Since Danny Garcia outpointed him last September, Lucas Matthysse had committed himself to the rites of the defeated: there was a change in his corner, delays and mixed messages about his return, and probably, squeezed somewhere onto his crowded flesh, a palliative tattoo. He would speak of what he learned in defeat, too; that small victory for the loser so crucial to dreams of reascension. And to the ring in the StubHub Center in Carson, California, along with his trunks, gloves, gumshield, he brought a grim look that seemed shaded in hesitation.
The man across from him, John Molina, Jr., was supposed to quell those doubts and help Matthysse put space between September, the present, and the future—that is what comeback opponents are selected to do. And that is what Molina, Covina, California, would do, succumbing to Matthysse in the eleventh round of their savage and surprisingly competitive fight. But that is not all Molina would do.
No, Molina would use his height and reach to repeatedly tag Matthysse early. Struggling to find the range on his larger opponent, Matthysse lunged with right hands, a strategy that compromised his balance and left openings. Molina seized these moments to crack Matthysse with his own rights as the shorter fighter tried to recover, even dumping the iron-chinned Matthysse in the second round. Molina, 139 3/4, also willingly exchanged with the ferocious Matthysse, reminding him that every fighter can suffer the consequences of opening up. That daring paid off for Molina, as Matthysse—accustomed to giving pause to the men he tagged—backed straight up after unloading, only to get caught by Molina’s longer shots.
Faced with a man who refused to be washed out with the tide, Matthysse reinvested in his jab, using it to back Molina to the ropes, where he negated Molina’s advantages in height and reach while grinding away inside. His jab also served to freeze Molina at range, earning Matthysse time to dig rights to the body and rip left hooks to the head. Defensively, Matthysse, Buenos Aires, Argentina, began slipping to his right after throwing his cross, which allowed him to dip inside on Molina while avoiding counter rights. But Molina, who displayed a preternatural toughness on this night, refused to back down, even returning Matthysse to the canvas in the fifth round. Yes, the punch that dropped him appeared to strike Matthysse behind the head, and Molina probably should not have been awarded the knockdown; nevertheless, it served as a reminder that Molina was not there to assuage Matthysse’s pride—he was there to bruise it anew.
Matthysse, 140, scored a questionable knockdown of his own in the eighth, shoving Molina to the canvas in an effort to find punching room. Legitimacy of the knockdown aside, it was an indication that Matthysse was warming up to the familiar role of executioner, and he returned to his sinister ways. The ninth round was brutal, with Matthysse adding uppercuts and double hooks to his arsenal; in the tenth, a deluge of unforgiving blows dropped Molina to the canvas. Molina’s trainer, Joe Goosen, worked both his fighter and the officials before the eleventh round, jockeying to secure his man at least one more grasp at victory. He succeeded, and Molina was sent out one more time, where a blitzing Matthysse delivered the denouement. Hammered to the canvas again, Molina was rescued by referee Pat Russell at 0:22 of the eleventh round.
It was a win Matthysse had to have. As sensitive a fighter as boxing permits, Matthysse, 35-3 (33), lost much of his mystique when Garcia outdueled him, which helps explain why he took the loss so hard. Moreover, consecutive losses are difficult for any fighter to recover from, even one as popular and exciting as Matthysse. There is also the new risk inherent in soliciting the services of Al Haymon, the advisor Matthysse, signed with ostensibly to get a crack at Garcia (himself, a Haymon fighter). Haymon’s reputation for securing his clients ludicrous reward for laughable risk is legendary. Having locked up so much of boxing’s significant talent, however, Haymon is becoming less and less a safe haven; and it is easy to see a fighter he deems less valuable getting sacrificed to the bottom line. For reasons within and without then, last night’s win was crucial for “La Máquina.”
Much like Ruslan Provodnikov did against Timothy Bradley last year, Molina, 27-4 (22), announced his arrival Saturday in the most endearing of ways: bringing the favorite near the brink and the crowd to its feet. The move from lightweight to junior welterweight has done nothing to diminish Molina’s power, and the heavy hands, bravery and toughness he displayed are proof that he can help fill the void at 140 left in Matthysse and Garcia’s wake. For now, at least, his days as a confidence booster are over.