The evolution of Lucas Matthysse

The junior welterweight contender is ready to showcase his talent on the big stage

Originally Published: September 11, 2013
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- To hard-core boxing fans junior welterweight slugger Lucas Matthysse of Argentina is a dream fighter. He takes on all comers, fights in an aggressive, crowd-pleasing style and usually knocks guys out -- hard.

Although still not known to the masses in the United States, "The Machine" has quickly developed something of a cult following thanks to a string of sensational knockouts, culminating with a jump-out-of-your-seat third-round drilling of junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson on May 18 in their nontitle bout.

It was such a dominant knockout -- and came against such a good opponent -- that Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer, normally polite and calm, got so excited that he literally grabbed the microphone out of Showtime broadcaster Jim Gray's hand in the ring after the fight and proclaimed Matthysse the new Manny Pacquiao.

"I did something that is uncharacteristic for me. I had my Kanye West moment when I grabbed the mic and said, 'We have a new Pacquiao,' but I really felt that," Schaefer said. "It was a genuine moment because I was so excited. This was real raw emotion, not a publicity stunt. These kinds of performances can make a fighter a superstar.

"This guy delivers excitement on a constant basis and I am not the only one who got that excited. That's the kind of emotion he evokes in people."

Matthysse, who holds an interim 140-pound title, potentially can rise from cult status to mainstream star if he turns in a similar performance when he challenges unified titleholder Danny Garcia of Philadelphia on Saturday (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET) in the much anticipated co-feature of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

"It's an honor to be in a fight on this big of a stage. I know there's going to be a lot of interest. I'm just happy so many people are going to see my style of fighting," Matthysse said. "I'm very gracious for all the attention I am getting. I'm even starting to get used to it. Actually, I'm a little surprised by how many people have started to follow me."

Although it's the kind of fight that would have headlined its own card -- some consider it the best fight in boxing other than the main event -- the fighters will gain worldwide exposure on the biggest card of the year. Schaefer said he wanted something special on the Mayweather-Alvarez undercard. With Garcia-Matthysse he gets that in addition to showcasing the winner, an obvious candidate to eventually face Mayweather.

That is what Matthysse is hoping for.

"I know that winning is going to open [a lot of] doors so I am taking this fight seriously," Matthysse said through a translator. "Hopefully, [a victory] means a future fight with Floyd Mayweather. Of course, I want to fight Floyd."

When Matthysse (34-2, 32 KOs), 30, knocked out Peterson, it was his sixth consecutive stoppage victory. His past 11 wins have come by knockout, although he suffered his only two defeats during that stretch. However, both were controversial split decisions to former titleholders in their home regions, Zab Judah in Newark, N.J., and Devon Alexander in St. Louis, and he knocked both down. Since then, Matthysse, who gave away early rounds in both defeats, vowed to start faster and go for knockouts. So far, it has worked.

Included in his recent run is a nine-knockdown performance in an eighth-round destruction of former titlist DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley; handing Olusegun Ajose, 30-0 at the time, his first loss, a 10th-round knockout. Others include a fifth-round destruction of former lightweight titlist Humberto Soto; and a first-round smashing of Mike Dallas in January. Then came the Peterson blowout.

[+] EnlargeLucas Matthysse
Al Bello/Getty ImagesLucas Matthysse demolished Lamont Peterson in impressive fashion last May.

"He a soft-spoken guy but he carries a big stick," Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez said. "The hard-core fans, the boxing freaks, they understand him and relate to him. He's a blue-collar guy. He's not flashy, no jewelry, nothing fancy. What you see is what you get. But he gets it done and knockouts sell. Everybody wants to go see a knockout. It's like the home run in baseball. He delivers knockouts and people are attracted to him and excited by his fights."

As easy as Matthysse has made things look, his march to the top of the junior welterweight division is a long way from where he started when, as a young prospect in Argentina, he was known as the kid brother of aspiring welterweight contender Walter Matthysse, also a big puncher.

But Walter Matthysse's ultimate failure made it harder for Lucas to gain traction.

Golden Boy, which works closely with Argentine promoter Mario Arano, signed Walter Matthysse to a co-promotional deal in 2005. He was knocking everyone out, although his opposition was limited. When he came to the United States for his first big fight, against highly regarded Paul Williams in 2006, Matthysse got knocked out in the 10th round.

He rebounded with a win in Argentina and returned to the U.S. for a title shot against Kermit Cintron, and got smoked in two rounds. Then he lost his next three fights and retired in 2009.

Walter's flameout did not reflect well on Lucas.

"When we brought Walter to HBO everyone thought he was the next great knockout guy," Schaefer said. "We all know what happened. So a couple of years later, Mario comes to me and says, 'I have Walter's brother and he's an animal, the guy is knocking everyone out.'

"I said, 'Look, that might be the case but I can just see what HBO is going to say when I come with Walter's brother after what happened.' I called HBO and when I mentioned Lucas, those memories of Walter came alive. I said, 'You have to give this guy a chance.' Everyone was a bit skeptical. It was an uphill battle, but then he started to deliver against real opposition. Punch by punch, fight by fight, he started to make believers out of people, and now look at him."

Gomez is not surprised by what Matthysse has achieved. He has been following him closely since he was about 8-0.

"Walter was exciting, but Arano would always tell me his little brother is going to be a star," Gomez said. "He would always tell me that. I asked him why. He said he was a better amateur, he's a better boxer and could also punch. He finally got me some tape and I saw him and I liked him. He had very good feet, he could move and that caught my attention.

"I was looking at his footwork. I was taught to look at footwork and balance, and I liked how he moved. That's fundamental. I think he has the entire package, like Manny. I see him like a Roberto Duran, a kid from the streets, really rugged and tough. He'll get hit sometimes, take a few to land his punch. But you know what? He's a better boxer than people give him credit for."

And then there is the chin, which is a lot better than his brother's. Nobody can recall ever seeing him hurt or rocked. Gomez recalled a moment when Judah, a good puncher, nailed him with a clean uppercut.

"It would knock out anybody and Lucas just smiled," Gomez said. "It was the second or third round. Zab caught him with his best shot, a left uppercut coming in, just a huge uppercut. I actually talked to Zab about it and he said, 'I hit him with everything and he just kept coming.'"

Garcia (26-0, 16 KOs), 25, of Philadelphia, on as good a roll as any titleholder in boxing with recent wins against Zab Judah, Amir Khan and Erik Morales (twice), is not one of those believers in Matthysse. He is confident and has all but dismissed Matthysse's power.

"I've fought big punchers," said Garcia, who is the betting underdog. "I took big shots before. But I'm just going to be smart. I'm going to do what I do best, make adjustments in the fight and get the victory.

"You know I really don't care what the media thinks or who they think is the best because in my heart I know I'm the best, and I hold the titles, and [Saturday] is going to be another day at work for me. People who don't believe, hey, that's their problem. I know in my heart I'm the best 140-pound fighter in the world, and I'm going to show it."

Matthysse came about as close to trash-talking as he ever has when asked to discuss Garcia's style.

"I feel his style suits me. He's not a very good boxer. He's a fighter that's aggressive and comes forward just like I do. I like that," Matthysse said. "Yes, I think I can take [his left hook]. I've been hit before and been able to withstand it. But if Danny drops me, I'm going to get up. Hopefully he comes toward me, but it doesn't really matter. I have a feeling that we're both going to be very aggressive and, like I said, we're going to beat each other up. It will be a great fight."

If it is a great fight and if Matthysse scores another big knockout, he will have truly arrived.

"You want to watch him because you know something spectacular is going to happen," Schaefer said. "With every fight that cult-like following is growing and more people are jumping on the Matthysse bandwagon. Whoever wins Saturday, they will be elevated more. If Matthysse wins, that cult status will jump to record levels. He'll have that global following."

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