Among hard-core fans, Lucas Matthysse's reputation precedes him: Firmly established as one of boxing's most exciting and avoided fighters, he has thudding power and solid boxing skills while demonstrating a good chin.
He fought three times in 2012, the first time at home in Argentina and the others taking place in the United States. Both were impressive performances in action-packed fights -- a fifth-round knockout of former lightweight titlist Humberto Soto in June and a 10th-round destruction of previously undefeated Olusegun Ajose to win an interim junior welterweight title in September.
"I think when it comes to the most exciting fighters in the sport, most experts and fight fans would agree with me that Lucas Matthysse would be on the list," Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer said. "With his style, he's not capable of being in a boring fight. When he fights, you want to watch and make sure, if you need to get a beer or go to the bathroom, that you do it before the fight starts because you don't want to miss any of it. He's heavy-handed and he can end the fight with one punch."
Matthysse's ability isn't in question, but now comes the part where Schaefer must help raise his profile so that Matthysse will be viable for the big fights that he wants, especially a challenge of unified titlist Danny Garcia.
As it stands, Matthysse -- who has knocked down every one of his 34 opponents, his handlers say -- is considered too dangerous for the biggest names to want to fight because he's good and not well-known enough to take the gamble against. Matthysse is well-aware of his standing.
"I really like it," he said through translator Eric Gomez, Golden Boy's matchmaker. "I relish it. A lot of fans in the United States send me messages about that through the Internet, like Facebook, and I like it."
Said Gomez: "Some of the elite fighters won't mention Lucas. I think it's a matter of time until guys will have to stop avoiding him, because eventually the demand for those big fights will be there from the fans and media."
In order to build Matthysse's reputation, activity is the key, Schaefer said.
"What is important for Matthysse is to fight often and in the United States, and if that means because you can't get Danny Garcia or [former titleholder] Amir Khan in the ring right away because of timing or whatever, because they have other fights, you need to stay busy and get exposure," said Schaefer, who also promotes Garcia and Khan.
"Right now the most important thing for Matthysse is exposure in the United States, not necessarily the opponent. I want to create the excitement around him. I want people to see him and realize that he's one of the most exciting fighters in boxing. With more exposure, the big fights will come."
So that's why, without a major fight available at the moment, Matthysse will make the first defense of his interim 140-pound belt against lesser-regarded Mike Dallas Jr. on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT; preliminary coverage begins at 8 ET/PT on Showtime Extreme) at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
"I'm in great shape and I am ready to fight," Matthysse said. "What else can I say? Bring it on. This is a very important fight for me not only to win, but to look good."
Also on the card in scheduled 10-round bouts: welterweight Selcuk Aydin (23-1, 17 KOs) of Turkey will fight Mexico's Jesus Soto Karass (26-8-3, 17 KOs) in the co-feature, and junior middleweight prospect Jermell Charlo (19-0, 9 KOs) of Houston will square off with Harry Joe Yorgey (25-1-1, 12 KOs) of Bridgeport, Pa., in the opener.
Aydin and Soto Karass are both coming off losses, but they generally make exciting fights. Aydin lost a unanimous decision to Robert Guerrero for an interim 147-pound belt in July. Soto Karass was stopped in the eighth round by Marcos Maidana in a September brawl.
On Showtime Extreme's coverage of the card, junior lightweight Francisco Vargas (13-0-1, 10 KOs), a 2008 Mexican Olympian, will face Ira Terry (26-10, 16 KOs) of Memphis, Tenn., in a scheduled 10-rounder, and Philadelphia junior middleweight Julian Williams (10-0-1, 5 KOs) will meet Jeremiah Wiggins (10-1-1, 5 KOs) of Newport News, Va., in a scheduled eight-rounder. Junior middleweight Errol Spence Jr. (2-0, 2 KOs), a 2012 U.S. Olympian from Dallas, will meet Nathan Butcher (0-1) of Huntington, W.Va., in a four-rounder that could be televised, time permitting.
Dallas (19-2-1, 8 KOs), 26, of Bakersfield, Calif., has gotten plenty of exposure but failed in two attempts to step up in class, losing back-to-back fights in 2011, a seventh-round knockout loss to Josesito Lopez followed by a majority decision to Mauricio Herrera.
Since the defeats, Dallas has hooked up with 2011 trainer of the year Virgil Hunter and won two fights in a row. Yet Matthysse (32-2, 30 KOs), 30, remains heavily favored in Saturday's fight.
"I haven't really seen too much of [Dallas]," said Matthysse, who was originally supposed to face Hank Lundy until he dropped out because of a contractual dispute with his promoter. "So I'm just going to stick to my game plan. But I think he's going to run. From what I know, he likes to box and move. So I will have to go get him. I'm going to come out like I always do, put on pressure and come out to win."
Matthysse's only losses were split decisions in his opponents' hometowns -- in 2010 to Zab Judah and 2011 to Devon Alexander. Even though Matthysse believes he won both fights -- as do many -- he said they led to a subtle change for the better.
"The losses I had here [in the United States], I learned so much from them," he said. "That's why I changed my style and game plan. Now I go in for the kill when I feel I have my opponent in range to get him out of there. I have learned to get them out of there and finish the job."
Matthysse is hoping a win against Dallas will pave the way to the fight he really wants, against Garcia -- for whom Matthysse, as interim titlist, is the mandatory challenger.
"Whoever I fight doesn't matter to me, but I really want Garcia," Matthysse said. "I am ready for that. I want that because of the belts and because I know it's gonna be a good fight."
Schaefer said he would like to make the fight with Garcia but acknowledged that it probably won't be the next fight, maybe later in the year.
"I definitely want to do a big fight with Matthysse, and I certainly think he has earned his stripes and deserves a big fight," Schaefer said. "Danny Garcia? We'll see. He has a difficult fight ahead of him with Zab Judah [on Feb. 9]."
Schaefer said that what he'd really like to do, assuming Matthysse wins Saturday, is to bring him back as soon as April 27 to fight countryman and fellow knockout artist Marcos Maidana, a former junior welterweight titlist.
"I have one fight as a fan I want to see, and if you ask fight fans out there what they want to see -- and it's been talked about for a while -- that would be Lucas Matthysse against Marcos Maidana," Schaefer said. "That is definitely a fight which I am interested in making and where there is substantial network interest. The fighters can make substantial money, and it would be a barn burner."
Matthysse said he and Maidana fought four times as amateurs, with Maidana winning three times and one fight ending in a draw.
"But I dropped Maidana twice in the three fights," Matthysse said. "I'll fight him again."
First Matthysse must deal with Dallas, who has his own motivation. His father and longtime trainer, Michael Dallas Sr., died in November. Mike Dallas Jr. is dedicating the fight to his dad.
"It's big moments like this when you have to step up. I'm ready to go," said Dallas, who is fighting for the first time since his father died. "Everybody dreams to be a world champion. It's every boxer's goal. I have the desire and ambition. The only thing on my mind is getting a win. I respect this fighter. He is strong and tough, but I am ready to prove and show to everybody what I can do.
"This fight means a lot to me. It's the biggest fight I've had. If I win this fight, it takes me to another level. My father was a professional fighter and he brought me up in the boxing world. I know he's watching over me right now, and I'm going to leave everything in the ring on fight night. I'm going to shock the boxing world."
Matthysse is counting on a win Saturday and then, whether he faces Maidana next and then Garcia or gets straight to Garcia, he has one goal in mind.
"I want to rule the division," Matthysse said. "I will win Saturday and then, hopefully, get a fight with Garcia, beat him and be the top guy in the division."