Light middleweight Erislandy Lara puts his WBA crown on the line tonight at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago as the native Cuban faces off against two-time former world title challenger Delvin Rodriguez.
Crafty southpaw Lara, 20-2-2 (12), acquired the belt in his most recent appearance by widely outpointing Ishe Smith in December of last year and will be a big favorite against Connecticut resident Rodriguez, 28-7-4 (16).
The challenger has had mixed fortunes since losing a bid for the vacant IBF welter title to Issac Hltashwayo in 2009, going 4-5 (2) over that span, including a loss against WBA super middle champ Austin Trout in 2012.
Lara finally got to fight for the full WBA belt after losing to Canelo Alvarez and defeating Trout for the Interim version and in his first appearance as a world champion, he should be a very difficult proposition for Rodriguez.
Although he doesn't have the sheer skill of Lara, Rodriguez, 28-7-4 (16), can be a very dangerous opponent if he enjoys early success as it will lead to confidence and momentum.
Rodriguez is taller than Lara but there's no way he's going to outpoint the slick Cuban left from the outside so will have to take chances to get inside and force the champion to trade.
If Lara does stick to his strengths of the jab, movement and timely counters, this might not be a difficult bout for him but if he has overlooked Rodriguez and hasn't trained properly, he could have stamina issues that leads to a shoulder to shoulder slugfest.
If that does occur, Rodriguez is very good with improvising short punches on the inside and Lara doesn't have enough concussive power to back him off.
But Lara has a lot riding on this fight, including potential blockbusters against Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao and with the added incentive of major American television exposure on NBC, probably hasn't left anything to chance.
And that's bad news for Rodriguez, who will likely be picked apart round by round and worn down from an accumulation of punishment.
The undercard provides a couple of good matchups as light heavyweight KO machine Artur Beterbiev, 8-0 (8), will try to finish off late replacement opponent Anthony Johnson, 16-2 (7), a lefty who has losses on points to Eleider Alvarez and Luis Garcia.
Despite turning pro just two years ago, Beterbiev has already destroyed former world champions Tarvoris Cloud and Gabriel Campillo with zero difficulty. Johnson could be in for an uphill battle as with just 7 KOs in 16 victories over limited opposition, won't likely have enough pop to back off his Russian adversary.
Light welter contender Anthony Peterson, 34-1 (22), meets ex IBF-lightweight title challenger Ammeth Diaz, 32-11 (23), in a ten rounder that should be entertaining.