- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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In 2012 and for most of 2013, junior welterweight slugger Lucas “The Machine” Matthysse was all but untouchable against a series of good opponents.
Many viewed him as the best 140-pound fighter in the world and he was the favorite when he squared off with unified titleholder Danny Garcia last September on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez undercard in one of the year’s most anticipated fights, other than the main event.
It was understandable why Matthysse, who had an interim belt at the time, was expected to win after watching him obliterate his previous four opponents.
He crushed former lightweight titleholder Humberto Soto in the fifth round; became the first to beat then-undefeated Olusegun Ajose, knocking him out in the 10th round; annihilated poor Mike Dallas by way of pulverizing first-round knockout; and then walked through junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson, dropping him three times in a destructive third-round tour de force in a nontitle bout.
But then Garcia did what he always does. Win.
Garcia blew up Matthysse’s right eye, dropped him in the 11th round and won a hard-fought decision victory to not only retain his belts but stamp himself as the true champion at 140 pounds.
Matthysse (34-3, 32 KOs) is now ready to embark on his comeback, hoping to shake off the loss and get back on track to another title opportunity.
He returns to face powerful but limited John Molina on Saturday night (Showtime, 9:30 ET/PT with preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 ET/PT) at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., in the co-feature of the card headlined by interim welterweight titlist Keith Thurman defending against Julio Diaz.
"All fights are important but this one is especially very important for me to win so that I can get back to where I was in the division,” Matthysse said through a translator at Wednesday’s media workout. “In my last fight, I thought everything was going my way until I caught an elbow in my right eye. I don't think it was a punch, but it turned the fight around.
"I felt I was dominating, fighting with two eyes, but with one eye he got the momentum. It was disappointing. I thought my career was on the fast track and I gave it 100 percent, but I could not fight like I wanted.”
A win on Saturday should put Matthysse, 31, right back in the picture for another major fight at 140 pounds or perhaps he will want to move up to the talent-rich 147-pound division, where his promoter, Golden Boy, and adviser Al Haymon have numerous elite opponents that he would match up well with.
"I don't believe the defeat has derailed me too badly, but I need to win against Molina to show that I am back,” Matthysse said. "Molina is a strong, confident fighter who comes forward. In his knockout victory against Mickey Bey, I saw a very hungry fighter. But I didn't really see a whole lot more from him. I have fought and beat much better."
Molina was being taken to school by Bey when they met in a lightweight fight in July. Molina, 31, of Covina, Calif., had lost virtually every round but rallied for a dramatic knockout in the final minute of the 10th and final round.
Molina (27-3, 22 KOs) then moved up to junior welterweight for an easy second-round knockout win in November against a low-level opponent. Matthysse, however, is a serious foe and many expect him to test the chin of Molina, who got knocked out in 44 seconds challenging then-lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco in September 2012.
"Fighting at 140 is a gift for me,” Molina said. “This is my second fight at junior welter but I feel better than I ever have. So moving up from 135 will not be a factor. The bad loss to DeMarco was a few years ago but I needed that to become the pro that I am today. I now have the experience of fighting on the big stage that I didn't then.
"The odds are against me each time out but I have a fighting spirit and I have a desire to win against all odds that others don't. There was never any self-doubt. Against the kind of fighter Matthysse is, I have the opportunity to show what I'm really all about. I showed it once against Bey on Showtime and I'm confident I can do it again on Saturday."