Twenty-six of Lucas Matthysse's 28 victories have come by knockout. The 28-year-old junior welterweight contender has only lost one professional fight, a debatable 12-round split decision to Zab Judah last November.
Matthysse dropped Judah, who has since regained a major 140-pound belt, en route to that razor-thin loss. In his last fight, in January, Matthysse knocked DeMarcus Corley down nine times before referee Hernan “Marquis de Sade” Guajardo finally spared the former titleholder in the eighth round.
Given his take-no-prisoners track record, I figured Matthysse trains like a rabid animal but that’s not what I saw during a recent visit to the World Crown Sports gym in Oxnard, Calif., where the Argentine smasher has prepared for his HBO-televised fight with Devon Alexander on Saturday.
It was my first time watching Matthysse train and I expected to witness a relentless puncher blast his way through a power workout. Instead, I watched a smooth technician steadily ply his craft with more poise than power.
Matthysse’s face had the serene look of a Zen master practicing Tai Chi as he diligently maneuvered through his floor exercises, ring drills and heavy bag work last Saturday.
He was the picture of calm as he lunged, kicked and high stepped the length of the gym during a series of plyomeric-style warm-up exercises, yet he still exuded confidence.
I got the feeling that boxing — and its grueling, often monotonous training — comes naturally for Matthysse. Adam Flores, the co-owner of the gym that middleweight champ Sergio Martinez calls home, agreed with that observation.
“It’s almost genetic with him,” said Flores. “Everybody in his family has fought at one time, even his mother. He’s a consummate pro.”
Matthysse carried the graceful movements of his warm up into the ring, where he threw fluid combinations as he shadow boxed a few rounds.
“Nothing he does seems forced,” I told Flores, who helps coordinate camps for all the fighters trained by the Sarmiento brothers (Gabriel and Pablo), which includes Martinez and 140-pound fringe contender Victor Cayo.
“You should have seen him in sparring,” Flores said. “The timing is there. He pin-points more with his punches. His power has definitely increased since his last camp. We put him through the same strength and conditioning exercises that Sergio does and it’s paying off.”
Matthysse’s body is definitely harder than it was for the Judah fight, but I was more impressed with the fighter’s technique than I was with his physique.
His form was much tighter than I recalled from his fights with Judah and Corley. His chin was tucked and his body was at an angle as he shot out arrow-straight jabs and right hands. Matthysse’s combinations were compact, and he mixed some nice lateral movement and pivots in with is rapid-fire punches.
I noticed his proper foot placement, which contributed to his balance and added leverage to his shots, as he worked mitts with co-trainer Cuty Barrera.
“Listen to the sound of that right hand,” Flores said. “There’s so much power, but it’s effortless, like a good golf swing.”
Effortless is a good word to describe the manner in which Matthysse dipped and ducked under the four ropes crisscrossed atop the ring during his head-movement practice.
He glided clockwise and counter clockwise around the perimeter of the ring without so much as grazing one of the eight ropes he had to bob under. He made it look easy. He made it look fun.
Matthysse followed up his ring work by alternating the next six or seven rounds on four heavy bags of various shapes, sizes and heights, practicing different techniques, such as in-fighting, long-range punching, body shots, and footwork. He was clearly pushing himself through the heavy bag workout but his face never changed expression and he didn’t seem to breathe hard at all.
Matthysse said these drills were not as easy to execute at the start of camp.
“I’ve been here eight weeks,” he told me through Flores. “With the kind of preparation I’ve had, I feel real strong and confident. I think that’s the reason I look so comfortable.”
Bashing his opponents into submission used to be second nature to Matthysse but he wants to be just as comfortable boxing and employing specific strategies in the ring.
He’s come a long way toward achieving that goal in a short period of time, according to Flores.
“I think he always had the ability to be slick,” Flores said. “He’s a good counter puncher. He came here to work on that ability as well as his movement, his defense. He wants to become a complete fighter, not just a complete banger.”
A banger is all that Matthysse’s older brother Walter Matthysse turned out to be. Walter, who fought in the welterweight division, scored 24 knockouts on his way to a 25-0 record. However, he got the hell beat out of him when he stepped up his competition and faced fellow undefeated prospect Paul Williams in 2006. Walter lost four of his next five fights — all by knockout — before he hung up his gloves in ‘09.
Matthysse learned from watching his brother that it takes more than brass balls and a big punch to make it on the world class level.
“I used to just fight and try to knock the other guy out when I got in the ring,” he said. “I was successful doing that but I know that won’t be enough against a skillful boxer like Alexander. That’s why I came here to train and to be around more-experienced trainers. I’m learning how to win with more intelligence. I’m not going in there to brawl it out.”
However, just because Matthysse trains with a cool head and wants to add more technique to his game doesn’t mean we should expect him try to beat Alexander with finesse on Saturday.
Matthysse is still a puncher at heart.
“(The judges) took the Judah fight away from me the last time I fought in the U.S.,” he said. “I’m going to St. Louis, Mo., Alexander’s hometown, to fight him, so I’m definitely going to knock him out.”
Photos by Scott Kilbride.