by David P. Greisman
You can forgive a boxer’s fans if they hope for a great one-sided victory instead of a great two-sided battle.
The rest of us are without any allegiance except to action and drama. We want sustained exchanges of heavy blows, multiple shifts in momentum, and anything else that will make the evening incredibly memorable, which will make it worthy of watching again and sharing with anyone else who may not yet have experienced the pleasure of seeing it.
That’s what we were hoping for with this past Saturday’s fight between Lamont Peterson and Lucas Matthysse — or at least that was the hope for those of us not emotionally invested in either of these top-rated junior welterweights.
Peterson’s recent run has brought both action and drama. He has struggled at times, suffering knockdowns in fights with Timothy Bradley, Victor Ortiz and Amir Khan, and he has risen from the canvas with his determination to win only heightened instead of lessened.
That has made for good viewing. We looked on while Peterson forced Bradley to put forth one of the best performance of his career en route to a clear decision win, as we watched Peterson come back to keep the Ortiz bout to a draw, and as we saw him trouble Khan and grind his way a close and controversial split decision.
Matthysse, too, has made for destination television. Though his initial introduction to American fight fans came with losses to Zab Judah in 2010 and Devon Alexander in 2011, both defeats were controversial split decisions. We wanted to see more of him, to see what he could do if given another chance against the contenders and titleholders in the 140-pound division.
He has built a cult following while building a strong case for a third chance, blasting through his opposition in a manner that has been the norm for him throughout his career. Only twice has he come out with a victory that wasn’t via knockout; once was a disqualification win very early in his career, the other was a unanimous decision all the way back in 2008.
In the span of seven months between June 2012 and this past January, Matthysse took out Humberto Soto, delivered an extended beating to Olusegun Ajose, and scored a one-punch knockout of Mike Dallas Jr. None of these men was highly ranked, though Soto was a former lightweight titleholder and Ajose was undefeated and respected as a fighter on the verge of challenging for a world title.
It wasn’t whom Matthysse was beating so much as how. He had scored five straight knockouts or stoppages since the loss to Alexander, displaying power and skills that left us wondering how he would fare against the upper echelon of junior welterweights — and how they would fare against him.
The fight between Lamont Peterson and Lucas Matthysse drew our attention because of how important it was and how interesting it would be.
We wanted to see how Peterson would handle Matthysse’s power. We wanted to see whether Peterson would box effectively against him instead of brawling. And we wanted to see whether Matthysse could go through a fighter with the tools and toughness of Peterson the way he had against less capable opposition.
The winner would be seen as one of the best fighters at 140 pounds, even though the bout was taking place at a contractual weight of 141. Beyond that, the winner presumably would be going on to challenge Danny Garcia, the other top junior welterweight, in a collision that should establish the undisputed king of their division.
Matthysse said days before the Peterson bout that he wasn’t worried about the judges’ scorecards. We understood him to mean that he either assumed he would dominate Peterson down the distance or wouldn’t allow him to make it to the final bell.
We knew Matthysse would be relentless. And we knew Peterson wouldn’t quit.
We imagined a “Fight of the Year” candidate.
We didn’t get one.
We still weren’t disappointed.
There still is nothing boxing fans prefer more than to be amazed by the action and drawn in by the drama of a great two-sided battle.
Fans still will buzz over a great one-sided victory, a win that creates a compelling storyline, a win in which an ascendant star puts forth a highlight-reel performance.
Matthysse-Peterson ended early, lasting less than three rounds. The two warriors boxed in the first round, feeling each other out, the tension thick as fighters and fans alike anticipated the coming fireworks.
In the second round, Matthysse followed a right hand to the body with a left hook that landed high on Peterson’s forehead. The punch had a delayed effect; Peterson stepped to his right and then stumbled down. He got up and survived the rest of the second, but Matthysse came out for the third round thinking that the opportunity to score a knockout remained.
Matthysse missed a wild left hook and fell to the canvas. He got up and continued to pressure Peterson, who had discarded his game plan and was drawn into a brawl. Later, Peterson landed a jab, ducked under Matthysse’s right hand, and then turned around to throw a left hook — at the same time that Matthysse did the same.
Matthysse took the shot standing. Peterson collapsed backward. He attempted to sit up, propping himself up with his gloves, then tumbled face first to the mat. He rose at the count of six, backpedalling to the ropes, shaken but seeking to keep fighting.
His heart was there. His legs were not.
Matthysse followed a right hand with a sweeping left hook, and Peterson toppled back down for the third time in the bout. While he again lifted himself up, referee Steve Smoger recognized that the fight was over.
It was impressive and conclusive. There would be no talk afterward about a pitched battle between two top fighters. Instead the conversation turned to this cult favorite’s campaign for the championship, the demolition derby that has left yet another victim in its wake, and the question of what will happen if and when Lucas Matthysse meets Danny Garcia.
It was reminiscent of another quick knockout featuring an Argentine in Atlantic City. Two and a half years ago, in November 2010, Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams had headlined at Boardwalk Hall in a rematch of their stellar 12-round bout from 2009. Their sequel lasted barely more than four minutes, with Williams sent unconscious into a heap from a perfect left hand, and with Martinez raising his stature more than his win over middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik had done seven months before.
And earlier this year, Mike Alvarado changed his strategy and changed the script for his second fight with Brandon Rios. Their first bout, which came last October, had been a highly entertaining brawl that made heroes out of both men but ended with Alvarado on the losing end of a technical knockout.
The second fight, which happened in late March, was still enjoyable but included an additional layer to the plot. Alvarado attempted to mix boxing in with the expected heavy exchanges, and he succeeded enough to win a close but clear decision.
We will always love a great fight. But there is also great pleasure to be taken in seeing a great moment or watching a great performance.
Lucas Matthysse deprived us of a great fight. He gave us plenty of reason, however, to talk about what he has done, to discuss the fight that might come next, and to tune in to see whether he can captivate us like this yet again.
The 10 Count
1. It’s a shame that Lucas Matthysse’s fight with Lamont Peterson had to take place in Atlantic City in front of an announced (but unconfirmed) attendance of 4,215.
The crowd would have been much larger had the bout taken place in Peterson’s hometown of Washington, D.C.
It’s understandable why the fight didn’t happen there. Matthysse’s two disputed defeats came near his opponents’ hometowns. His loss to Zab Judah was in Newark, N.J., which is right outside of New York City, and his loss to Devon Alexander was in St. Charles, Mo., about half an hour outside of St. Louis.
Matthysse had said he wasn’t worried about the judges. Nevertheless, placing this bout in Atlantic City likely helped get it signed. Given that both men received purses in the high six-figures, they probably cared a lot less about the financial windfall that could have come had the card been in D.C. and drawn at least twice as many people.
2. With that said, I like the prospect of Matthysse’s fight against Danny Garcia, should it get made, taking place in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 7, which is where and when Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said he would like the bout to be.
Matthysse is from Argentina. Garcia is from Philadelphia, which is just up the road from Atlantic City, but has fought his last two bouts in Brooklyn.
However, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City both are booked on that date, according to the promoter. But if Golden Boy puts a Lamont Peterson fight on the undercard, potentially against Zab Judah, and includes one or two other D.C. area prospects, then a good crowd could show up for the co-feature and pay for an event that also features a championship bout as its main event.
3. It’s smart to promote local on the undercards. Many shows fill out pockets of the arena with fans of the guys (and sometimes gals) in preliminary bouts. Other shows have what amounts to an “arena main event” and a “television main event.”
That’s the case with the June 21 show in Minneapolis on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”
The co-feature has middleweight/super middleweight Caleb Truax, who is from Minnesota, facing Don George, who as a Chicagoan is a fellow Midwesterner.
The fans likely will come for that fight. It’s up to them whether they stick around for the ESPN2 main event with junior lightweight elimination bout between Rances Barthelemy (who is Cuban) and Fahsai Sakkreerin (who is Thai).
4. Some very astute commentary from Showtime’s Paulie Malignaggi, who made this remark a minute into the second round following a series of rabbit punches Matthysse landed on Peterson:
“Matthysse’s stepping up the aggression this round, being a bit more physical. This is what you do to a guy who’s trying to box you. Basically when you try to corner him down, you get rough with him. You try to frustrate him so that he gets away from his own game plan.”
Soon thereafter, the distance closed between Matthysse and Peterson. Matthysse landed a good right hand, and the left hook that scored the first knockdown of the fight came a little later.
Peterson, during the post-fight press conference, pointed to the rabbit punches as taking him away from his strategy, not because of the pain but rather due to how the fouls had angered him.
“The game plan was to keep boxing,” Peterson said. “Sometime in the second round, he hit me in the back of the head. I got a little upset, started getting more reckless, and wanted to bang. I kind of abandoned the game plan a little bit, and I paid for it.”
5. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Robert Guerrero accepted a plea deal last week in a case that stemmed from him checking a locked gun box with an unloaded handgun and ammunition magazines at a New York airport counter.
Guerrero, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of disorderly conduct and must pay a $250 fine and do 50 hours of community service, according to Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
He had been facing felony counts of criminal possession of a weapon.
Guerrero last fought earlier this month, losing a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather. He is now 31-2-1 with 18 knockouts and 2 no contests.
6. Check out the difference between what prosecutors said after Guerrero’s arrest and what was said after the plea deal:
“I hope that Mr. Guerrero fights better than he thinks,” District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement. “For anyone who hasn’t gotten the message, let me be crystal clear. You cannot bring an unlicensed weapon — loaded or unloaded — into this county or this city. And if you do, you will be arrested and face felony charges.”
“The plea was consistent with the District Attorney’s policy in that [Guerrero] voluntarily disclosed possession of the gun and that the gun was in a locked box and had been legally purchased and licensed in California,” a spokesman for Brown told the Review-Journal.
7. May 2011: Russian cruiserweight Denis Lebedev fought Roy Jones, then 42 years old, and won by 10th-round knockout.
November 2011: Lebedev fought James Toney, then 43 years old, and won by a complete shutout over the 12-round distance.
This past weekend: Lebedev, now a 33-year-old titleholder, fought former cruiserweight beltholder Guillermo Jones, now 41 years old and returning from an 18-month layoff. Jones left Lebedev’s right eye disgustingly disfigured and ultimately scored the 11th-round knockout.
“He finally met a 40-year-old he couldn’t beat,” said Andrew Fruman of well-written boxing blog The Cruelest Sport.
8. I haven’t had a chance yet to watch Shane Mosley’s win over Pablo Cesar Cano from this past Saturday down in Mexico, but I’m torn as to the implications of his victory.
Mosley is 41 and had clearly been on the decline in recent years. His last win was more than four years ago, in January 2009, when he demolished Antonio Margarito.
After that, he lost to Floyd Mayweather in May 2010, had a putrid draw with Sergio Mora in September 2010, was shut out on all but one scorecard against Manny Pacquiao in May 2011, and lost a wide decision to Canelo Alvarez in May 2012.
There’s no shame in losing to Mayweather, Pacquiao and Alvarez, but Mosley’s diminishing ability to be anywhere close to competitive was clearly evident.
Cano’s shown himself to be a decent fighter in his 2011 loss to Erik Morales and his controversial decision loss last year against Paulie Malignaggi, but he’s young at just 23 and is far from belonging in the top tier of boxers.
Mosley shouldn’t let this win give him the delusion that he still has “it,” that he can compete with the best in the sport. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said Saturday night that he’d like to get Mosley a title shot. We’ll see whether that happens, or whether Mosley’s next fight is just another notable name who doesn’t have a belt.
It’s unfortunate that it often takes a bad loss to send a formerly great fighter into retirement. Too often, it takes more than one.
Good for Mosley for being able to get this latest win. I wish that the win would have given him the positive note on which he could hang up his gloves.
9. Then again, Oliver McCall, 48, just fought Saturday in Poland and lost an eight-round decision.
Oleg Maskaev, 44, has a bout scheduled for this coming weekend in Russia.
Fres Oquendo, 40, is slated to fight in June in Indiana.
I can’t pick on Tony Thompson, however. The 41-year-old has a bout scheduled for this July in the United Kingdom. It’s a rematch with David Price, a 29-year-old heavyweight prospect who Thompson upset just this past February with a surprising second-round technical knockout.
10. Nor can I talk too much trash anymore about fighters’ ages, not after what I experienced this past Saturday in Atlantic City.
I’m 31. And all but two of the 22 fighters who stepped into the ring in Boardwalk Hall were younger than me…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]