How Do You Solve A Problem Like Lucas Matthysse?

(credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)

So it looks like we have a new superstar — a new Manny Pacquiao, if you choose to believe the CEO of the company that promotes him. Lucas Matthysse, the taciturn, mysterious Argentinian who for so long lurked on the fringes of the fans’ consciousness at 140, popping up here and there to blow away an unfortunate opponent with unstoppable barrages of ambidextrous power, only to come up short in his two biggest fights against Devon Alexander and Zab Judah, seems to have finally arrived. Blasting out Lamont Peterson in three rounds over the weekend was an outcome very few outside of Matthysse’s camp predicted beforehand. We all knew he had power, sure. But Peterson had never come close to being stopped in any his previous fights, with his most recent outing, against a big, albeit limited puncher in Kendall Holt, arguably being his finest performance to date.

Matthysse’s declaration of war has not only served to rip open the light welterweight division and make Danny Garcia a very nervous man, it’s also forced a lot of marketeers to go back to the drawing board behind the scenes and contemplate how exactly they are to make the most of this thrilling new “artista de knockout.” Comparisons with Pacquiao are all well and good, but they overlook the key factor in Manny’s rise to superstardom: a little known Mexican-American named Oscar De La Hoya. Pacquiao made his name off the beating he dished out to the Golden Boy back in 2008. He was known to boxing fans beforehand, of course, but that megafight made headlines around the world, and immediately gained the Pacman a legion of followers with a taste for the Vegas lights and ever-steeper pay-per-view pricetags. The same goes for Floyd Mayweather, even if he’d be loathe to admit it. A cursory glance at Pretty Boy’s PPV buy figures before and after the De La Hoya fight is all that’s needed to spell out the boost it gave him.

In short, both guys used victories over De La Hoya, at the time the most marketable name in the sport, to catapult themselves into its uppermost strata. Matthysse has no such luxury, unless Oscar fancies coming out of retirement and foregoing the life of private jets and corporate lunches he currently enjoys for the task of slimming down to super lightweight and pounding the slopes of Big Bear once last time. I suppose you could argue that Floyd’s the current Golden Boy, and he certainly isn’t one to shy away from the role of “payday provider.” But there’s no way he’s going to step in with Matthysse any time soon, whether at 140 or 147. It would be a hell of a fight — and I’d favour Floyd being able to frustrate his stocky, relatively short-armed opponent with potshots en route to a decision win — but it’s just far too big a risk considering the stage of his career and the relatively low profile Matthysse currently holds.

Therefore, with the megafight off the table, the PR teams of Golden Boy and Showtime are left to consider other options.

It’s highly unlikely that Matthysse — a man who I’ve never heard speak (or even appear to comprehend) a single word of English, and by all accounts enjoys a solitary life with his daughter and collection of dogs in a remote corner of Patagonia — is going to develop into a trash-talking, supermodel-dating circus act overnight. While it would be great to see him sign up to Instagram and start posting heavily filtered snaps of $10,000 bundles scattered around his hotel room, or possibly befriend a famous New York hip hop artist and then fall out with them spectacularly, it’s not likely to happen. The whole “learning English” thing is out, too. We’re forever being told that middleweight champion Sergio Martinez is learning English, but the only two words he says are “good luck” when he touches gloves with his opponent. I suppose he might just be wary of dipping his toe in the proverbial linguistic water, and who could blame him when you consider the way fight fans mock Gennady Golovkin’s game attempts to conduct his post-fight interviews in their native tongue?

In this regard, however, less is often more with boxers. How the public love to see the big-mouthed, opinionated, media hungry fighters fall. Just look at the way lightweight Adrien Broner so polarises opinion, despite being arguably the most naturally gifted young fighter of his generation. In this sense, none of Matthysse’s aforementioned limitations should be viewed in too much of a negative light. His avoidance of the glitzy side of the sport is part of what makes him so attractive to serious boxing fans. He’s a throwback in that way, an echo reminiscent of a time in which fighters were fighters, rather than celebrities with gloves. His laconic dedication to the sport echoes the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez during the opening stanzas of his long career, or Mike Tyson while he was still working his way up to the rank of heavyweight kingpin, or even a young, remorseless George Foreman, with those dead eyes and that disregard for the wellbeing of the heavy bag.

All this, when allied to the earth-shattering power, excellent head movement and sound ring fundamentals, goes some way to explaining Matthysse’s hardcore appeal. Yet if the men in suits wish to elevate him beyond this initial audience, the boxing powers that be may find they have shot themselves in the foot, as a technically undefeated Lucas Matthysse certainly has the marketing edge over the morally undefeated version. Somehow, I don’t think the Golden Boy execs would be pressuring the judges to favour the hometown fighters if “The Machine” were to travel to either Judah’s or Alexander’s backyard today.

Accordingly, with the options of either a megafight and the suddenly appearance of a showman’s persona off the table, we are left with the power of the super cool nickname to raise the fighter’s profile. Now, I’m aware that everyone’s started calling him ‘The Machine’, allegedly stemming from an earlier fight in which a Showtime commentator misheard his middle name Martin during the introduction – a story that could well be apocryphal but is by no means unbelievable when you consider Matthysse’s stoic disregard for any of the pageantry that surrounds the life of a professional boxer. Somehow, I can’t see him stood beside a whiteboard blueskying potentially badass nicknames with his promotional team. No matter. I’ve done the job for him! If someone could copy the list of 10 below and send it to his manager, that would be great.

  1. Cold Blooded: his old nickname, which was inexplicably dropped some time in 2010 despite being amazing. It takes on an added suitability now, seeing as he admitted to eating iguana during training camp in the new year.

  1. The Sandman: because, in the words of Paulie Malignaggi, “he touches you and you go to sleep.”

  1. Mustang: contingent on the rattail making a reappearance.

  1. Cool Hand Lucas: along with a possible movie tie-in. Imagine him training to eat 50 hardboiled eggs during episodes of All Access.

  1. Bad Man: to be set alongside “Good Boy” Gennady Golovkin. Although this only really works if they co-headline every show for the rest of their careers…

  1. The King of Rock and Roll: well, he’s already got the name Priscilla tattooed on his chest!

  1. El Gaucho: with an accompanying ringwalk involving a poncho, some steaks and one of those massive South American hunting knives.

  1. Manos de Muerte (Hands of Death): depending on whether it would be culturally acceptable to respray one of those Mexican skull dudes in the Argentine colours.

  1. Lights Out: I actually think this fits really well with the cadence of his name. Lucas “Lights Out” Matthysse. Rolls off the tongue, no? Just as long as no one tells James Toney…

  1. Debbie – Because he did a number on (Mike) Dallas.