Showtime Boxing: Lucas Matthysse Auditions To Be The King Of 140 Pounds


Showtime’s boxing card on Saturday epitomized much about what there is to love about the sport. Devon “The Great” Alexander and Lamont Peterson are classic examples of the rags-to-riches stories that are common in the sweet science. Lee Purdy’s ability to take a beating, although difficult to watch for some, is the stuff that year after year shocks and oddly amazes crowds, leaving onlookers wondering, “How is he still standing?” And Argentine Lucas Matthysse is the power-punching knockout artist that everyone hopes to see, the kind of fighter that imbues every second of a fight with a sense of danger, a sense that this second, this punch, might end the night. As these fighters put on an entertaining show they were also auditioning for the fight of their lives.

Devon Alexander stepped in the ring against last-minute replacement, former British boxing champion Lee Purdy. Alexander was originally scheduled to face Kell Brook, but Brook pulled out with an injury only four weeks before the fight. While few gave Purdy a chance, the real question behind the fight was whether it would be good enough to earn Alexander a shot at Floyd Mayweather. Sadly, Purdy didn’t come to fight so much as to test the strength of his chin, so we learned precious little more than we already knew about Alexander.

Purdy’s style in the fight might best be called mummy-esque. He walked forward for nearly the entirety of the fight, with his arms stuck in a high guard, while Alexander punched him unendingly. For seven rounds, Alexander threw a spectacular array of one-handed punches with his lead right hand (Alexander is a southpaw). He landed often and what looked to be hard. Yet, Purdy seemed quiet undeterred and furious when his corner threw in the towel before coming out in the eighth.

Unfortunately for Alexander, it turned out that his one-handed boxing display was caused by a broken left hand sustained after the first round. So even though he came out with the win, his chances of facing Mayweather decreased precipitously because of the injury. If Mayweather fights in September as he has stated he will, Alexander’s injury may not heal in time. Even if the break is only minor, it will surely not have healed sufficiently to test it against the best fighter in boxing. Alexander’s punching power is modest to begin with; any hesitation due to a tender hand bodes poorly for his chances should he be lucky enough to land the appointment against Mayweather.


Much was also on the line for Lucas Matthysse and Lamont Peterson. Most obvious was the opportunity to challenge for Danny Garcia’s WBC and WBA belts. But each man was also fighting for a sense of legitimacy. Peterson was fighting to escape the failed drug test that derailed his rematch with Amir Khan, while Matthysse wanted to show that he could come out a victor at the elite level — he lost against his two biggest previous tests Zab Judah and Devon Alexander (although those fights could have easily gone the other way, and maybe should have).

The first round looked something like I imagine Peterson’s trainer wished the whole fight had turned out to be, with Peterson pumping his jab on the outside, using the whole ring to show off his boxing skills. But the Argentine would not be denied. In the second round, Matthysse landed a hard left hook that only grazed Peterson’s head but still sent him to the canvas — Matthysse’s 22nd knockdown in his last 12 fights!

Within the first few seconds of the third round, the result became inevitable. Peterson walked straight toward Matthysse to engage him toe-to-toe. Showtime announcer and WBA Welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi endorsed the tactic, saying that it was better for Peterson to stop boxing and instead try to earn Matthysse’s respect. It was foolish advice and peculiar coming from a fighter who has notably little power (Malignaggi only has seven KOs in 32 fights) and seldom finds himself in the pocket. It also reminds me of Trevor Berbick’s reflections on his championship fight with Mike Tyson.

Back in 1986, Tyson challenged for Berbick’s belt in the hope of becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history. At the time, Tyson was 27-0, with 25 KOs, and widely regarded as the most explosive heavyweight in boxing. Berbick refused to acknowledge Tyson’s punching power and met him in the center of the ring from the opening bell. As history remembers quite graphically, that proved to be a big mistake. Reflecting on his decision to meet Tyson head on, Berbick said, “I wanted to prove my manhood. That was my mistake.” Berbick was KO’d in the second round, but not before several sadly comical attempts to beat the count.

In practice, there is little difference between proving your manhood as Berbick attempted and earning the respect of a power puncher like Matthysse. Either way, you’re forced into meeting your opponent head on. In Peterson’s case, the tactic was flawed for two basic reasons:

1. In turning away from his boxing, Peterson gave up his most developed skill for a lower quality one. Trying to develop that skill against possibly the best practitioner of it in your division doesn’t seem well thought out.

2. Malignaggi was wagering that Peterson could earn Matthysse’s respect before succumbing to the Argentine’s power (an easier wager to make when your chin isn’t on the line). But the bet doesn’t make sense in light of the available information. Peterson is not a power puncher. His KO percentage doesn’t even hit 50%. Matthysse,on the other hand, has knocked out 32 of the 34 men he's beaten (and after the Peterson victory, has the highest KO percentage of active boxers). Trading with Matthysse is a recipe for a short night in the ring.

Two minutes into the third round, Matthysse knocked down Peterson with a devastating left hook that sent Peterson into a sideways roll when he tried to get up. Peterson eventually made it to his feet only to be knocked down by another left hook seconds later. Referee Steve Smoger stepped in to stop the fight. Matthysse’s exciting audition has people talking about potential match-ups with Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Regardless of his chance of getting or winning those types of fights, Matthysse showed that he’s a fighter not to miss and well worth the price of admission.

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