By Jake Donovan
Lucas Matthysse has already proven he can handle any style in the ring.
Now all that’s left to prove is how long he can hold his breath.
The twice-beaten Argentine slugger has punched his way into title contention, doing so by taking on the type of opponents nobody else is in a hurry to face. The fight he most craves these days is against unified 140 lb. titlist Danny ‘Swift’ Garcia. He even has an interim belt that says he’s due a shot at the unbeaten Philly product.
Rather than play the waiting game, Matthysse instead agrees to face anyone willing to join him in the ring. For this weekend, that potentially unlucky contestant will be Mike Dallas Jr., as they square off at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Showtime is along for the ride (Saturday, 10PM ET/PT), marking Matthysse’s third straight appearance on the network. If all goes well, he will eventually be back on their airwaves and against the opponent of choice.
“I asked for the fight with Garcia, but right now he has a fight with Zab Judah, so I’ll wait,” Matthysse (32-2, 30KO) said, while preparing for this weekend’s headliner. “I’m hoping for that fight because I want to be the full champion.”
Garcia will face Judah next month in Brooklyn, in a bout also to air on Showtime. Matthysse was originally slated to appear on that card, though with such plans made at a time when he was also supposed to take a stay-busy fight in his native Argentina last December.
When the showcase fight fell through, so too did the time for his next ring appearance. A Showtime date was secured by Golden Boy Promotions, his co-promoter in the United States. The suggested intention is to build momentum towards a showdown with Garcia, though at the very least to also build up Matthysse’s name beyond the sport’s hardcore fan base.
With that came an offer to face Hank Lundy, a capable but troubled lightweight who managed to fall just short at the contender level. Few cared that the proposed fight was a mismatch on paper; it was going to be fun for however long it lasted, because Lundy at least comes to fight once in the ring.
The problem is actually getting him there. As Matthysse has a fetish for inflicting as much pain as possible on his opponents, Lundy’s guilty pleasure seems to be signing any contract placed in front of him. Overlapping deals with multiple promoters have been his issue in the past. These days, it’s a dispute over whether or not he still has a manager which prevented him from taking a fight.
Hardly any time at all was lost on finding Matthysse an opponent, as Dallas Jr. was named almost as soon as it was discovered that Lundy was out of the running.
Few if any give Dallas Jr. (19-2, 8KO) much of a shot at pulling off the upset – his general style suggests that a boxing match will threaten to break out in a venue where everyone is hoping to see a fight. The fear is that Matthysse won’t look as thrilling as is normally the case, against an opponent with the potential to stink out the joint.
The fighter himself doesn’t seem very concerned with what his opponent may or may not bring to the table. All that he cares about is remaining active and in the running for the fights for which he most craves.
“We started working hard (in early December),” Matthysse said of a training camp that began with preparing for a smaller and more physical fighter. “I’m eager to fight because we had a fight scheduled for December 15 but it fell through.”
Matthysse will never be confused for a thinking man’s fighter, but is certainly a student of the game. The strap presently around his waist is a placeholder for what the WBC promises will be a future title shot against Garcia. The Mexico-based sanctioning body claims it will order such a bout provided that both are victorious in their upcoming fights.
The problem is, we’ve heard that song before.
Ajose Olusegun wasted years as mandatory challenger to a title shot that never came to fruition. He was promised a title fight when the 140 lb. belt was vacant. He was promised a shot at Erik Morales after the legendary Mexican jumped the line and was instead afforded the opportunity. He was promised the winner of the first fight between Garcia and Morales.
The promises finally ceased once the WBC acknowledged that a unification bout (when Garcia faced then recently reinstated titlist Amir Khan), as Olusegun was granted a crack at an interim title. All he had to do was beat Matthysse and the belt was his, along with more waiting games for a Garcia fight to materialize.
He never came close to making it that far, as he was demolished inside of 10 largely uncompetitive rounds. Making matters worse was that he entered the fight on a near year-long inactive stretch, in most part due to his foolish stubbornness of not wanting to face anyone but the WBC champ – first Morales, then Garcia.
Once inserted into that slot, Matthysse knew better than to wait around for an opportunity that isn’t guaranteed to come. Not even the scent of two losses is enough to entice divisional rivals into believing he’s beatable - especially when both losses could have easily gone the other way.
Matthysse was unbeaten and two fights away from his first title fight when he headed into his Nov. ’10 HOB-televised title eliminator with Zab Judah. The bout took place in Newark, close enough to Judah’s Brooklyn roots to where Matthysse figured he’d need a knockout to win.
He came damn close, though falling behind early in the fight proved to be his undoing. A late surge coupled with a 10th round knockdown was thought to be enough to overcome the early deficit, but two of the three judges felt otherwise as Judah was awarded a disputed split decision, though not an outcome devoid of any credit.
A far greater argument for robbery was posed seven months later, when Matthysse went to the St. Louis hometown of Devon Alexander for a June ’11 bout, which also aired on HBO. Once again, the lone knockdown of the bout was scored by Matthysse. Once again, he appeared to do enough to pull off a perceived upset against a known commodity.
Once again, the judges sided with the boxer over the puncher. This one didn’t sit quite as well with the masses, with most experts believing that Alexander should have been handed his second straight loss. Instead, it was Matthysse who left St. Louis with his second loss in three fights – yet his stock never higher at the time.
The legend only continued to grow in 2012. The year ended with Matthysse the proud owner of a four-fight win streak – all by knockout, and none with any chance of the fight ever going to the scorecards. One of the wins was a risky venture against former three-division titlist Humberto Soto. Matthysse was a 2-1 favorite to win, but the risk was that nothing was guaranteed with a win – it was a 10-round fight with only a regional belt at stake.
Still, he took the fight just because it was there. Few fighters are able to see the forest for the trees, but Matthysse knows –or at least believes – that the more he wins and remains in the public eye, the greater the chance of high profile fights coming in demand by the viewing public.
The move proved wise; Matthysse – while trailing on the scorecards early – bore the look of a fighter in complete control, confident he would eventually catch his foe. He did just that, battering Soto into submission right at the end of the fifth round, handing the Mexican his first loss in four years.
Golden Boy gained its perfect roadblock to the 140 lb. titles in its possession. Anyone who wanted a crack had to go through Matthysse.
But what happens when he runs out of contenders to bump off?
Welcome to present day. Few names are mentioned as a next big opportunity for the two-fisted slugger. Every once in a while, a headline surfaces of a rumored clash with countryman Marcos Maidana. The two immediately dismiss such talks, stating a mutual respect for another and that such a fight doesn’t make sense unless it absolutely has to happen.
In the meantime, it gives others the ability to maneuver around him and secure meaningful fights and paydays while he’s left to settle for whatever’s leftover.
Mike Dallas Jr. is the latest in the list of fights that he gladly accepts when little else is made available. In between fights, he remains in pursuit of the biggest names in and around the division.
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer once envisioned a scenario of Matthysse one day contending for the top spot in the 140 lb. division. It came at a time when the opportunities were overflowing for Garcia and when Olusegun was long overdue for his bid at the crown.
“Matthysse at 140… [Garcia] and Matthysse, can you imagine that?”
Yes, we can. Let’s just hope we don’t have to imagine it for very long.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox