Boxing "heads" pick up darling fighters along their journeys as diehard hardcore megafans of the sweet science, and right now there are two guys that stand out from the pack: middleweight wrecker Gennady Golovkin and junior welterweight powerhouse Lucas Matthysse. On Saturday night, Matthysse gets a chance to shine on what may be the highest-grossing pay-per-view event of all-time, when he challenges Danny Garcia for the WBC and WBA junior welterweight titles.
Danny Garcia vs Lucas Matthysse
Matthysse (34-2, 32 KO) has come a long way in the last few years. At one time, Matthysse was known as a slow starter whose tactics bit him in the ass in fights against Zab Judah and Devon Alexander. Many fans and media members felt he still deserved the win in both of those fights, but the blame for the decision losses in the end has to rest on Matthysse, especially given what we've seen come out of him since those questionable defeats.
In the two years that have passed since the defeat in Missouri to Alexander, which was home cooking at its core, at least in my view, Matthysse has sharpened his knives and emerged as one of the most exciting fighters to watch in all of boxing. He returned home to Argentina for a pair of easy wins, then came back to the States in June 2012, where he smashed Humberto Soto in Los Angeles.
Right now, he's on a warpath. He physically dominated Olusegun Ajose last September, and this year has blasted out Mike Dallas Jr (KO-1) and Lamont Peterson (TKO-3) in very impressive fashion. His profile has risen to heights that really couldn't have been expected just a year ago -- serious boxing fans have taken to Matthysse in such a way that he is now a near-deity to the dedicated follower. Some of them, anyway.
The hype has maybe spun a bit out of control. At one point, Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer even compared Matthysse, 30, to Manny Pacquiao. The parallels are interesting, to be fair, and it's not that absurd a statement the way that he meant it. Like Pacquiao, Matthysse may not have an easy fan base in the United States to make him a top star, but he fights in such a way and has a sort of natural charisma that it's easy to see him becoming a big star if he keeps on winning, as Pacquiao did.
Even six years ago, few would have predicted that Pacquiao would have become one of the two biggest stars in the sport. We're talking about a Filipino ex-flyweight, not exactly the "normal" breakout star in American boxing. But Manny did it. Can Matthysse?
Maybe, but likely not, and it's nothing against Matthysse or his skills. What Manny Pacquiao did was extremely impressive, and it takes a genuinely special fighter to pull that off. Matthysse might be great; he might even be better than his most fawning fans believe he is at the moment. But even then, would that make him as good as Pacquiao? Quite possibly, no.
And at any rate, those who are all but handing the two title belts to him on Saturday night before the bell even rings are overlooking the fact that Danny Garcia (26-0, 16 KO) is pretty damn good himself. The 25-year-old Philly fighter has risen up the ranks with wins over Kendall Holt, Erik Morales (twice), Amir Khan, and Zab Judah, transforming him from what appeared to be a solid but not great prospect into the most decorated fighter at 140 pounds right now, if perhaps not the best. (The only argument, of course, will be settled on Saturday night.)
While it's true that Garcia has yet to defeat someone like Matthysse, an incredibly strong puncher with good skills and a building ferocity, the sort of fighter that inspires almost romantic feelings in articles written about his latest destructive wins, it is also true that Garcia is a new level for Matthysse. While Lamont Peterson is certainly a good fighter, Garcia has just plain done more, and he's done it recently with no controversies.
While his father and trainer Angel has flown to the top of the list of the sport's most volatile personalities, Danny himself is more reserved, laid back even. He's got some attitude and dresses the part of a swaggering superstar, and he produces terrible hip hop just like Adrien Broner does (Garcia's is slightly better), if you put a microphone in his face, he just talks about boxing.
His dismissal of Matthysse as "nothing special" has been less a slapdown of the Argentinean's credentials than a statement of confidence in his own abilities. Garcia has fought his way into a position where he should be respected across the board as a legit top fighter in his weight class, but he still understandably feels slighted, as he's not been the predicted winner of this fight in many circles.
Matthysse's power seems to be the focus for most prognosticators. He's a devastating puncher with thunder in both hands, and he can throw overwhelming combinations when he finds his preferred range, which is close but not smothering. Though Peterson figured to have an edge and speed and could hopefully for his sake control enough of the fight from a distance, Lamont had always shown vulnerability in the past against fellow good fighters, like Amir Khan and Timothy Bradley, neither of whom punch like Matthysse does. While those guys were able to hurt Peterson and out-fight him at points (Bradley through the entire fight, really), they couldn't finish him off. Matthysse's raw power, combined with an improving overall skill set, did the job and then some.
Garcia may not be so easy to smack down. He's a sturdily built junior welterweight, seems to have a good chin, and just plain "knows how to win," a phrase I generally hate, but one that describes Garcia's rise. When he got an opening against Amir Khan, who had proven devilishly fast in the early moments of the fight, he capitalized, and was able to take advantage of Khan's fatal flaws; not just his weak chin, but the fact that Khan is easily drawn into a firefight to his own detriment and demise.
And while Angel Garcia mostly gets media heat for the outlandish, profane things he's bound to spew forth in a white hot fury at a moment's notice, it has to be said that for Holt, Morales, Khan, and Judah, he's had his son properly prepared to win the fight. Those are all very different fighters, and Garcia had the right plan of attack for each of them. His best chance against Khan, for instance, was to drill him with a power shot, and if hurt, finish the job before Khan could get himself back into the fight. Talent-wise, Khan had a lot of advantages over Danny Garcia. He's faster, he's a more skilled boxer, he probably hits just about as hard. Khan's speed made a big difference, then it didn't. And if you want to say that Khan was first hurt on a "lucky punch," that doesn't say anything about the way Garcia focused up and put him to bed. Some guys can't or just don't finish. Danny Garcia can and will.
Garcia has said he's kind of hoping for Matthysse to go into the ring thinking he can plow through him, as he's ready to exchange power shots. That could be a mistake for either man. Really, I don't see this as a fight with a serious favorite. This is as meaningful and competitive a matchup as you're going to see on a pay-per-view undercard any time soon. This easily could have been its own headline bout on Showtime. This fight being on this card is a gift to the fans who truly follow the sport.
Ishe Smith vs Carlos Molina
Mayweather Promotions has a lot of young talent on their small roster, but Ishe Smith and Ashley Theophane, the two fighters from the stable that will be featured on the PPV card, are not among those fighters. They are both crafty veteran fighters who have been given a career boost by association with Floyd, and will each be on quite probably the biggest stage of their lives this weekend.
Smith (25-5, 11 KO) is a 35-year-old fighter who has been around the block a time or three. As part of "The Contender" back in 2004, Smith was bumped off the show quickly, losing a five-round decision to Sergio Mora in his first fight. If he'd never really gone anywhere from there, it wouldn't have been shocking. A technician who doesn't fight with an exciting style and hasn't had a major promoter backing him until now, Ishe could easily have been lost in the sport's shuffle.
For a while, he turned into a gatekeeper who was meant to get supposedly more promising fighters a credible victory. Sechew Powell, Joel Julio, Danny Jacobs, and Fernando Guerrero all scored wins over Smith, though the Guerrero decision was certainly debatable, and he gave Jacobs and Julio good, competitive fights, too. In the middle of that stretch, though, he also beat then-undefeated Pawel Wolak, which is something a top-tier prospect tester has to do sometimes. If he hasn't proven an ability to spoil and expose, then he becomes just another opponent.
Smith hasn't lost since his 2010 defeat to Guerrero, but the three wins that "earned" him an IBF title shot against Cornelius "K9" Bundrage earlier this year weren't much to write home about, either. Like Smith, Bundrage was really more a veteran gatekeeper, but one who had managed to get himself involved in Don King's thankfully-expired long-term lease on the IBF junior middleweight belt. After leaving King and signing with Golden Boy, Bundrage was matched up with Smith, who had signed with Mayweather. Ishe cleanly and clearly won the title in February of this year.
Saturday's opponent Carlos Molina knows the road Smith has traveled. As a fighter who is more dangerous than he seems, and with plenty of promotional issues and controversial decisions behind him, Molina is getting his first world title shot this weekend. The 30-year-old Chicagoan has been a very rough night's work for the likes of Erislandy Lara (D-10 in 2011) and James Kirkland (controversial DQ loss in 2012) in recent years.
If you take away the questionable loss to Kirkland in Texas, Molina hasn't lost since 2007, when he ended an 0-3-1 stretch that included debated decision losses to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Mike Alvarado, a controversial draw with Chavez Jr, and a loss to Wayland Willingham which was also scored close.
At one time, Molina was 8-4-1, and looked to be headed nowhere. Now here we are and he's a serious contender at junior middleweight, a fighter much better than his record would indicate, who managed to shake off nearly two years of rust and battle the celebrated Cuban Lara to a draw after he got his promotional squabbles with Don King finished up.
The perceived house favorite in this fight is Smith, but this one could be vexing to score when all is said and done. Molina is a good, capable fighter, a sort of chameleon talent who can do lots of different things, while Smith tends to pick and peck his way into winning some rounds by controlling the pace a lot of the time. It does not promise to be exciting, to be perfectly honest, but it could well be interesting, and the scores could be all over the place.
Ashley Theophane vs Pablo Cesar Cano
Theophane, as mentioned before, is no young gun. He's a well-traveled veteran fighter whose story is a lot like Ishe Smith's. He's served time in the sport both as a prospect-checker against the likes of Danny Garcia (a debated loss in 2010) and as a domestic titleholder in the UK, where he reigned as British junior welterweight champ in 2011 before dropping the belt to Darren Hamilton in 2012.
Theophane (33-5-1, 10 KO) doesn't seem the sort that is headed for world title level, but then neither did Ishe. Sometimes, it's as simple as taking a decent fighter and getting him the right backing and the right matchups. With no disrespect to Smith's IBF title, Ishe is not a better fighter than he used to be, only handled better. Theophane, 33, could benefit in much the same way from being part of Mayweather Promotions.
Cano (26-3-1, 20 KO) is a gutsy battler who at age 23 has already become something of a known quantity and young veteran in the sport. In his last fight, he lost a spirited and competitive decision to Shane Mosley. Before that, he was on the wrong end of a decision against Paulie Malignaggi, and was also very competitive in that fight. His other loss came in 2011 to Erik Morales, when a bad cut ended the fight after 10 rounds.
Yes, Cano has lost in his biggest steps up, but he's also proven himself as a credible fighter in each of those bouts, and he's no easy mark for Theophane, who is hoping to become a player at 147 pounds, starting with this fight. Theophane, like Smith, is a crafty and tricky fighter who tries to not give opponents much to work with. Cano operates best when he's being aggressive, so the styles could clash and create something entertaining here. In each of Cano's three losses, the fight has been fun to watch. If Theophane wants to get his career moving toward a world title, he's going to have to earn it.
We'll have an in-depth preview of Mayweather vs Canelo tomorrow morning, and much more on the fight card in the coming days, of course.