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Lara embraces opportunity to face Castano for world title

Junior middleweight Erislandy Lara, left, is happy to be fighting for a world title once again. Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

Former junior middleweight world titleholder Erislandy Lara is as known a commodity as there is in boxing, having had a long reign and having had several significant fights, including against Canelo Alvarez, Austin Trout, Alfredo Angulo and Paul Williams.

And, of course, there is also perhaps Lara's most famous fight, which was last April in Las Vegas, where he lost a split decision in a 154-pound title unification bout against Jarrett Hurd in the instant classic 2018 ESPN fight of the year.

After a layoff since that grueling battle, Lara is set to return to the ring to face an opponent who is his opposite -- a virtually unknown commodity, at least in the pro ranks -- in Brian Castano, who will defend his secondary junior middleweight belt for the second time when he faces Lara on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) in the main event at Barclays Center in New York.

Lara (25-3-2, 14 KOs) said he is confident that he has recovered from the fierce battle with Hurd, a fight whose outcome was the result of Hurd scoring a knockdown with 37 seconds left in the final round.

"Everyone knows what I bring to the ring, and you will see me at my best on Saturday," Lara said through an interpreter. "This fight means a lot to me, and I've prepared with that mentality.

"I had a great fight against Jarrett Hurd. There was a height and weight difference on fight night, but that whole experience is history now. My focus is on Castano and making this another great fight. It's great to be a part of awards like fight of the year, but now I have to move on to what is next."

"I'm excited for this fight. I'm just ready to fight. It's great to have another chance to fight for a world title and work toward getting my top spot back." Erislandy Lara

During his title reign from 2014 to 2018, Lara, 35, a Cuban southpaw fighting out of Houston, made six successful defenses. He typically did so with a defensive boxing style that frustrated opponents -- and often fans -- though his fights with Hurd and Angulo were the exceptions as all-action brawls.

He said he can fight either way against Castano.

"We'll see what happens on Saturday, but I'm prepared for anything my opponent brings to the ring," Lara said. "I'm excited for this fight. I'm just ready to fight. It's great to have another chance to fight for a world title and work toward getting my top spot back. Everything in this fight is going to be important -- my experience, the styles of the fighters and our power. It's all going to play a big role in this fight."

For Castano (15-0, 11 KOs), 29, of Argentina, the fight could be his coming-out party. He was a well-known amateur, going 181-5-5 and recording victories over such notable opponents as Errol Spence Jr., Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Esquiva Falcao.

As a professional, Castano traveled to France and won a split decision over Michel Soro for an interim world title and then, after being elevated to a full titlist, knocked out mandatory challenger Cedric Vitu in the 12th round, also in France, last March.

He is looking forward to finally having an opportunity to fight one of the best in the business and making a name for himself in the pro ranks like countrymen Sergio Martinez, Marcos Maidana and Lucas Matthysse did in recent years.

"I'm very proud to be representing Argentina here at Barclays Center on a card of this magnitude on Showtime," he said through an interpreter. "I couldn't be any happier because I know what this moment can represent to others. It's motivation that fighters from Argentina can make it to the highest level.

"I breathe boxing, and people are going to see that on Saturday night. I'm going to show them that I'm a great boxer and I've prepared to beat the best. Lara is a great fighter, but we have to beat him to get where we want to go. This is the path we've chosen to get to that ultimate goal. I think Lara and I are both very well-conditioned and well-prepared for this fight."

Castano said he has had his eye on fighting Lara for quite some time.

"I can't wait to go in there and get to work on Saturday night," he said. "I worked so hard for this fight because I know how much is at stake. I've been looking for this fight, even before Lara lost to Hurd. Luckily everything came together for me to fight Lara on Saturday."

"I breathe boxing, and people are going to see that on Saturday night. I'm going to show them that I'm a great boxer and I've prepared to beat the best. Lara is a great fighter, but we have to beat him to get where we want to go. This is the path we've chosen to get to that ultimate goal." Brian Castano

Castano has fought four previous times in the United States but not in featured fights, much less a main event, so Saturday in Brooklyn will be the first time most American fans will see him. But many boxing insiders are already aware of him.

"As somebody who has lived in this [boxing] world for way too long, I'm very aware of young Mr. Brian Castano," said Lou DiBella, one of the promoters of Saturday's card.

DiBella learned about Castano several years ago from one of his star fighters, the now-retired former middleweight world champion Martinez.

"Years ago when [Castano] was a young teenager, [Martinez] said to me the next big thing from Argentina may be Brian Castano, and I started looking at some amateur tape of him years ago and I said to myself, 'Yeah, I know why he's saying that because this kid can fight,'" DiBella said. "He's got tremendous athletic ability. He was a phenom as an amateur, really well known throughout amateur boxing circles. He's a real up-and-coming guy in the sport."

But DiBella cautioned that amateur credentials do not always translate to professional success, though they did for Lara, who won a world amateur championship and was a decorated member of the powerhouse Cuban national team before he defected.

"He's got his hands full on Saturday night because Erislandy Lara is one of the most talented fighters in the world today, period," DiBella said. "He's an elite fighter and one of the hardest guys in boxing to fight and a guy capable of making any adjustment in the ring necessary to win."