There was a lot of ebb and flow in Canelo-Lara, the mark of a good fight. It’s a shame it was the sort too few appreciate.