Former titlist Erislandy Lara to return to challenge Brian Castano

Former junior middleweight world titlist Erislandy Lara, coming off a close loss in the 2018 ESPN fight of the year, will return to challenge secondary titlist Brian Castano, Premier Boxing Champions announced Thursday.

The fight will take place March 2 and headline a Showtime-televised tripleheader (9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

"Erislandy Lara is one of the most talented junior middleweights in the world, and while Brian Castano is not yet a household name, he was a world renowned amateur and is undefeated as a pro," said Lou DiBella, who is co-promoting the card. "This is a must-win fight for Lara, and Castano's chance to establish himself as one of boxing's rising stars."

The 35-year-old Lara (25-3-2, 14 KOs), a Cuban defector living in Houston, was the longest reigning active 154-pound world titleholder when he met Jarrett Hurd on April 7 to unify two belts. Hurd won a split decision in the action-packed fight of the year.

Now the southpaw, usually known for his technical boxing than the kind of toe-to-toe fight he engaged in against Hurd, is back to fight Castano.

"I'm very excited to be back headlining Showtime in another major fight," Lara said. "Brian Castano is a young undefeated champion with a strong amateur pedigree. I look forward to being in the ring with him and putting on a great fight for the fans. I can't wait to being crowned world champion again."

Castano (15-0, 11 KOs), 29, of Argentina, made his first title defense by 12th-round knockout of Cedric Vitu on Vitu's turf in France in March but has not fought since.

Lara is by far the most accomplished fighter he will have faced.

"I'm thrilled to be facing Lara as he was a great champion and still one of the best fighters out there," Castano said. "Obviously, this is the most important fight of my career and I know it will be difficult because of his experience. I have my own experience, however, and I'm willing to prove that I belong with the best in the division. I know he will get onto his bike and move around the ring, but I have the strength to knock him off."

In the co-feature, Miami-based heavyweight contender Luis "King Kong" Ortiz (30-1, 26 KOs), also a Cuban defector, will face Christian Hammer (24-5, 14 KOs), 31, a Romania native fighting out of Germany, in a 10-round bout.

Ortiz, one of boxing's fiercest punchers, has won two fights in a row by knockout since he suffered the lone loss of his career, a 10th-round knockout loss challenging Deontay Wilder for his world title last March, also at Barclays Center, in a fight of the year candidate.

"'King Kong' is coming back to Brooklyn," Ortiz said. "Christian Hammer is a very good fighter and I will be prepared for the best he has to offer. Come March 2, I'm hammering my way past him and setting up a clash with the winner of Wilder-[Tyson] Fury II or Anthony Joshua. I can't wait till Brooklyn."

Hammer has won two fights in a row since a decision loss to Alexander Povetkin in December 2017.

"I've been in training since right after Christmas for this big opportunity," Hammer said. "I won my last fight by knockout, but I'm preparing for 12 hard rounds against Ortiz. A fight like this in New York is very special to me. This is the reason I became a boxer."

In the opening bout, junior lightweights Ricardo Nunez and Edner Cherry, a former world title challenger, will meet in a scheduled 12-rounder.

Nunez (20-2, 18 KOs), 25, of Panama, will be fighting in the United States for the first time.

Cherry (37-7-2, 19 KOs), 36, a Bahamas native based in Wauchula, Florida, has won three fights in a row since losing a split decision challenging Jose Pedraza for his junior lightweight world title in 2015.