So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2013, Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez on Showtime pay-per-view on Sept. 14. Previously: the meaning of Mayweather-Alvarez; a special edition of TQBR Radio; the undercard and week's schedule, previewed; keys to the fight parts I and II; how good Mayweather-Alvarez could be. Next: a staff roundtable.
Ask 10 well-informed general sports fans who's fighting this weekend, and eight of them will say something like, "Floyd Mayweather vs. that, um, that red-headed Mexican kid." Ask 10 die-hard boxing fans who's fighting this weekend, and at least five will quickly answer, "Lucas Matthysse vs. Danny Garcia. Oh, and also Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez." Mayweather moves the needle for the masses, and in some parts of the world, so does Alvarez. But for the people who live and breathe boxing, few boxers get the pulse pounding like Matthysse… few boxers get the pulse pounding, albeit in a different fashion, like Garcia… and a great many boxing fans find their pulse quickening at the thought of the two best men in one of boxing's best divisions, junior welterweight, squaring off.
The Argentinian Matthysse has the highest knockout percentage in boxing, and it's not because he is doing it to people who are there to be knocked out. He hurts people who don't usually get hurt, and he hurts most of them until they are no longer awake. That's heroin for the boxing-obsessed. Garcia can punch, too, and has a fan base in Philly and among Puerto Ricans, but the reason he affects blood pressure is because his father/trainer is one of boxing's biggest jerks ("Only I know everything" is one of his milder recent pronouncements, the history of which includes mocking the Chinese, Pakistanis or any peoples of countries not named America), and also because when Garcia isn't boxing he's making unforgivable sartorial choices or annoying earworm rap songs.
They're on the undercard of Saturday's Showtime pay-per-view headlined by junior middleweights Mayweather and Alvarez for reasons that the cynical boxing fan can't really ascertain. It might be for all of these reasons simultaneously, or ones nobody has yet thought of: the winner of Matthysse-Garcia could be up next for Mayweather, and both are too obscure without this level of exposure to drive demand for a future Mayweather fight; the fight was too expensive for Showtime to buy with its usual budget, so it had to depend on a PPV revenue stream to cover the costs; Showtime, eager to compensate for financial losses from Mayweather's last outing, is trying to boost PPV sales any way it can, and hopes that a good undercard will do the trick; or maybe Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime actually mean what they say and they're doing some "good government" work here to give the fans what they want for their hard-earned $75.
Besides cohabitating the card, Matthysse-Garcia and Mayweather-Alvarez share something else: As long as there are no draws on any scorecards or fluke no contests, both will decide the real champion of each division. That each fight is special for other reasons as well makes the combination of two authentic championship bouts on one show that much the sweeter.
There's nothing sweet-looking about Matthysse, whose latest fashion statement is to resemble a character straight out of Road Warrior. That look matches his style in the ring, which is, summarized, "being a bad ass." Matthysse hits really hard. Matthysse doesn't mind terribly if you hit him really hard. The only reason he has any losses on his record are because of two bad decisions in close-ish fights against Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, and because he hadn't fully developed into the bad ass he has become. Matthysse was once more like Rocky Juarez or Randall Bailey, two big punchers who could only be bothered to throw their bombs a couple times a fight.
Matthysse learned his lesson from those two losses and is a different fighter now. He isn't a swarming, volume-punching maniac a la Antonio Margarito, but he starts faster — a little extra insistent — and doesn't lose as many rounds while also giving his power a better chance to end the fight. In fact, he hasn't seen the final round since the Alexander loss in 2011, and his most recent win over Lamont Peterson was the best of his career. Another thing that gives his power a better chance to end the fight is how intelligently he deploys it. He has a solid jab and sound left hook, although his right is, as Garcia's camp has noted, looping. Both the hook and right cross are knockout punches, and he can head hunt at times but is a scary body puncher when he doesn't. He is, however, despite some technical flaws, deceptive about his punches; unlike some brawlers, he's not above feinting. His pressure is constant but based on good footwork, although he gets carried away sometimes swinging for the fences, which can leave him deposited on the canvas when he misses, as against Peterson, or simply off balance and vulnerable to a potential knockdown. His defense is also fairly solid for his "type" of fighter, although he's more than happy to trade because he believes in his power and believes in his chin. So far, his faith has been warranted.
Garcia is still more of a thinker than Matthysse, and he is overall the technically sharper of the two men, throwing straight punches more often than not. His dad Angel is of late getting credit for coming up with good game plans for Garcia's opposition, and Garcia makes it easier because he's versatile and basically good (at worst) at everything. I'm not convinced he's much faster than Matthysse, the way Peterson clearly was. Garcia has knockout power, as he showed with big KOs of Amir Khan and Erik Morales. Khan has always been fragile and Morales was old as hell, but neither of them had been done in exactly the way Garcia did them in. He will be the biggest puncher Matthysse has faced, at least. Garcia also can take a punch, even if Judah had him in trouble late, because he never went down or came close to it and recuperated quickly. His defense is, like Matthysse's, solid, albeit a touch more solid. The two men share a tendency to over-commit to punches, leaving them open to be countered; Garcia has a habit of lunging for body shots and selling out with his left hook in particular. Garcia is a more natural counterpuncher, though, capable of countering with his left hook or straight right, both of which are his money punches — not unlike Matthysse's money punch duo, actually. Another plus for Garcia is height, if not reach.
For Garcia to win… well, I'm not sure. He'll have to hurt Matthysse, certainly, and again, while Garcia is the biggest puncher Mattthysse has faced, Judah caught Matthysse with a knockout uppercut that made Matthysse smile in that rare way fighters do when they're not merely pretending it didn't hurt and are instead actually amused. Garcia can counter Matthysse for at least a while, so it's not like he won't get a chance to do that kind of damage. The problem is that unlike Peterson, Garcia won't have the option of hit-and-run. Garcia is not much of a "mover," you see, and Peterson was more athletic than Garcia is. We saw how that went for Peterson, didn't we? Three rounds and done. I don't see how Garcia outboxes Matthysse for the distance without putting himself in massive harm's way, as he'll have to counter perfectly in the pocket. And once you get in Matthysse-level harm's way, at least the post-Judah/Alexander version of Matthysse at 140, your only option is to be unconscious. If Garcia had shown off a jaw of concrete prior, maybe he could hang in there. Instead, he's been hurt by Judah, who doesn't punch nearly as hard as Matthysse. Alternately, maybe he can tie Matthysse up all night, but that doesn't usually work, either, because Matthysse is strong as hell and can work free of clinches and isn't above fouling if he can't muscle out.
Garcia has said he's a "fighter at heart" when asked about whether he'll slug with Matthysse or try to play off of him, and it's true — he's a mentally tough boxer that a lot of people didn't think would take the Matthysse assignment. Which means I think he'll get lured into a contest of knockout punches earlier rather than later. I'll give Garcia one or two more rounds than Peterson got, because I do think Garcia is a better and sturdier fighter than Peterson outside of the athletic ability of each. I don't expect Garcia to reach the 6th. The next day, I expect him to be reaching for a bag of ice to put on his head.