Lara is widely regarded as one of the most technically skilled fighters in boxing today. He was captain of the Cuban national amateur team, winning a gold medal in the welterweight division at the 2005 World Championships as well as three consecutive Cuban national championships from 2005 to 2007.
In 2003 and 2004, Lara lost four times against two-time world champion Lorenzo Aragon.
In 2005 after Aragon stepped down, Lara bested his countryman Yudel Jhonson Cedeno repeatedly and was sent to the world championships. There he avenged an earlier loss to Russian Andrey Balanov, beat American Boyd Melson, upset top favorite and Olympic champion Bakhtiyar Artayev (31–22), and won Gold against Magomed Nurutdinov (BLR).
Lara has lost twice to another Kazakh, Bakhyt Sarsekbayev. In their only meeting, Lara beat American world champion Demetrius Andrade 9–4.2005 in Moscow, Russia (welterweight)
Defeated Manon Boonjumnong (Thailand) 21–9
Defeated Stefan Dragomir (Romania) RSC–3
Defeated Bakhyt Sarsekbayev (Kazakhstan) 39–33
Lost to Andrey Balanov (Russia) 21–36
Erislandy Lara was considered a favorite to win the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. However, in 2007, Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux defected from Cuba during the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some weeks later, he was caught by Brazilian authorities and returned to Cuba where he was banned from practicing boxing indefinitely.
In 2008, Lara attempted a second defection, this time on a speed boat to Mexico. Lara was successful and made his way to Hamburg, Germany, where he joined former Olympic champions Odlanier Solis, Yan Barthelemy, and Yuriorkis Gamboa in the Arena Box-Promotion stable.
On January 1, 2009, Erislandy Lara made his ESPN debut and scored a first-round TKO against Rodrigo Aguiar.
Lara's following fight came on February 20, 2009, against Keith Gross. Lara dropped Gross with a left hand, but Gross beat the count on wobbly legs. Lara continued unleashing combinations to the head and body. A left uppercut finished the fight within round one.
On May 2, 2009, on the Pacquiao vs. Hatton undercard, Lara faced Chris Gray. Lara won the fight via unanimous decision.
On May 22, 2009, Lara faced aging Edwin Vazquez. Lara finished the fight with good combinations, prompting the referee to stop the fight in round four. On that same night, fellow Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux made his pro debut, which he also won via referee stoppage in the third round.
After beating Edwin Vazquez, Lara went on to win nine straight fights punctuated by four consecutive first-round knockout victories.
On March 25, 2011, at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Lara fought Carlos Molina to a ten-round majority draw. Lara started by frequently targeting Molina's body with the left uppercut when Molina would attempt to close the distance. Early on Molina seemed to predict and nullify much of Lara's attempted one-two combinations. Although Lara had trouble connecting his signature straight left hand initially, he found the distance by the middle rounds, began to mix in short hooks to the head, and blocked most of Molina's constant body work. Molina, on the other hand, was rarely able to find Lara's head throughout the entire fight. Relying on looping punches, Molina stayed close and took advantage of the clinches to land to the body. Visibly fatigued, Molina developed a cut under his left eye near the beginning of the ninth round as Lara landed a hard, clean straight left hand and pushed the pace. Molina's higher output and pressure were favored by one judge while Lara's cleaner, sharper output and defense went largely unnoticed by ringside commentators. The final scorecards read: 95–95, 95–95, and 97–93 in favor of Molina.
Lara fought former WBO welterweight champion Paul Williams on July 9, 2011, in Atlantic City where he lost a majority decision. Judges Don Givens (116–114) and Hilton Whitaker II (115–114) both favored Williams, while Al Bennett scored it even at 114–114. Most boxing analysts and fans believed that Lara clearly won the fight and had been unfairly judged. Lara was able to land hard, clean left hands throughout the fight while maintaining superb defense. Williams appeared hurt in the later rounds but did, however, keep up a high output of punches despite their relative ineffectiveness. CompuBox recorded Lara landing 49 percent of his power punches compared to 21 percent by Williams. Lara also landed seven more jabs and 17 more power punches than Williams, despite the near two-fold activity by Williams. Consequently, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board suspended all three judges, and Lara received his first loss as a professional fighter in a highly controversial fashion.
On April 20, 2012, Lara made his comeback to the ring after nine months to fight Ronald Hearns for the WBC light middleweight semi-final eliminator spot at the Beau Rivage casino resort in Biloxi, Mississippi. The fight, which was scheduled to go ten rounds, simply lasted one minute and 34 seconds as Lara delivered an impressive TKO in the first round. Referee Keith Hughes decided to stop the fight after Lara had sent Hearns to the canvas once with a clean left hook that required count and immediately after delivered two fast combinations (one of which also required count) that seemed to be enough to overwhelm Hearns who seconds before the stop by the referee appeared to be defenseless upon Lara's final combination.
On November 10, 2012, at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, Lara faced Vanes Martirosyan, who was undeafeted at the time and known for his amateur wins over Andre Berto, Austin Trout, and Timothy Bradley. Lara connected on 42 percent of his power punches (40/95) while Martirosyan landed 16 percent of his (27/167) and only 6 jabs throughout the entire fight, according to CompuBox. Lara outlanded Martirosyan in overall punches, 74 to 33. After a clash of heads resulted in a gash over Martirosyan's left eye in the ninth round, the ringside doctor waved off the fight. The referee ordered the judges to score the final 26 seconds of the bout, which resulted in a technical draw (87–84 in favor of Lara, 86–85 in favor of Martirosyan, and 86–86). Dave Moretti was responsible for the tied scorecard and judged the ninth round as 10–10, disagreeing with the other two judges who scored the final 26 seconds as 10–9 for Lara.
On June 8, 2013, at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, Lara received the first two knockdowns of his professional career en route to earning a TKO victory over Mexico's Alfredo Angulo along with the interim WBA light middleweight title. Angulo's left hook was vicious as he rushed in, guarded and low. Lara, in return, was able to utilize zigzag formations and vary the speed of his movement to bait Angulo's aggression. Lara was defensively responsible for the vast majority of the bout and had beautiful technique in throwing his straight left hand, generating power through his legs and rotating his hips by pivoting off his foot. Lara landed 56 percent of his power punches while Angulo landed 31 percent of his, according to CompuBox. The fight was stopped in round ten when Angulo refused to continue after a straight left hand by Lara caused swelling around his right eye. Angulo's injury was later revealed to be a broken orbital bone.
On December 7, 2013, Lara faced Austin Trout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Considered the favorite to win, Trout had recently beaten Miguel Cotto. Lara, however, put on a dominant performance as he immediately nullified Trout’s offense using deft footwork and clean punching. In outclassing Trout, Lara scored a knockdown in round eleven via straight left hand. Trout was hurt for the remainder of the round as Lara pressed the action. Lara cruised to the unanimous decision (117–111, 117–111, and 118–109) and retained his interim WBA light middleweight title.
Lara fought Canelo Álvarez on July 12, 2014, at the MGM Grand in a non-title match. Lara's WBA light middleweight title was not on the line as the fight took place at a 155-pound catchweight, and both fighters weighed in at precisely 155 pounds. Álvarez rehydrated to 171 pounds while Lara came into the ring at 166 pounds. In a very close and competitive fight that went to a split decision, Álvarez came out on top with the two judges scoring 115–113 in favor of each fighter and the final judge scoring 117–111 in favor of Álvarez. The final scorecard was controversial as many observers considered it far too wide. According to CompuBox, Lara landed 55 jabs to nine from Álvarez, who landed the jab at a five percent connect rate. Álvarez managed to land 88 power punches (73 to the body) while Lara landed 53 power punches all to the head. Lara's clean punching along with his defense and movement were weighed against Álvarez's effective aggressiveness. Lara came out in dominant fashion, utilizing a stick-and-move style and capturing the early rounds. Álvarez was later able to hammer away to the body when he had Lara on the ropes but never adjusted to Lara's one-two combinations. Lara's lead hand played a huge role in this combination's effectiveness, but his output dropped in the middle rounds. Álvarez was able to cut Lara with a lead left uppercut in the seventh round. Although the decision remains controversial, any talk of a rematch in the future was dismissed by Oscar De La Hoya who went on to say, "No one wants a rematch." This fight resulted in Lara's second professional loss.
On December 12, 2014, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Lara showcased his ability to move in range to punch and then swiftly escape without taking damage against Ishe Smith. Lara consistently landed the straight left hand after “blinding” or “occupying” Smith’s guard with the lead hand. Lara would move in a forward direction towards Smith and escape in a linear direction, oftentimes sidestepping, while landing the one-two combination. This lateral movement was enhanced by Lara’s wide boxing stance, which also enhanced Lara’s punching power. Lara was frequently able to turn Smith into additional punches by stepping around Smith’s lead foot, thus enabling Lara to set traps. Lara dominated the fight and successfully defended his WBA (Regular) light middleweight title by unanimous decision with the scorecards reading: 119–109, 119–109, and 117–111.
On June 12, 2015, Lara defended his WBA (Regular) light middleweight title and won the vacant IBO light middleweight title against Delvin Rodríguez at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. In a technical exhibition, Lara's exquisite timing and fast hands allowed him to outland Rodríguez 233 to 63 in total punches and connect on 62 percent of his power punches. Lara was able to score a knockdown in round six via straight left hand. In a virtual shutout, Lara earned a unanimous decision with all three judges agreeing 120–107.
On November 25, 2015, Lara defended his WBA and IBO light middleweight titles against Jan Zaveck in Hialeah, Florida. On a wetted canvas due to prior heavy rain, Lara began by walking down Zaveck who was relying on wide punches. Lara continued to stay in the pocket and countered Zaveck, halting his aggression. At the end of round two, Zaveck was hurt after Lara split his jab with a clean left hand. Lara landed a straight left hand at the start of round three followed by a series of combinations punctuating with an uppercut at which point Zaveck put his hand out, turned away, and refused to continue. Zaveck appeared to be in quite a lot of pain after the fight, which was stopped 41 seconds into round three.
It was announced that Lara would be defending his titles in a rematch from 2012 with Vanes Martirosyan, which ended in a draw. The fight was to take place as part of a triple header also including the Charlo twins and Austin Trout. The fight took place on May 21, 2016 in Las Vegas. On fight night, Lara unofficially weighed 160.5 pounds while Martirosyan came in at 170 pounds. Martirosyan spent much of the fight attempting to impose his strength and body work on Lara. As a result, Martirosyan inadvertently landed multiple low blows until he was deducted a point in the eleventh round. The bout was also plagued by head clashes much like during their previous encounter. In the early rounds both men stayed in perfect range, each relying on their own reflexes and quick transitions from defense to offense. Lara found openings for his sharp punches. As the fight progressed, he was more mobile and dictated the pace, outmaneuvering Martirosyan while managing to land flashy 1-2-1 combinations. After seizing ring generalship, Paulie Malignaggi noted Lara's "fluid footwork" and a resemblance to Pernell Whitaker as he often ducked low and displayed tricky pivot moves to evade Martirosyan's punches by inches. Lara landed 63 jabs and 60% of his power punches to Martirosyan's 16 jabs and 23% power punch connect rate.
Early reports on November 30, 2016, stated that there were talks of Lara to defend his WBA and IBO titles against former WBA light middleweight champion Yuri Foreman (34-2, 10 KOs). Lara's team was also in talks with Luis Collazo. It was confirmed that the fight against Foreman would headline the Premier Boxing Champions on January 13, 2017. The fight was held at the Hialeah Park Racing and Casino in Miami, Florida, in front of a largely Cuban crowd. Foreman was knocked down in round three. Upon closer inspection, the fall could easily have been ruled a slip. Lara won the fight after delivering a knockout in the fourth round via left uppercut. Although Foreman beat the count, he was on unsteady legs after multiple attempts to get back up. The referee promptly waved off the bout. In the post-fight interview, Lara expressed his desire to finally face off with unified middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin and rematch lineal middleweight titlist Canelo Álvarez. The fight averaged 547,000 viewers on Spike TV and peaked at 707,000.
On August 12, 2017 it was announced that Lara would make a defence of his WBA and IBO titles in September 2017. It was confirmed on August 24 by the Ringtv that Lara would fight former Olympian Terrell Gausha (20-0, 9 KOs) as part of a super welterweight triple header on October 14, 2017 at the Barclays Center in New York City. Other fights on the card would include Jermell Charlo's mandatory title defence against top prospect Erickson Lubin and Jarrett Hurd defending his IBF title against former champion Austin Trout. Demetrius Andrade revealed he wanted to fight Lara in the fall of 2017.