Photos by Tom Casino for Showtime
By Gautham Nagesh
LAS VEGAS, Nev.—If Floyd Mayweather weren’t fighting Saul “Canelo” Alvarez tonight, the co-feature between Philadelphia’s Danny “Swift” Garcia (left) and Lucas Matthysse of Argentina would probably be the biggest fight of the year.
The pair will square off here tonight at the MGM Grand for the junior welterweight championship of the world, as designated by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. This isn’t some imaginary “championship” dreamed up by the parasites that run the sanctioning bodies; this is a legitimate title fight between the top two 140-lbers in the world. Garcia has earned the sport’s respect by winning a series of fights against quality opposition, including knockouts of Amir Khan and Erik Morales. Matthysse has set the boxing world afire with his concussive power, and by flooring every opponent he has faced.
While Garcia is viewed as the defending champion in this fight, Matthysse is the betting favorite. Most don’t think Garcia will be able to stand up to the Argentine’s heavy hands, though a sizable minority believes Swift is tough enough to take the blows and still win a decision. The matchup is the very definition of a 50-50 fight, in our view.
Garcia has been consistently underrated throughout his career, yet has always come up with the goods when needed. Garcia’s toughness and power are both underrated, as is his boxing ability. Garcia’s main weakness is a lack of speed, which some believe will be his downfall against Matthysse. Should Garcia choose to stand and trade left hooks with Matthysse as he did with Khan, the result will be far different.
But Matthysse is not exactly the fastest or slickest fighter in the world either. His strengths are punching, and taking a punch. It seems almost certain that he will see the final bell, and that he will have Garcia in trouble at some point during the fight. Matthysse has hurt every opponent he has faced, and many believe he has never deserved to lose a fight. The two losses on his record, both on points to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, are controversial to say the least. Matthysse advocates will argue till they’re blue in the face that both decisions should have gone his way.
I was ringside for the Alexander fight, and like most in the arena, I scored it for Devon. Later, upon viewing the replay on TV, my card tilted to Matthysse. I’m not sure what the implications of that are for boxing scoring at large, but in this particular case, it was a combination of Alexander’s strong chin and Matthysse’s occasional periods of inactivity. Lucas throws every punch with the purpose of hurting his opponent. Sometimes, he just doesn’t land enough to win the round.
Still, Garcia can be hit, and Matthysse almost certainly hits harder than anyone Danny has fought. Whether he can take Matthysse’s power will be immediately evident. If he can’t, it will be a short fight. If Garcia can weather the storm early, he should be able to work his jab and put his punches together against the Argentine. Garcia has a pretty mean left hook of his own, and he has shown the ability to land it against high-class opponents. Matthysse may be tough to stop, but a few heavy left hooks to the gut would go a long way toward slowing him down.
I had been leaning toward picking Garcia for this fight, so I’m not going to chicken out just because Matthysse would be the easy answer. I honestly think Matthysse is the more gifted fighter, especially physically, but Garcia has something special inside him. The most important muscle a fighter has is heart. Danny Garcia’s heart is as big as anyone in the sport. That’s why we’re picking him to win a split decision.
The Pay Per View undercard is just minutes away from starting, so we’ll be brief about the other televised fights. The opener between Mexico’s Pablo Cesar Cano (left)and England’s Ashley Theophane should be an entertaining scrap between two good but not great welterweights. Theophane recently signed with Mayweather Promotions, but it will feel like a hometown crowd for Cano with all the Mexicans in the arena. We like Cano to win a decision in a rough fight.
The final fight on the card is matches two hard-luck junior middleweights finally getting their shot at the big time. Las Vegas native Ishe Smith brought pride to his hometown by defeating Cornelius Bundrage at Detroit’s Masonic Temple and stealing his IBF trinket. The belt is an empty honor, but it still means the world to Smith. Carlos Molina has become the fighter no one wants to face in recent years, which is why he has had trouble getting in with the division’s biggest names.
Molina (right) has a steady, workmanlike style that isn’t made for TV. He is crafty on defense and busy on offense, but doesn’t do anything in particular especially well. Molina was beating James Kirkland when his cornerman entered the ring, resulting in a disqualification. He also owns a disputed draw with Erislandy Lara in a fight that many thought Molina won. Smith’s best wins are over Bundrage and Pawel Wolak, while his losses are more recent and less defensible. We like Molina to win the decision.