Saturday night's chief undercard bout between Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse - a bona fide main event in its own right - has got boxing fans (at least, the lesser-spotted ‘hardcore') talking for all the right reasons. Those who know what these two fighters are all about are, it seems certain, unlikely to be disappointed. A huge proportion of a pay-per-view audience, those that don't, could well be treated to a potential Fight of the Year contender, a contest that seems destined to break out into a war, at least for as long as it lasts.
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The peculiarity, then, among observers, writers, and fans, would appear to be that this isn't the 50:50 fight it perhaps sounds on paper. A contest with both Garcia's WBA Super and WBC Not-Super-But-Y'Know-Still-Our-Champion titles on the line (Matthysse is the interim WBC titleholder, for what that's worth, although expect a new one crowned sometime before Christmas), Garcia goes into Saturday an unbeaten fighter, 26-0 (16 KOs), the younger man, the taller man, the guy who's fairly decisively beaten Amir Khan, Zab Judah, Erik Morales and Kendall Holt in a two-year, momentum-gathering win streak. Yet here's the thing: the number of pundits, self-proclaimed or otherwise, actually giving Garcia a prayer here seems to be remarkably low.
The reason? Lucas Matthysse (34-2, 32 KOs), who, after rampaging through the fringes of the 140lb title picture, was eventually rewarded with a shot against Lamont Peterson, a guy who many figured was one of the true divisional frontrunners. The end result was the same, as it has been in every Matthysse contest since getting jobbed in Missouri against Devon Alexander: Matthysse physically dominated Peterson, a skilled, strong, legitimate light-welterweight, en route to a stoppage inside three rounds. It was a win that sparked the imagination of many boxing fans; an irresistible, wrecking-ball type of performance that suddenly put the Argentinian right into the discussion for the very biggest of fights at 140 and thereabouts. In Garcia, he's been rewarded with the de facto number one in the division and, according to the layers, is likely to continue where he left off back in May.
The outright odds roughly mirror those of the main event. At time of writing, the very best price you'll find on Floyd Mayweather - at time of writing, around -271 to -275, but more generally three-to-one elsewhere - is loosely the general quote widely available on ‘The Machine', a firm -250 favorite, or thereabouts, with a handful of more cautious compilers pricing up Matthysse at around the -300 mark, and nobody really fancying taking him on at anything closer to two-to-one. For Danny Garcia, then, read Canelo Alvarez; the long-and-short of it is that, across both contests, we're roughly looking at a pair of 2/1 underdogs, at best 5/2. Garcia, across the board, is slightly shorter than Canelo, and there's a marginally wider variance from book to book: you'll find +250 on Garcia in places, although Irish firm Paddy Power have kept Garcia clipped in at +187 - in other words, just below that 2/1 benchmark. Make no mistake, though - while the reasons for both fights' odds looking as similar as they do are markedly different, there's no argument whatsoever that a Canelo win would feel dramatically more significant, far more of an upset than a Garcia one, and considerably more so than the similarity between each line would suggest.
What's particularly interesting is that, up to this point, neither man has really fought an opponent like that he'll face on Saturday night. In Garcia, Matthysse faces only the second unbeaten fighter of his career (Olusegun Ajose being the first, going 30-0 against domestic-level fare in the UK) and arguably the guy with the best resume to date, at least given that, unlike Alexander and Judah before him, Garcia has emerged without a single defeat. In Matthysse, Garcia goes up against his first real power-puncher, the first guy with a very real one-punch threat. That, says Garcia, plays into his hands, but how he handles a flush shot from Matthysse - and, given the way Garcia fights, it seems inconceivable that that's not something he's going to have to deal with at some point, perhaps early - is the absolute key to determining the outcome here.
Since pulling the upset against Khan as a sizeable +450 outsider, this is the first time we've seen Garcia priced up at odds-against. The Philadelphian went off as short as an -800 betting favorite last time out against Zab Judah, and didn't look like one, and as short as -1200 against Morales in their rematch, in which he did. For Matthysse, the last time he went off as anything other than a firm favorite was against Alexander, where he was listed around +170. In his notable fights since he's been -225 (Soto), -300 (Ajose), -1800 (Dallas Jr), and around -200 for Peterson. Retrospectively, there's some absolutely enormous prices there, even for long odds-on shots. Hindsight, eh?
The issue for Garcia is that it's far too simplistic to describe Matthysse as just a slugger with ferocious power. Were that the case, then would anybody really not back Garcia to solve the puzzle at +250, given the type of test we've seen him come through already? The size of the challenge, though, is that - at least from this viewpoint - he's also up against a better boxer. Technically Matthysse is very sound, and what's become apparent is that it isn't just that he hits like a mule that's causing opponents so many problems. This was particularly evident against Peterson, where he not only dismantled his man, but did so by outboxing him. The illusion, at least for some, that he's little more than a brawler has probably come about as a result of Matthysse simply starting so quickly, gunning for the knockout so early - a lesson learned by the Argentinian after slow starts and a reliance on the judges doing the right thing backfiring in those decisions dropped to Alexander and Judah, and a strategy he's spoken at length about since.
It's for this reason that seeing Matthysse favored to win inside the distance is of no real surprise. He's as short as -175 (best-priced -137) to force a 33rd career stoppage - a seventh in succession - which is quite a price when against an opponent who's never tasted defeat, and one as resilient and determined as Garcia is. Those looking to side with this outcome can probably go a little bolder, however, given that we know Matthysse comes out of the blocks so quickly and the vast majority of opponents he faces just can't live with his power. Matthysse has only been twelve rounds once, in that split-decision against Judah, with that other split loss vcoming against Alexander over ten. No surprise, then, those wanting to back the fight not to go the distance will have to settle for -250 (+187 that it does). From that multitude of Matthysse KO victims, only Ajose has gone as far as the tenth round, with DeMarcus Corley the only other stopped who got as far as the eighth - although it's worth noting that he was also knocked down an incredible eight times along the way.
Across all of Matthysse's 32 wins by KO/TKO, there's a mere 2.84 rounds mean average. Adjusting these calculations to remove the probably-irrelevant fact that Matthysse was blowing out debutants inside seconds back in Argentina, we're looking at a 5.2 round KO average going back as far as the Judah fight, which feels like a sounder starting point. Taking that as a basis, then, Matthysse stoppage backers should have few qualms with siding with the KO anywhere inside the first half of the fight at +225 (as short as +187) elsewhere, with a full six rounds sitting happily inside that 5.2 bracket. Those looking at alternatives will also be tempted by Matthysse within four at +450 and within three at +600. Fancy Garcia to suffer the same fate as Dallas Jr? It's +2000 that Matthysse ruins the sequencing of the night and gives the MGM Grand crowd a long, awkward break by ending things inside the first round.
While Garcia's crude-looking wide hooks look made to measure for the more compact Matthysse to exploit, it would be foolish to count out the Philadelphia man from pulling the shock of his own, and there's little doubting he's got considerable power of his own. How does Matthysse react if he gets clipped? There are some big prices on offer for those putting faith in Garcia - he's +650 to win by stoppage at any point, but if a war breaks out early, as well it might, it could only take one clean shot, like that he produced against Khan, against Morales (II) to settle matters. He's +1200 to win anywhere in the first half, +2000 to do so within four, and a sizeable +3300 anywhere inside three. All, clearly, are speculative, but those feeling that Garcia has been hugely underestimated in some quarters will surely find some comfort by snapping up anything at double-figures.
For those interested in the spreads, selling fight minutes at 22 looks worthy of consideration - with a maximum make-up of 36 in the event it goes the distance, there's plenty of potential upside should you expect fireworks, with a conclusion in the first half of the fight returning at least a healthy profit.
Given the statistics, it goes without saying that all signs point to this not going the distance - it's even money that we don't see the ninth - should Garcia stay out of harm's way, it's a perceived edge in workrate that could hold sway with the judges. It seems a big ask to force Matthysse to revert to his old self, as it were, to force him to start slow and keep him that way, but it's also the biggest weakness we've seen from the Argentinian, albeit one he appears to have corrected - with aplomb - post-Alexander. There's +600 available for Garcia to earn a decision nod (as short as +400 in places), and a best-priced +550 for Matthysse to do the same (as short as +275 with Paddy Power, which looks way out of line with the general +450 across the board). It's +1600 that Matthysse is on the wrong end of a third split-decision (+2000 for him to claim his own), and +2800 the draw.