By Tyson Bruce
The good news about this weekends boxing card on Showtime is that you get to see Keith Thurman, Lucas Matthysse and Omar Figueroa on the same card. The bad news is that they are all involved in egregious mismatches.
Thurman is fighting the long faded veteran and former titleholder Julio Diaz. While Matthysse will be making his first comeback bout since his upset loss to Danny Garcia against fringe contender John Molina, whose come-forward style appears made to order for “the Machine.” Omar Figueroa is taking on old amateur rival Jerry Belmontes, in a bout that screams three mismatches are better than two.
That Keith Thurman, 22-0-0-(20), is in the main event and Lucas Matthysse isn’t says wonders about the way their 2013 campaigns ended. Going into 2013 Thurman was regarded as an overrated Al Haymon protected hype, while Matthysse was considered perhaps boxing’s most avoided practitioner. Ironically, it’s now Thurman whose natural athletic talent and two-fisted punching power has top opponents avoiding him in droves. After Matthysse was so thoroughly out-boxed by Danny Garcia it has many experts pondering whether he may in fact be the one-dimensional slugger we once thought he was.
Keith Thurman is fighting Julio Diaz by default. Reportedly Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaffer offered the fight to everyone from Robert Guerrero to Zab Judah, only to be rebuked. Fighting Thurman for a couple hundred thousand dollars is a tough way to make a living—just ask Jesus Soto Karass. Diaz is taking the fight because like most aging veterans he believes he’s fought better and needs the money. Thurman himself has admitted fighting Diaz is a massive let down from what he’d been expecting after such an impressive 2013 campaign.
Julio Diaz was likely selected as the showcase opponent because he’s so recently been in the ring with Amir Khan and Shawn Porter, both of whom are potential Thurman adversaries. In fact, Diaz managed to give both fighters a complete nightmare in the ring. Khan eked out a close decision, while Porter had to settle for a draw and lethargic decision victory. If Thurman were to dismissively blast Diaz out of the water he would be making one hell of a statement about his potential in the division.
Regardless of who Thurman is fighting, he is must watch TV because of his knockout power and TV friendly bad intensions. He is part of a young group of welterweights, including Garcia, Porter, Broner and Brook that are beginning to close in on the older generation. Which of these young men can stay the course and emerge as boxing’s next superstar has yet to be determined, but the race is definitely on. Staying focused and beating a tricky veteran like Julio Diaz is an essential part of that journey for Thurman.
Matthysse, 34-3-0-(32), is fighting John Molina because Golden Boy has to reestablish his brand as a destructive monster. A couple of brutal knockout wins over some slightly credible opponents is sure to have people thinking the loss to Garcia was nothing more than an aberration. That’s just the way boxing works. The truth, however, is more complicated than that.
To say that Matthysse’s loss to Garcia was a disappointment would be the understatement of the year. He was heavily favored because Garcia was considered an ordinary fighter with a champion’s heart—certainly not enough to resist a puncher like Matthysse. The fight started out that way as well, as Matthysse charged out at Garcia and it looked like a matter of time until he would be overwhelmed. Garcia, however, flipped the script by counterpunching Matthysse’s increasingly predictable charges and withstanding his big shots. Matthysse, like many great punchers before him, had no backup plan. Was he exposed or underprepared?
We aren’t likely to find out against John Molina, who is as game as they come but also as basic. What we are likely to see is an absolute brawl for as long as it happens to last. Molina knows one way to fight: come forward and try to land something big. In many ways he’s sort of the poor man’s version of Matthysse. The difference between the two is a great puncher versus a good puncher and a good chin versus a bad chin. In other words, this is not the fight to get up and grab another beer or take a quick smoke break because it’s going to end early and potentially at any moment.
The Omar Figueroa-Jerry Belmonte’s fight feels like an attempt by Golden Boy to overwhelm quality with quantity. It’s sort of like attending a lame party because their handing out lush gift bags. Figueroa, 22-0-0-(17), is one of boxing’s youngest and most fan friendly fighters on the planet. His all action style is the kind of thing great sleeper undercards are made on. Although his opponent Jerry Belmontes, 19-3-0-(5), is probably just as big of an underdog as Diaz or Molina, there is a real built in story line.
Figueroa and Belmontes are old amateur rivals with Belmontes beating Figueroa an astonishing five times as an amateur. This provides an added layer of incentive for Figueroa to bring his absolute best to the ring come Saturday night. Plus, everyone loves a good old fashion revenge story. You can also be sure that Belmontes will try to prove that he has Figueroa’s number. Sometimes an amateur victory can greatly reflect what will happen in the pros—just look at Vernon Forrest versus Shane Mosley. Regardless, when was the last time Figueroa was ever in a bad fight? That’s reason enough to watch.
This Saturday nights Showtime boxing card feels like a stop over—a tune up for bigger things to come. However, those kinds of fights can often be the most dangerous. Danny Garcia very nearly soiled years of accomplishment by underestimating the tricky Mauricio Herrera. Thurman, Matthysee, nor Figueroa can afford a slip up if they want more serious fights going forward. That is what’s at stake.