By Johnny Walker
It was an unfortunate time for Antonio Tarver to get caught taking steroids, as the erstwhile Showtime boxing analyst (whose name was not uttered by anyone during the broadcast) missed out on arguably the most action-packed boxing card of the year last night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
First up was a dynamic matchup between super welterweights Humberto Sotos and Lucas Matthysse. Matthysse came into the fight with bad memories of his recent fights in the United States, a robbery split decision loss to Devon Alexander in the latter man’s St. Louis backyard, and a questionable split decision loss to Zab Judah in New Jersey.
On this night, Matthysse was determined not to let the fight go to the judges.
Soto and Matthysse both acquitted themselves admirably, trading hard punches from the get-go. But it was the Argentinian Matthysse’s stellar work to the body that was having the most impact as the rounds went on. Soto began to clinch more often by round three, trying to blunt the ferocious body attack that Matthysse was putting on him. But finally he succumbed in round five, when three successive hard right hands from Matthysse put Sotos down—and out—for the first time in his career.
With the win, Matthysse (31-2-0, 29 KOs) picks up the WBC Continental Americas Light Welterweight title.
The main event took up where the opener left off, as welterweight “Vicious” Victor Ortiz—looking toward a September fight with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez—took on Josesito Lopez, a replacement for another recently unmasked steroid cheat, Andre Berto.
The idea here was that Lopez was a mere opponent for Ortiz, a warm-up for the real deal with Alvarez in the fall. Unfortunately for Ortiz, someone forgot to tell Lopez about his expected role. What ensued after the opening bell was a back-and-forth fistic firefight, with each man staggering the other numerous times. Ortiz dealt out plenty of punishment to the challenger, whose left eye was badly swollen in the latter stages of the fight, but Lopez was a resolute man, soaking it all up and asking for more.
Ortiz seemed to be growing frustrated with the dogged determination of Lopez as the bout progressed, resorting to a rabbit punch in round five that saw the bout momentarily stopped. Lopez was able to continue after a brief recovery period, and again the action was intense, with momentum shifts galore.
Ortiz was hanging on to a slim lead in the ninth round when he was tagged by a hard shot from Lopez while his mouth was open. Ortiz fought well until the end of the round, but then found that he could not close his mouth, which was bleeding profusely. After a brief deliberation in the corner, Ortiz decided he could not continue, and the underdog Lopez celebrated joyously as the winner.
“Yeah, Josesito broke my jaw,” Ortiz said after the fight.
“I couldn’t close my mouth and it was very painful every time he touched me.” Ortiz was taken to the hospital shortly after the fight.
“I knew I had to fight the fight of my life to win,” said a happy Lopez.
“I hurt him with a few punches in every round. He hits hard, man, but there was no way I was going to quit. I am the Mexican Paul Williams.”
With the win, Lopez picks up the WBC silver welterweight title.
In the aftermath, Ortiz (29-4-2, 22 KOs), who quit on a match against Marcos Maidana earlier in his career, is sure to have his heart questioned by some. But quitting because a fight is not going your way and quitting because your jaw is broken are two very different things. Many boxing fans want fighters to be comic book superheroes –no doubt the reason so many of them resort to using steroids—but in reality, a broken jaw is a very serious medical problem that can have life-long health implications, so it’s hard for any fair-minded observer to criticize Ortiz for stopping.
As for Lopez (30-4-0, 18 KOs), a virtual unknown outside of hard-core boxing circles coming into the fight, the sky now seems to be the limit. A rematch clause may be exercised by Ortiz, but obviously that will have to wait until his injured jaw can once again withstand the punishment dealt out inside the squared circle.