By Tyson Bruce
Few fighters entered 2013 with more expectations and promise than Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner. They were two of boxing’s most exciting new stars. Mattyhsse looked like the second coming of Wilfredo Gomez with his seemingly inhuman punching power and Broner looked like a virtuoso talent that seemed poised to take over as the sports next top talent. Less than a year later, expectations have plummeted, with both fighters suffering major defeats against elite fighters.
To the disdain of many boxing fans Broner and Matthysse will not be fighting each other Saturday night, but will instead take on fringe contenders in what seems to be an audition for something bigger. It’s perhaps not surprising because in their rebound fights both fighters struggled mightily against opponents they were supposed to steam roll.
Broner, 28-1-0-(22), in particular looked listless against the very basic Carlos Molina and failed to recapture the hype that had preceded the Maidana disaster. Matthysse, 35-3-0-(33), was much more impressive against the rugged John Molina but the Argentine slugger looked more vulnerable than ever in what was perceived to be a showcase fight. Matthysse took two trips to the canvas and fell behind early before rallying to score a thrilling eleventh round stoppage. Obviously, the handlers of Broner and Matthysse (they share a certain powerful adviser) felt that more “rebuilding” was required before taking another risky fight.
To say that Adrien Broner’s ego has taken a bit of a beating in the last year would be a massive understatement. His abrasive and egomaniacal stick worked as long as he was winning but since taking a whipping from Marcos Maidana people seem to have grown tired of his routine. After winning a monotonous decision victory over Molina he deemed the fight, “a sparring session on TV”—failing to understand that was not a positive statement about his performance. Making it seem like you intentionally failed to give people their moneys worth isn’t an enduring quality. The Molina fight served as further evidence for the critics that believe he is just not the same fighter he was in the lower weights.
At 130 and 135 so much of what made Broner effective was his ability to impose his size and physically breakdown his opponents. In doing so, experts overlooked some glaring weaknesses in his game. Broner suffers from the counterpunchers curse in that his offensive is dependant on reacting to his opponent’s offense. In fact, he struggled against Maidana for the same reasons as Mayweather in that their inactivity gave Maidana opportunities to win rounds simply by being more aggressive. Broner’s reliance on the shoulder roll defense also negates the effectiveness of his jab—a critical tool for setting up other punches, as well as keeping an opponent at bay. These weaknesses were exposed early in Broner’s career when he scored controversial decisions against Fernando Quintero and Daniel Ponce Deleon, but were ignored to fit the narrative of his invincibility.
Additionally, Broner has failed, at least thus far, to bring his punching power up in weight with him. Just think about how much Broner struggled with the same version of Malignaggi that Shawn Porter walked through. After two titanic struggles at welterweight Broner’s brain trust felt that a move to welterweight, as well as a retooling of his skill-set, was required. However, against Molina it was the same old Broner, as he struggled to impose his style on a naturally bigger fighter. Listening to Broner talk about how he never studies his opponents and his unwillingness to own up to any flaws gives one the sense that his ego, more than a lack of talent, may be his true Achilles heel.
Lost beneath the massive criticism he rightfully took for the Maidana disaster, was the fact that he showed a real fighter’s heart in that bout. A lot of people, like for instance Victor Ortiz, would have folded under the heavy artillery he took from Maidana. Yet, it was Broner that was coming on at the end of that fight, even managing to stun Maidana in the twelfth round. Whatever criticism you want to hurl his way, you cannot question Broner’s heart.
Broner’s opponent Emanuel Taylor, 18-2-0-(12), is a solid if not spectacular fighter—probably residing somewhere between Molina and Maidana as a talent. Taylor boasts some impressive victories, including Victor Cayo and Karim Mayfield and lost a competitive decision against the top rated Chris Algieri. Taylor is a well-rounded boxer and has never been stopped as a pro. He has likely been selected as the opponent because of his modest punching power. Taylor’s experience against quality opposition will also serve as a measuring stick for where Broner is at in the 140-pound ranks. In order to get momentum going again it’s paramount that Broner not only win but also win in spectacular fashion. If he were to be the first to stop Taylor it would be a big statement—if not it’s just another overpaid exhibition.
Unlike Adrien Broner, Lucas Matthysse has proven that be belongs with elite Junior Welterweights. Mattyhsse has scored knockout victories over Lamont Peterson and Humberto Soto and lost controversial decisions to Devon Alexander and a still useful version of Zab Judah. However, after destroying Lamont Peterson many felt that the Argentine was coming into his own and looked poised to become one of boxing’s premier fighters. He was heavily favored to defeat Danny Garcia but instead received a boxing lesson for the majority of the twelve rounds. Instantaneously, many experts began to wonder if they had fallen for the allure of the puncher and overrated Matthysse.
Mattyhsse is a fighter that is cut from a bygone era of boxing—the strong silent type that lets his fists do the talking for him. He’s also probably one of the top five biggest punchers in the sport. Matthysse is much like Kelly Pavlik and George Foreman in that he never looks like he’s punching as hard as he does but just ask any of his previous opponents and they will attest to his brutal strength. It’s easy to overrate a puncher because they so often win showcase fights in spectacular fashion. Danny Garcia proved that a well-rounded game trumps a massive punch nearly every time, as he exposed Matthysse’s lack of tact and reliance on his power. His epic struggle with John Molina, a strong but fairly limited fighter, only reinforced this.
The question that now persists is whether Matthysse is simply a top five or so boxer in a talented weight class or an authentically elite prize fighter. Matthysse, of course, will not be able to prove either against Roberto Ortiz. Ortiz brings a glitzy 31-0-1-(24) record into the bout but does not possess a single notable victory on his record. Clearly, his 75% knockout ratio indicates that he has a certain degree of punching power. Ortiz has likely been selected as the opponent because his pressure style will mesh well with Matthysse’s bloodthirsty temperament. It will almost assuredly be a fantastic action fight for as long as it lasts and serves the preemptive secondary purpose of counteracting what could be a boring main event. Whatever you think Matthysse’s ceiling is, no one can deny that he is must see TV.
Broner and Matthysse are in showcase fights for the second straight time because lingering doubts remain about their ability to recover from critical defeats. Ironically, the chance to get back to the top will likely come against each other barring any disasters Saturday night. Broner will have the extra incentive of trying to impress a hometown audience that he has previously thrilled with knockout victories. Matthysse’s seek and destroy mentality doesn’t require any extra incentive—it’s just who he is. Regardless, we will know a lot more about each boxers future come Sunday morning.