Lucas Matthysse was supposed to violently rip away the Junior Welterweight championship from Danny Garcia a little over two years ago. The setup was perfect–Matthysse pulverized Lamont Peterson, knocking him stiff with a gorgeous left hook in May of 2013 while the crowd at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City exploded. Garcia was there amongst the crowd, wearing this. While everyone else went bananas, Garcia remained stoic and unimpressed. Maybe he knew something we didn’t.
Four months later in Las Vegas, on a night where many fans and critics expected to see another Matthysse-induced concussion, Garcia stood up to “The Machine.” Matthysse was landing blows, but Garcia stayed firm. Worse, he added insult to injury by dropping the reputedly un-droppable Matthysse in the 11th round on his way to a unanimous-decision victory. Garcia defended his belt a few more times against a handful of unimpressive challengers, and vacated the division. Matthysse is still there, and the loss still gnaws at him.
He’s undefeated since then, going to hell and back before ruining John Molina, and most recently, winning a fantastic fight with the Michael Myers-like Ruslan Provodnikov. He wants a title. He also wants a big fight, preferably with Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao. To get it, he needs to keep winning, and keep looking damn-good doing it. The man who will be in front of him Saturday night on HBO is Viktor Postol. Trained by the legendary Freddie Roach, and incredibly tall for a 140 pound fighter, Postol will not be easy to look good against.
There are some fights where it’s difficult to surmise what strategy each fighter will incorporate. This is not one of those fights. If Postol has his way, he’ll be bouncing merrily from one corner of the ring to the other, peppering Matthysse with jabs, befuddling him with straight-armed shots, and he’ll be out of the way before Matthysse is the wiser.
He is the boxer here. Basically, anybody not named Ruslan Provodnikov will be the boxer when fighting Matthysse. That’s because “The Machine” makes things pretty simple–he shows up to tear his opponent’s face off. And with 34 knockouts in 40 fights, it’s safe to say he’s been pretty damn good at it.
But there have been bumps in the road. Before losing to Garcia, he dropped a razor-thin decision to southpaw and gay rights activist Devon Alexander. His other loss was to Zab Judah, which was less of a “loss” and more of a “ran out of time.” Judah was a dead man walking by the end of the fight. Still, Matthysse can be outboxed. Postol is a pretty effective boxer, albeit against far lesser tests than the one that will be standing there winging missiles on Saturday. This is Postol’s big test. At the same time, this is Matthysse’s big chance to impress before Pacquiao makes his decision on who he’s taking on next.
And certainly, Matthysse has competition. Terence Crawford looks excellent. Amir Khan is… noisy. Something special might have to occur Saturday to shoot his name to the front of the list. What’s “special,” you ask? Knockouts. Terrifying knockouts. Awesome, terrifying knockouts.
The good news is that Matthysse cracks with both hands, and Postol isn’t impervious to looping punches. If Postol is firing straight shots at him, Matthysse will be trying to walk him into something massive. And if he can, we’ll see what kind of jaw Postol possesses. It had better be made of something sturdy, or he’s going to Snoozeville. After that? Matthysse might actually get that showdown he’s been wanting. And while Pacquiao would still be the favorite, he’s no longer the monster he was a few years ago. The fight could be fantastic. But he’s got to get there first. If he falters against Postol, he runs the serious risk of being relegated to “contender” status, a guy who is always on the cusp, and never over it.
Matthysse has always been a fan-friendly boxer. In fact, there are few fighters in the world who are as much fun to watch, especially when he’s matched right. The lanky boxer/puncher Postol appears to be the wrong kind of matchup for him. But the best fighters win, regardless of style. If he wants to be placed with Pac Man, he’ll need to show that he can adapt and adjust. He’s been taken down a very particular path since the Garcia fight–Molina is pure brawler, and Provodnikov is insulted if you don’t punch him in the face upon greeting him. It would be shocking if Postol comes forward like those guys. Oscar De La Hoya, who is Matthysse’s promoter, is taking a huge risk here. If he looks iffy, the odds of a Pacquiao fight go down the drain. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, because Matthysse is must-see TV, win or lose, but still, this is a gamble.
De La Hoya has shown a willingness to test his fighters, while other promoters (or advisors) would rather have forks jammed into their nether regions then risk the dreaded L for one of their own. Perhaps his plan will work out perfectly. In order for that to happen, Matthysse needs to drop the hammer on Postol.
If discussions are already underway between Pacquiao and Khan, “The Machine” has the opportunity to be the monkey wrench that jams up those plans. If he can make it happen Saturday night, we might get Pacquiao vs. Matthysse next spring. And then Khan’s head will explode.
If that fight were to come off, it would likely be worth every penny.