Persistence pays off for Lara

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Erislandy Lara is nothing if not persistent. It's one of the reasons that despite long odds -- massive odds, really -- he has risen to become one the best fighters in boxing, even if he's not exactly a household name.

But he could inch closer toward that end if he can score a victory against Mexican superstar and former unified junior middleweight titleholder Saul "Canelo" Alvarez when they meet in a scheduled 12-round fight on Saturday night (Showtime PPV, 9 ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Lara's 154-pound title will not be at stake because Alvarez refused to fight for it, instead insisting on a 155-pound maximum weight for the nontitle bout.

But Lara has wanted this fight for quite some time. He was not about to let it get away from him over one pound or a belt, so he accepted Alvarez's terms and will earn a career-high $1 million for doing so.

After Alvarez knocked out Alfredo Angulo in March -- an opponent Lara had stopped in June 2013 only to watch him get the fight with Alvarez next -- Lara arrived at Alvarez's postfight news conference in the MGM Grand media center.  He demanded that Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 KOs) fight him, and even though Alvarez dismissed him at the time, he had become so annoyed with Lara's persistent attacks on him via social media that he eventually decided to take the fight and settle things in the ring.

"Originally, I thought he would never take the fight because I confronted him in person and he said, 'No, this is not how you make fights,'" Lara, 31, said through translator and manager Luis DeCubas Jr. "Then after the fans saw that he was ducking me on Twitter, he had no choice but to be a man and take the challenge."

Lara's persistence had paid off, and it wasn't the first time.

A star amateur in Cuba who won a 2005 world amateur championship, Lara risked his life to defect. Although he now lives comfortably in Houston with his wife and two sons, 6 and 3, with a daughter due to be delivered on Monday, he went through a lot to get to this point.

During the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil, Lara attempted to defect with teammate and two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, but they were caught. He and Rigondeaux were sent back to Cuba and kicked off the national team. The prospect of a 2008 Olympic gold medal was gone, and unless Lara figured out a way to escape, his life was at a dead end.

But, again, he was persistent. In 2008, he made a second attempt to defect, and this time, he was successful. (Rigondeaux eventually defected in 2009 and is now the junior featherweight world champion.) Leaving behind his family, including two other sons now 7 and 8, he survived a harrowing journey -- 125 miles on a crowded 30-foot speedboat in the dead of night from Cuba to Cancun, Mexico, during which those facilitating the escape threatened to throw him overboard if he didn't agree to pay them $200,000. That was a far cry from the $15,000 they had initially demanded, because they realized he was a famous Cuban boxer.

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