Much at stake for Martirosyan-Lara

Vanes Martirosyan plans to put it on Erislandy Lara in their title eliminator on Saturday in Las Vegas. Chris Farina/Top Rank

Junior middleweight contenders Vanes Martirosyan and Erislandy Lara have had a tough time getting big-name opponents to face them, so they found a tidy solution: fight each other.

I like the fight a lot. It's evenly matched, and both guys deserve the exposure they'll get in the main event of an HBO doubleheader on Saturday (9:45 p.m. ET/PT) at the Wynn Las Vegas.

The opening fight pits featherweight contender Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (29-0, 25 KOs) and former titlist Johnathan Barros (34-3-1, 17 KOs) in what turned out to be a good save by Top Rank and HBO. Garcia was supposed to challenge titleholder Orlando Salido -- which would have been an excellent fight -- but Salido broke his finger when it was accidentally slammed in a car door. He'll be ready early next year for the fight, so Garcia, although switched to the undercard position, is staying busy in a solid fight.

In regard to Martirosyan and Lara, keep in mind that they aren't just fighting each other because nobody else would agree to face them. They're squaring off because each wants to win a world title and this is an official eliminator to earn that opportunity.

Top Rank, which promotes Martirosyan (32-0, 20 KOs), won the purse bid a few months ago, and Lara (17-1-1, 11 KOs), who is with rival Golden Boy, agreed to the fight. This is not -- I repeat, not -- a relaxation of the feud between the companies. The fight is happening only because it was ordered by a sanctioning body, the fighters were game and HBO was happy to buy it. Expect Top Rank and Golden Boy to continue denying fans the many fights they could make between their top fighters.

The winner of Martirosyan-Lara is supposed to become the mandatory challenger for titleholder Canelo Alvarez, one of the money men in boxing.

I have my doubts that Alvarez will wind up facing the winner, however. There are too many other more lucrative pay-per-view possibilities for him instead. Alvarez has designs on huge fights with opponents such as Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Miguel Cotto. Both are possible next year, and I'm quite sure that Alvarez and Golden Boy aren't going to let a sanctioning organization dictate his next move.

If Alvarez has to vacate to make the big-money fight, he surely will. And, don't forget: We are talking about the WBC, which, if history is any indication, could easily decide to not follow its own rules and permit Alvarez another optional defense.

Whatever happens, the Martirosyan-Lara winner will eventually get to fight for a world title, even if it's vacant. But first things first.

"Martirosyan doesn't know what he's got himself into, and I will punish him on fight night," said Lara, who is trained by Ronnie Shields, who used to train Martirosyan.

"Lara is in top physical and mental form for this fight. He is the best junior middleweight in the world, and he'll keep proving it fight by fight," manager Luis DeCubas Jr. said. "We will make a statement on [Saturday]."

Martirosyan, who is trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, is equally pumped.

"This is the fight I always wanted," he said. "I have the best trainer in the world in Freddie Roach. I have worked hard for weeks. I know I will beat Lara in this eliminator fight, and let's see where this takes me."