Lucas Matthysse is no neophyte and not a wide-eyed rookie with dreams of hitting it big.
The Argentine, who on Sunday (Saturday in the U.S.) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, will defend his WBA welterweight title against the legendary Manny Pacquiao, first won a world title in 2012. His power and aggressiveness has made him a regular on the big-fight circuit for years, fighting Zab Judah, Lamont Peterson, Danny Garcia, Ruslan Provodnikov and Viktor Postol.
Fighting Pacquiao, though, is vastly different than fighting any of those other men, even if it is a diminished Pacquiao who will stand in front of him.
But even though both men are not what they were at their peaks and are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginnings, a win over Pacquiao would still be significant for Matthysse.
“This is the fight of his life,” promoter Oscar De La Hoya said of Matthysse.
That goes without saying, given Pacquiao’s stature in the game. He’s one of the elite fighters of the 21st century, standing behind only longtime rival Floyd Mayweather as the biggest star of this generation.
A win will likely earn Matthysse a much higher paying rematch, as well as at least a few other significant bouts. Trevor Berbick lived off his victory over Muhammad Ali, which came in 1981 in the last fight of Ali’s legendary career, for the rest of his life.
The problem from Matthysse’s standpoint is not only is he unsure how much Pacquiao has left, but also how diminished he is himself. The wars in the ring over the years take a toll, and Matthysse has been in more than his share of slugfests.
He won a back-and-forth battle in 2015 with Provodnikov, who is known as the “Siberian Rocky,” but he hasn’t been the same since.
He’s 2-1 since then, with victories over Emmanuel Taylor and Tewa Kiram, and a loss to Postol.
De La Hoya, who was pummeled by Pacquiao in 2008, said that when Pacquiao is at his best, he’s quick and throwing more punches at a time than a single person can handle.
Matthysse has to counteract that, De La Hoya said.
“If I were Lucas, I would not get frustrated because Pacquiao can frustrate you,” De La Hoya said. “He can do that because he throws so many punches. Lucas has to be cool, calm and collected. He has to force the action. He has to show Manny that he is younger, stronger and fresher. If you don’t show that to Manny, he can walk all over you. That’s who he is. That’s why he’s so good.”
Matthysse is 39-4 with 36 knockouts, but at 35, his power isn’t what it once was, and his one-punch power is diminished.
But with Pacquiao there in front of him, ever willing to engage, Matthysse will have his best opportunity for a knockout since he battled Provodnikov. Most boxers tend to avoid exchanging with Matthysse because of how hard he hits, but that has never been Pacquiao’s style.
“I feel 100 percent sure that I will succeed in this fight,” Matthysse said.
If he does, it might be enough to push Pacquiao into retirement, just like a Pacquiao victory did to De La Hoya nearly a decade ago.
De La Hoya admits now he underestimated Pacquiao. Whether Matthysse will see a similar version of Pacquiao remains to be seen, and much of that will be determined by how much Pacquiao has left after nearly 25 years as a pro.
“A lot of people think that Lucas Matthysse is just a knockout artist,” De La Hoya said. “But he’s an intelligent fighter, too. He knows how to box and counterpunch. This fight is interesting in terms of styles. The people who really know boxing know that Matthysse can change his style and even confuse him. He may even be able to confuse him and land some counterpunches.
“Pacquiao has a very unique style. When I fought him, I thought he was going to get tired. He never got tired. So, I don’t know what Pacquiao we are going to see for this fight. I don’t know how distracted he may be. I do know that Matthysse is fully focused and determined. This is the fight of his life. It’s all going to depend on how Pacquiao reacts when the first bell rings. Will it be a distracted Pacquiao? Or a Pacquiao that everyone is used to seeing? That’s why the odds are 2-1. It is a great fight.”
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