“So it has come, the day of testing…and he is in the middle of it.” – J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace
A room full of monkeys plunking away on typewriters would struggle to script a scenario where Amir Khan is anointed the grand prize of a junior welterweight tournament. Yet this is what Golden Boy Promotions proposed when they hatched their plan to pit the fighters in their 140-pound stable against each other. Khan has since decided to move to welterweight in pursuit of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., but thankfully the tournament persists. For however bogus Khan’s seeding in the tournament was, the path to determining Golden Boy’s best junior welterweight is almost guaranteed to satisfy the sanguinary. That path stands to get littered in gore this Saturday, when Lucas Matthysse faces Lamont Peterson at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Matthysse, Buenos Aires, Argentina, has seen his reputation grow to near mythical proportions; and, while his admirers may be prone to hyperbole, the trail of broken bodies in his wake invites such amplified praise. Last October, Matthysse destroyed outgunned Humberto Soto in five rounds. Soto, a runty junior welterweight at best, landed plenty of rubber arrows on Matthysse, who assayed the middling threat before him and—like a professional—walked right through it. That performance was followed by a protracted lumbering of mobile redwood Ajose Olusegun, who was felled in the tenth round, and a first- round blowout of Mike Dallas, Jr., who doubled his jab one time too many and wound up in a heap courtesy of a counter right hand. With each performance Matthysse’s varied and surgical means were as much a confirmation of his craft as their violent ends. But he is not without his flaws.
Southpaws Devon Alexander and Zab Judah, arguably the two best fighters Matthysse has faced, outpointed him by keeping the fight at a distance and avoiding exchanges. Granted, both men hit the canvas against Matthysse, and the decisions were met with criticism, but the fact remains that two speedier fighters unwilling to engage Matthysse were able to withstand his attack.
Of course, if there is a blueprint to be deciphered here, it is of little use to Lamont Peterson. Unlike Alexander and Judah, Peterson, Washington, D.C., is an orthodox fighter who is most comfortable with his head wedged under his opponent’s chin. He moves forward behind a high guard—chin tucked, elbows glued to his sides—weaving through the incoming fire before trapping his opponent along the ropes and unloading like an enraged taiko drummer. A vicious body puncher, Peterson extends an offer to fight, and badgers his opponent until they cannot refuse. This approach seems at best a suicide pact against a puncher like Matthysse. But however understated his work may be, Peterson, 31-1-1 (16), has proven he has the skills—and perhaps more importantly the grit—to derail flashier opponents. And he has proven as much against superior competition.
A decision loss to Tim Bradley in 2009 confirmed Bradley’s proficiency as a boxer; that Bradley resorted to these skills after dropping Peterson in the third, however, testified to the caliber of Peterson’s pressure. Down twice in the third round of his 2010 fight against Victor Ortiz, Peterson battled back to earn a draw. He also got off the deck in his split decision victory over Amir Khan in 2011, who did everything short of fire emergency flares at referee Joseph Cooper while Peterson bore into him. The odds that Matthysse sends Peterson to the canvas are good, but it is just as likely that Peterson gets up, slugs him in the gut, and dares him to try it again. This not to say that Peterson is an indestructible bruiser, or some crude assailant—he is far too polished a boxer for such a caricature. Nevertheless, some of the best fighters in the division have preferred less bruising tactics when confronted by Peterson’s impertinence.
Thankfully, it is unlikely that Matthysse, 33-2 (31), responds in the same way. After all, participation in such exhibitions of machismo have helped cultivate his murderous reputation. But as Peterson continues to hammer on his ribs and to smother him, Matthysse’s gloss of indomitability will be worn away, his reputation forced to reconcile with his ability. The thinking here is that, while Matthysse’s ability falls short of his mythology, it is just enough to overcome a determined effort from Peterson. His loses having taught him that an impassioned start is the best insulation against running out of time; expect Matthysse to begin in earnest, taking full advantage of Peterson’s own notoriously slow starts and susceptibility to early knockdowns. Undeterred, Peterson will work his way back into the fight by the middle rounds, nearly toppling the idol while coming up just short in a fight that suggests the best fighter in Golden Boy’s junior welterweight tournament wasn’t going to be determined by beating Khan, but by earning the opportunity to face him.