Lara hopes bout will serve as steppingstone

Vanes Martirosyan insists Erislandy Lara never has faced anyone as good as him.

Lara seemed half amused and half offended by that notion. Either way, he promises to dispose of the undefeated Martirosyan tonight in their WBC junior middleweight eliminator at Wynn Las Vegas and start the campaign to make sure reigning champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez doesn’t duck him next spring.

“Paul Williams was much better than (Martirosyan),” Lara said through an interpreter. “Paul Williams was the best fighter I ever faced.”

Lara’s only loss in his professional career came at the hands of Williams, though it was highly controversial. Williams was awarded a 12-round majority decision on July 9, 2011, in Atlantic City in a fight many observers believed Lara won. In the aftermath, the three judges who worked the fight were suspended indefinitely.

That came on the heels of a 10-round draw against Carlos Molina on March 25, 2011, at the Cosmopolitan that many believed Lara lost.

But Lara (17-1-1, 11 knockouts) has put that behind him. He is focused on beating Martirosyan in their scheduled 12-round bout that will be televised on HBO, then getting that world title shot against fellow Golden Boy fighter Alvarez.

“When I win this fight, Canelo has to fight me,” Lara said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be there waiting for him.”

Nothing seems to faze the 29-year-old from Cuba. He has spent the last three years working with Ronnie Shields, who at one time trained Martirosyan (32-0, 20 KOs).

“Obviously, it can help,” Lara said. “But the reality is, I’m the fighter. I have to do my job. Ronnie can’t fight for me.”

Shields said he has worked on refining Lara’s skills rather than change him as a fighter.

“At first, it was hard to get him to buy in,” Shields said. “Cuban fighters have their own way of fighting. I was trying to get him to fight on the inside and once I showed him a few things, he loved it. He said, ‘I wish I had done this sooner.’ ”

Lara said Shields has made him a better all-around fighter.

“I’m sitting down on my punches, and my style is more professional,” Lara said. “I’m very comfortable with Ronnie.”

Shields doesn’t think his knowledge of Martirosyan matters tonight.

“I’d like to think Vanes has gotten better since we worked together a few years ago,” he said. “I’m sure (Martirosyan’s trainer) Freddie Roach has taught him a few things. If he hasn’t, it’s going to be a short night for him.”

Lara said it will be a short night regardless.

“He says he’s in great shape and he’s going to break my ribs,” Lara said. “We’ll see. He’s got a lot of weaknesses I will exploit.”

■ NOTES – First bell for the card at the Lafite Ballroom at Wynn is at 4 p.m., with the HBO telecast at 6:45. … Las Vegas heavyweight Brett Rather is on the undercard and is scheduled to face Avery Gibson in a four-round bout. Rather, a former star boxer at UNLV, won his pro debut in July in Laughlin.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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