Canelo-Lara: No. 1 vs. No. 2

Looking for the toughest test available in his division, Canelo Alvarez set to face Erislandy Lara. Soobum Im/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the unified junior middleweight champion, but his fight last week against Marcos Maidana was at welterweight, where the pound-for-pound king won and also unified titles.

So with Mayweather out of the 154-pound division for the time being, that leaves former titleholder Canelo Alvarez (who lost to Mayweather in a rout in September) and secondary titlist Erislandy Lara as the two best in the business at junior middleweight.

That fact has been played up this week as Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya, Alvarez, Lara and their entourages have taken to the road for a four-city tour -- Tuesday in Los Angeles, Wednesday in San Antonio, Thursday in New York and the conclusion on Friday in Puerto Rico -- to promote their nontitle fight (at 155 pounds) on July 12 (Showtime PPV) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

"Right now you are looking at the best 154-pounders in the division, Lara and Canelo," De La Hoya said. "The fact that Canelo wanted this fight shows you that he wants to be great and he wants to fight the best in order to be known as great.

"I commend Canelo for choosing this opponent. He's dangerous and he's a real opponent. There's a lot of similarities between these two fighters and come July 12 we'll see who is the best. I think this is going to be a terrific fight."

Indeed, Alvarez, Mexico's most popular active fighter and a burgeoning pay-per-view attraction, could have picked just about any opponent and made a big payday.

But Alvarez picked the most difficult opponent he could in Lara, a slick Cuban southpaw who many thought he would avoid.

"He is choosing to fight someone that no one wants to fight," said Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza. "Lara is one of the most talented and skilled boxers in the sport. This fight represents everything that is right about boxing -- the best fighting the best. No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the division ... This fight sells itself."

Following the loss to Mayweather, the 23-year-old Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 KOs) took on rugged Mexican countryman Alfredo Angulo on March 8 and stopped him in the 10th round of a surprisingly one-sided fight.

After the fight Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs), a 31-year-old defector living in Houston, who had stopped Angulo last June (and then outpointed Austin Trout in December), called out Alvarez at his postfight news conference.

Eventually, Alvarez took up the challenge, wanting to prove that he was not going to duck a top opponent with a very difficult style.

"Lara has talked a lot, you guys [the fans] asked for the fight, and here it is," Alvarez said through a translator. "What you guys ask from me, I will give you. A lot have asked me, 'Why did you take this fight?' I say 'Why not? I will fight anyone. Style doesn't matter.'

"The reality is that a year ago the fans didn't really know Lara. Nobody really knew him. But he has been talking so much that now it's built up and the fans asked for it, so I wanted to give them what they wanted. He disrespected me. But not only me, he disrespected all Mexicans. For him to be saying that he's going to give me a boxing lesson and he's going to take me to school, that's very disrespectful."

Lara did what he had to do to get the fight, whether it was to insult Alvarez on social media or crash his news conference after the fight with Angulo.

"I've never tried this hard to get a fight, and actually get it like I did for this one," Lara said through a translator. "I went to extreme measures, doing things I've never done before. I'm a pretty laid-back guy, but I did everything I could to challenge him and make people, the fans and the media demand that he fight me. It's all because I want to prove that I am the best 154-pound fighter in the world.

"I think he is having problems with weight. That's why he wanted that extra one pound and why we're not fighting for my title. I'm not sure what kind of fight this will be. It could be a war, and I could stand toe-to-toe like I did against Alfredo Angulo, or I can box. It depends how I decide to fight him in the ring. This is the fight, my fight. I win this, I've earned the right to fight Floyd Mayweather next."