When Mike Dallas Sr. lost his battle with leukemia this past fall, it left the California boxing scene and his son Mike Dallas Jr. with a heavy heart. Dallas Sr. was a respected man in the Bakersfield community for his work with troubled youths at the Police Athletic League and was his son’s trainer.
Sometimes in life, you have to weather the storm before opportunity arrives. For Dallas Jr., that chance came in the form of a phone call a few weeks ago, asking him if he could step in for Hank Lundy to fight power-punching junior welterweight contender Lucas Matthysse on short notice.
Dallas Jr. contemplated the task ahead, weighed his options with his trainer, Virgil Hunter, and readily accepted the “opportunity everyone dreams about as a boxer.”
Oddsmakers and pundits are giving Dallas Jr.(19-2-1, 8 knockouts) little chance heading into his Showtime-televised main event on Saturday at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. But with a heavy heart and the night dedicated to his late father, Dallas Jr. plans to deliver a breakout performance and upset the 14-1 odds in his premium network debut.
“I’m just gonna take my father with me in the ring and give it my all and get this ‘W’ for him,” Dallas Jr. told RingTV. “This is my motivation. This is the first fight he ain’t here – it just made me stronger. I want to win a championship, not just for me, but for him also.”
Dallas Jr., 26, came up the hard way as a prospect, fighting tough fringe contenders at a stage where most highly-regarded newcomers are still facing no-hopers. The early tests produced two blemishes on his record – losses to Mauricio Herrera and Josesito Lopez – and Hunter believes Dallas Jr. flies under the radar because of it. But the BWAA’s Trainer of the Year for 2011 also believes that the experience Dallas gained from those early defeats helped his new charge grow as a fighter.
“Mike Dallas has matured mentally,” said Hunter, best known for guiding Andre Ward at his Oakland-based Kings Boxing Gym. “He has a tough style for Matthysse, being a southpaw boxer. No one is invincible.”
Growing up in Bakersfield, Dallas spent many of his days in boxing gyms watching his father spar. Boxing is in his blood. A third-generation pugilist, he remembers being at his dad’s fights, gazing at the crowd as they watched his dad compete and knew he would one day follow in his footsteps. Dallas Sr. ended his career with a record of 12-13-1 and never came close to a title shot, but Dallas Jr. hopes to one day achieve what his father and grandfather never did.
“It’s what I’ve dreamed about, fighting in a big fight,” said Dallas, who compiled a 115-12 record as an amateur. “I just want to accomplish more than they did. I want to be the first world champion in the family. There’s nothing like fighting in the fight capital of the world in your biggest fight. This is a big stage to perform on and I’m ready.”
There’s a good reason you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone picking Dallas to defeat Matthysse (32-2, 30 knockouts). Dallas showed a questionable chin in a knockout loss to Lopez in 2011 and has a lot of scar tissues over his eyes from gashes suffered in fights. It seems to make the perfect recipe for Matthysse, who has one of the best knockout ratios in the sport and is a relentless pressure fighter.
But both of Matthysse’s losses came to southpaw boxers with good speed and movement (controversial decision defeats to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander), a style Dallas shares with his opponents’ conquerors (sans the left-handed stance). Matthysse is a notorious slow starter and Dallas says he plans to “get all the rounds he can in the bank and make the most of each round.
“He’s on a winning streak and he’s fought a lot of top guys, but in boxing there’s always an underdog who has to step up,” Dallas said. “I have good movement and speed so that will be to my advantage.
“I’ve fought a lot of strong guys and the main thing is you have to stick to your game plan. In my only losses, I didn’t have any experience. Now I’m going to be more smart in there and focused in the ring; me and Virgil have been working on a lot of things. I’m learning more and more each day and people will see it in the fight. Box and stay calm is the plan.”
When a fighter loses a loved one before a fight, it can either propel them to new heights or distract them and lead to a dull performance. Dallas is confident that the passing of his father will carry him to the win on Saturday, the kind of victory his father always envisioned for his son.
“I stay strong,” said Dallas. “I know he would like to see me get this win; we talked about fighting on this stage all the time. I’m gonna get the win and shock a lot of people. I’m just ready to step up and take the challenge.”
Photos / Naoki Fukuda, Jan SAnders-Goossen Tutor Promotions
Mike Coppinger is a contributor to USA TODAY’s boxing coverage. You can find his work at: mikecoppinger.com. Write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger