Longtime boxing fans were all but frothing at the mouth in the spring, when Golden Boy Promotions announced Lucas Matthysse would face Ruslan Provodnikov.
It would be the brawl to end all brawls. Two men with concussive power in each hand and a willingness, almost an eagerness, to mix it up made fans giddy at the prospect of them fighting.
Matthysse won a unanimous decision that April night in Verona, N.Y., but a strange thing happened: It was his boxing skills that led him to the majority decision victory.
Provodnikov couldn’t get much going in the early part of the fight, largely because Matthysse boxed so beautifully.
It was hardly what fans expected from the Argentinian, who entered the bout with a 36-3 record and 34 knockouts. He hadn’t won a fight by decision since Dec. 20, 2008, when he was fighting on smaller shows in his native Argentina.
What American fans knew about him was that he was a killer. They saw the first-round devastation of Mike Dallas Jr. and the third-round blowout of Lamont Peterson. They watched as he outslugged John Molina Jr. in 11 thrilling rounds and were awed as he knocked Roberto Ortiz unconscious in the second.
But Matthysse, who faces Viktor Postol on Saturday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., in a super lightweight title bout broadcast by HBO, said the sharp boxer has been there all along.
“I’ve always had the ability to box and against [Provodnikov], it was definitely my plan to box more,” Matthysse said. “I wanted to show I’m not just a brawler. I’ve had this ability for a long time. I’ve known how to box and I’ve done it a lot in the gym, but in the ring, it’s usually been a little different.
“But this fight, I knew that boxing would be important and I believed I was the better boxer. I went out there and showed that.”
He did, indeed, prove that point, though the bout was still enthralling.
But it’s likely that Matthysse will need his boxing skills again vs. Postol. A Ukrainian nicknamed “The Iceman,” Postol is 27-0 with 11 knockouts. He has a 4 ½-inch height advantage on Matthysse and about a 7-inch edge in reach, though he hasn’t gotten an official reach measurement yet.
With that reach advantage and given that Postol possesses a strong jab, Matthysse could have some issues.
But Matthysse isn’t concerned. He believes he’ll be able to get past Postol’s jab and into the range where he can unload his power shots.
It’s a delicate balance he must work, relying on his boxing ability and letting his hands go to take advantage of his power when facing someone much taller, but it’s not new to Matthysse.
And with the chance for his first full-fledged world championship on the line, he’s willing to do just about anything to get it.
Matthysse, 33, has held the interim WBC super lightweight belt before, but never the real thing. One of his losses came in his only full title fight, when he dropped a decision to Danny Garcia on a Floyd Mayweather undercard in 2013.
Garcia outboxed Matthysse that night, though a cut around Matthysse’s eye hampered him in the middle part of the bout.
That loss has strengthened Matthysse’s resolve to win on Saturday and earn the full WBC title.
“There can be no questions about this,” Matthysse said. “I’ve dreamed of being the champion for so long and I can’t let this opportunity pass me by. I think most boxers would tell you we get into this sport to become the champion, and I have my opportunity to do it now.
“It’s an entirely different feeling than [when I was fighting for the interim title], for sure.”
While Matthysse has proven that he can box if he needs to, this might be the fight he’ll rely on his legendary punching power to win the belt.
He’s not going to be picky. While boxing media and many fans scoff at the proliferation of “world title” belts, it’s very real to Matthysse.
“There is a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice in this business,” he said. “And a big reason for that is the dream of being the champion. That’s why I am so excited for this fight. I’m right on the verge of where I want to be.”