Falling somewhere between the bearded lady and the lion tamer in its curiosity and danger, the fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Saul Alvarez—who face each other at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday night—is without question the biggest event in boxing. Having learned a few months ago that the success of a Mayweather event is not exclusive of his opposition, Golden Boy Promotions is using the semi as a gruesome audition for Mayweather’s next opponent. Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse will try to unmake each other over a superfluously scheduled 12 rounds. At stake: the junior welterweight crown and a likely crack at Mayweather.
Few foresaw Garcia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, coming within reach of such a coveted prize. Against Golden Boy darling Amir Khan, Garcia was considered very much out of his depth. He hung tough, however, and ragdolled Khan with a left hook before stopping him in the fourth. There were also some concerning moments against bloated curmudgeon Eric Morales, and, in April, Garcia was given a surprisingly tough fight from a desperate Zab Judah.
Still, Garcia, 26-0 (16), has escaped these perils unscathed, knocking over an apple cart or two on the way. Leaving the talking to his lightning rod trainer/father, Angel, Garcia steps between the ropes and exhausts his ability. That ability includes decent power, sharp timing, and a good chin. Garcia, 25, exudes toughness as well, both in his composure, and the stitch of machismo embroidered into his game. No, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the workaday Garcia, nor is there anything particularly glaring. He is one of the best junior welterweights in the world; a distinction he shares with Lucas Matthysse.
There were bumps on Matthysse’s path to the ring on Saturday as well. Decision losses to Devon Alexander and Zab Judah could have derailed Matthysse, who at the time was little more than a foreign fighter looking to build a name in the US. But Matthysse, Trelew, Chubut, Argentina, rebounded by turning the ring into a mass grave recently, earning his murderous reputation by doing unforgettable things to forgettable opposition. Despite Matthysse’s collection of toe tags, skeptics remained, arguing that his mystique needed to be confirmed by an opponent who provided more than a dumping ground for his hostility. Tough, wilful, having never been stopped, Lamont Peterson was the man for the job. He lasted less than three rounds. Matthysse, 30, made his intentions clear after destroying Peterson: He wanted Danny Garcia. Garcia has obliged him.
In Matthysse, Garcia is facing a fighter who can short-circuit him with either hand. After taking his power, Matthysse’s opponents are either drawn immediately into a firefight they cannot win or forced into a futile game of keep away. Supremely confident, Matthysse can be overzealous, abandoning the head and upper body movement that—along with his maniacal attack—constitute his defense. In these bursts of aggression he can be caught. Hurting him, however, has proven to be a tall task. Judah cracked him with a Sunday punch that could have razed the Temple of Dagon. Matthysse merely smiled in mocking approval. If that is not a frightening enough portrait, consider that Matthysse, 34-2 (32), gets stronger as the fight progresses, boring into his opponents like Big Alma. Every fighter who has shared a ring with Matthysse has tasted the canvas.
Should Garcia expect a similar fate? Not necessarily. For a fighter with Garcia’s power and timing, Matthysse’s recklessness presents openings he need only exploit a few times. Nor will Garcia be easily dissuaded. If Matthysse wants to go toe-to-toe—and he will—Garcia will oblige him. To get wide or sloppy against Garcia is to tempt disaster, and Matthysse has done both in his frenzied pursuit of destruction.
Garcia, however, is unlikely to draw out Matthysse’s bad habits. Matthysse reserves those berserk moments for fighters who cannot hurt him and those in full retreat. Against Garcia, a stationary fighter who can bang, expect Matthysse to exhibit some restraint early. Yet, even if he bottles his aggression at the start, Matthysse will invest heavily in his right hand (a punch Garcia is susceptible to), which will provide Garcia with opportunities to land his Hail Mary left hook. This is Garcia’s one chance for victory: if he can catch Matthysse early, he has a chance to steal the fight. But this means exchanging with Matthysse, a disastrous proposition, one that, to borrow from Samuel Beckett, will leave Garcia, “as stiff as a life sentence.”
Well, perhaps that is too harsh a prediction. After all, Garcia has yet to meet such a fate in his career. How about this instead: in whatever capacity Garcia leaves the ring Saturday night, he will do so to the early drumbeat for Mayweather-Matthysse.