by David P. Greisman
There is the joy of the great fight that breaks out when we wholly expect it to happen, when Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo go toe-to-toe, when Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward or Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez have us at the edge of our seats before the opening bell rings and before the first blows are traded. And then there is the thrill of the great fight that we didn’t quite expect, a surprise made all the more pleasant because of what we thought would occur instead.
Showtime’s tripleheader broadcast on Saturday was expected to be a keep-busy night for the three name fighters: lightweight titleholder Omar Figueroa, who was defending his belt against Jerry Belmontes; Lucas Matthysse, who was returning from his decision loss to junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia, was facing John Molina Jr.; and Keith Thurman, who would stand opposite from Julio Diaz while awaiting a big fight against another notable name at welterweight.
Figueroa had difficulty handling Belmontes’ movement and was able to escape with a split decision. Thurman’s power was too much for Diaz, who suffered a rib injury and retired in his corner after the third round. And Matthysse, once considered the most dangerous fighter at 140 pounds, got caught early and had to come off the canvas twice before scoring an enjoyable stoppage over Molina.
Matthysse-Molina was brutally beautiful on its own, and its entertainment value was further fueled by what we believed would happen.
Many of us considered it a mismatch. Matthysse is a formidable puncher. He had blasted through Lamont Peterson in just three rounds last year and had scored knockouts or technical knockouts in all but two of his wins. His three losses had come against Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, each of those by split decision, and then against Garcia, whose game plan was devised wisely and implemented well.
Molina had been a fun but limited lightweight. He’d lost a decision to Martin Honorio in 2009, then got stopped in the first round in his sole title shot, against Antonio DeMarco in 2012. There also was a majority decision defeat against contender Andrey Klimov in 2013. Yet Molina also had a pair of Hail Mary, come-from-behind victories on his record: an 11th-round win over Hank Lundy in 2010 and last year’s triumph over Mickey Bey Jr., which came in the 10th round and with a minute remaining in the fight.
We believed Molina would be there to be hit and that Matthysse would oblige.
We were right.
We believed that wouldn’t bode well for Molina.
We would be right later, but not at first — not at all at first.
It was Matthysse who landed the first good right hand of the opening round, but it was Molina who landed the best one, a cross that sent Matthysse backing into a corner about two minutes in. Molina followed with another right hand that split Matthysse’s guard. Matthysse was able to steady himself, and he landed a few more solid shots before the bell rang.
Matthysse targeted single right hands to Molina’s body in the second round. Molina also began to shoot out right-hand counters when Matthysse was punching from closer range. One landed about halfway through the round. Another came with 42 seconds left. That was soon followed with a looping right that landed on the side of Matthysse’s head as the Argentine was stepping away. Matthysse went down on his right knee and right glove, momentarily righting himself before getting up as the referee’s count reached two.
This wasn’t a case of a boxer moving up in weight whose power and chin were better fit for his former division. Rather, Molina was strengthened by no longer having to lose an additional five pounds. His punches remained heavy, his chin sturdy. Matthysse had landed more shots in those first two rounds, but he had learned that he would need to be aware of what Molina could do to him with one punch.
Molina backed Matthysse off him with halfway through the third. It wasn’t the right hand and left hook that was the cause, though, but was actually a head butt, correctly called by referee Pat Russell. Molina had leaned forward before punching, his head colliding with Matthysse’s while the right hand was still being cocked back. That opened up a cut over Matthysse’s left eye, drawing blood, while also causing a gash on the side of Molina’s head. Russell brought Matthysse to the ringside physician for examination.
Matthysse responded with apparently urgency, increasing his activity immediately afterward. In California, a fight becomes official after the fourth round begins. If the bout were to be stopped in the fourth round or a little later, he would need a lead on the scorecards and would need to make up for the knockdown he’d suffered in the second.
The third round ended. Matthysse’s corner went to work on the cut, stemming the bleeding. Sixty seconds later, Matthysse went to work on Molina, landing a few good left hooks early on, then finding success with right hands later on. The right continued to find a home in the fifth.
Molina needed a certain distance between him and Matthysse for his wider shots to land, and Matthysse wasn’t allowing it. Matthysse was coming forward, which kept Molina from being able to use his height for straight shots like the right hand that had landed in the first. And Matthysse was sending out one-two combinations, catching Molina as he attempted to step away. Matthysse also moved even closer when not punching, closing the gap that had allowed the overhand rights that Molina had landed in the second round.
But with 50 seconds left in the fifth, Matthysse again left himself in the right range for a looping right hand counter. Matthysse turned his head away and took the shot toward the back of the left side of his head, going to the canvas on all fours. He again rose quickly, complaining of a rabbit punch, though Russell rightly ruled it a knockdown.
Earlier in the fight, Matthysse had limited his offense so as to keep from getting caught by Molina. Now Matthysse realized that turning up the volume would be the right response. He went shoulder to shoulder with Molina, bodying him around the ring and against the ropes, sending out hard shots upstairs and downstairs, and withstanding or dodging the hard punches Molina was loading up on.
Molina was trying to get Matthysse off of him. Matthysse was grinding away at Molina, wearing down a fighter whose biggest wins had come via late rallies. Sometimes a fighter’s superiority will be shown early and easily. Sometimes it will be shown later, with the fighter adjusting to adversity and pulling away down the stretch.
The punishment began to pile up. With about 20 seconds left in the eighth, Matthysse landed a jab and a right, then leaned his weight atop Molina’s neck. Molina stumbled backward and fell to the mat. Russell incorrectly called it a knockdown. The ruling wouldn’t matter.
This fight was no longer being determined by what Molina could do with one punch, but by what Matthysse was doing with many. It was now a question of whether Molina could continue to withstand Matthysse’s shots, and whether the accumulation had lessened the possibility of Molina landing his equalizer. Molina tried a left hook at the end of the ninth; Matthysse took it fine.
The barrage continued, and with 30 seconds to go in the 10th, Molina was down on his knee, this time the result of a proper knockdown, and he stayed there until the count of seven. Russell told Molina that he needed to show a reason for the fight to continue. Molina flailed during Matthysse’s subsequent attacks and lasted the remainder of the round.
He wouldn’t last much longer.
Before the 11th round could begin, the ringside physician and the referee spoke to him, saying that they wouldn’t let him take much more from Matthysse. Molina wouldn’t be able to anyway. A right hand put him down one last time 20 seconds into the round.
He was worn out and worn down.
Russell waved it off.
It was the end we had envisioned, though not in the manner we had imagined. It was compelling, watching Molina hurt Matthysse early, seeing him score a pair of knockdowns, wondering whether he could pull off the upset and then looking on as Matthysse rose to the formidable challenge.
It was brutal. And it was beautiful, particularly so because it was much better than we expected it to be.
The 10 Count
1. Omar Figueroa made lightweight by coming in at 134.75 pounds on Friday afternoon and was at the junior-middleweight limit of 154 pounds on Saturday evening,
One day’s worth of weight gain for Figueroa is months of weight loss for Chris Arreola…
2. The most surprising thing about Wladimir Klitschko’s fight with Alex Leapai wasn’t what happened in the bout itself.
Klitschko won in dominant fashion, flooring Leapai with a jab in the first round, easily avoiding seemingly any punishment whatsoever, and then finishing Leapai off with a pair of knockdowns in the fifth. It was a result befitting a man of Klitschko’s skill and experience against a much shorter, far less accomplished opponent who went into the biggest fight of his life at the heaviest weight of his career.
The most surprising thing about Klitschko-Leapai, though, was that Teddy Atlas actually summed it up in concise fashion:
“He [Klitschko] has a punching bag with gloves on in front of him right now.”
Fourteen words. That might be the first time Teddy Atlas made a point that could fit within a tweet (and with room to spare).
We shouldn’t get our hopes up, though, for a change in Atlas’ approach to commentary. Even The Abridged Teddy Atlas™ would still be longer than all of the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter novels put together.
Teddy summed it up well, but I think my colleague Cliff Rold, also nailed it beforehand in his pre-fight report card, targeting the qualifications of an undeserving and underwhelming mandatory challenger sent toward Klitschko by the World Boxing Organization:
“This is a joke, right? If anyone needs evidence of how ridiculous the mandatory allotments can sometimes be, there is this. The system is not an indictment of Leapai. He won the fight he was supposed to in scoring the upset over Denis Boytsov but — between that fight and a stoppage loss to Kevin Johnson — he beat dreck. How was he in that position in the first place?
“And, given the opportunity of a lifetime, how does he show up at the highest recorded weight of his career? A fighter who was 18 pounds lighter in December of 2012 now scales heavier than a man always in tip-top shape and some six inches taller? A big upset is always fun, but this doesn’t look like the place to see it. This looks instead like a stopover before Klitschko resumes facing quality contenders. Kubrat Pulev and the winners of the Tyson Fury-Dereck Chisora and Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola rematches will all, like Leapai, be underdogs.
“They’ll be better underdogs. The pick is Klitschko in six.”
Cliff nailed it. Klitschko ended it in five.
3. Klitschko-Leapai was the first of two heavyweight title fights to be aired on ESPN — not on ESPN2, but on the flagship network. We’ll also be getting the rematch between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola on May 10.
I like that ESPN is expanding its boxing content beyond “Friday Night Fights,” but I hope that it isn’t overpaying (despite its sizable coffers), and I hope that the network is also working to make sure that it gets its money’s worth.
I don’t really watch much ESPN anymore, so I can’t speak to how much advertising or promotion is done for its boxing programming these days. But if history is any indication, it’s not a priority. That would be a shame, as I’d love to see boxing get covered regularly, even if briefly, on SportsCenter and on other shows. I’d rather the network work to grow the audience for boxing rather than just reaching the limited number of fight fans are already out there.
The highlights from Lucas Matthysse vs. John Molina deserve play far beyond the attention it’ll get on this week’s studio segment on “Friday Night Fights.”
4. We also need to convince a major network to buy the fight between flyweight titleholder Juan Francisco Estrada (who topped Richie Mepranum on Saturday) and his mandatory challenger, Giovani Segura.
I know the heavyweight division still carries some allure in the mainstream. Even if it hasn’t actually been inspiring in years, it’s easier to get someone to tune in by saying there’s a heavyweight title bout on than it would be if you told them that a great flyweight fight is being broadcast.
But the 112-pound division is the best division in boxing right now. Estrada-Segura is just one of many potential phenomenal permutations.
So many great fights are now happening overseas, but the non-hardcore audience in the United States isn’t getting to see them. British broadcasters regularly show foreign fights at a presumably affordable cost. Isn’t it long past time for the American networks to follow suit?
After all, if we’re getting Zou Shiming on HBO2, then why can’t we pick up a feed of the flyweights who actually matter?
5. May 2013: Cruiserweight fighter Guillermo Jones picks up a huge win over Denis Lebedev, battering and disfiguring him en route to an 11th-round stoppage. But Jones subsequently tests positive for a banned diuretic that can also be used as a masking agent to potentially hide the presence of other substances.
April 2014: With the fans in the arena for the Lebedev-Jones rematch, the news breaks that Jones has tested positive yet again for the same substance. The bout is called off.
Now we wait to see whether Jones’ “B” sample will confirm the findings of the “A” sample. Jones has some explaining to do.
And so does the World Boxing Association, which only suspended Jones for six months after the first fight — in a sport where many fighters wait that long between bouts anyway — and then allowed Jones to fight for its world title again.
With “punishment” like that, it’s no wonder Jones allegedly repeated his original offense.
6. Boxing is based on settling a score between a pair of pugilists, each with a pair of fists. Yet an honest premise is tarnished due to the necessary introduction of human judgment — the referees who officiate the action and the judges who score it.
We’ve become accustomed to logical protests (like Jerry Belmontes saying “C’mon, man” in response to the ridiculous 118-110 scorecard for Omar Figueroa on Saturday), as well as illogical ones that amount to grasping at straws instead of grasping reality.
Aron Martinez’s reaction to his technical knockout loss last week on a Thursday edition of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” was a case of the latter.
Josesito Lopez tagged Martinez with a big left hand in the fifth round of their bout. Martinez reacted by turning his back and essentially hugging the corner with his head over the ropes. Referee Jack Reiss jumped in and waved the fight off, and Martinez protested, telling Reiss he was “good.”
I don’t know what Martinez expected to happen. He got hit flush in the jaw. There was no foul. You can’t turn your back in the middle of an onslaught to get a respite. The referee can’t just step in and ask if you want to continue. That would give you a break you didn’t deserve.
The only way to get a momentary break is to take a knee and buy yourself eight seconds — at the price of an additional point off on the scorecards.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Former junior-middleweight titleholder Kassim Ouma was arrested last week after allegedly attacking a man who apparently was trying to have a sexual encounter with him, though the charge against Ouma is actually for felony cocaine possession, according to tabloid website TMZ.
“Ouma told investigators he struck up a convo with a guy he just met in L.A., went back to the guy’s home and then got violent when the guy made multiple sexual advances toward him,” the article said.
Ouma, 35, held a world title at 154 pounds from October 2004 until July 2005, and later unsuccessfully challenged Jermain Taylor for the middleweight championship. Between the Taylor defeat in December 2006 and a surprisingly competitive stoppage loss to Gennady Golovkin in June 2011, Ouma went just 2-6. He did return last December with a six-round decision win over some dude with a 9-12 record named Rahman Mustafa Yusubov. That victory brought Ouma’s record to 28-8-1 with 17 KOs and 1 no contest — the no contest being a win that was overturned when Ouma popped positive for marijuana.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: Fred Evans, a British amateur welterweight who captured a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics, has pleaded guilty to his role in assaulting a man at a strip club earlier this year, according to tabloid The Daily Mirror.
Evans, 23, and another man had been accused of attacking the man and rendering him unconscious following a conversation in February about an MTV show called “The Valleys” that is filmed in Wales. Evans is from Cardiff. Evans and the other defendant had initially pleaded not guilty but changed their pleas, admitting to a charge of common assault after seeing footage from cameras in the strip club that had captured the attack, according to the newspaper report.
Evans “was fined £435 and ordered to pay £250 of costs for his ‘limited’ role in the assault,” the article said. The other man will spend 10 weeks behind bars for this assault, plus another 4 weeks from a sentence that had been suspended in another case.
Evans lost in the Olympic finals to Serik Sapiyev of Kazakhstan by a score of 17-9.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Junior featherweight prospect Tramaine Williams — who had been arrested earlier this year just two days before he was to fight at Madison Square Garden — was sentenced last week to two and a half years behind bars, according to Connecticut’s New Haven Register.
He was put in handcuffs in January and pleaded guilty in February to charges of possessing an assault weapon and possessing narcotics. Three months ago, police conducted raids on accused gang members and associates, and they went to a home Williams shared with others, finding a Tec-9 gun underneath his bed. Williams’ attorney said the gun was never intended to be used, but was more like a “collector’s item,” according to the report
The 21-year-old turned pro in April 2012 and is listed at 8-0 with 2 knockouts and 1 no contest.
10. Floyd Mayweather will defeat Marcos Maidana by unanimous decision or a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
Mind you, I’m actually one of those people who appreciates when his predictions of a clear victory turn out to be wrong, and instead we get a competitive and exciting fight.
And mind you, I was wrong about Maidana vs. Adrien Broner. But Broner fought the wrong fight, and Maidana fought very well. I don’t believe Mayweather will fight the wrong fight, and that means it may not matter how good Maidana’s game plan is.
As many have been saying, Broner is no Mayweather.
I’ll be back in a week to eat crow if need be.
I’ll be back in a week even if there’s no crow to be had…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]