Monday, April 28, 2014

Opinions and Observations: Matthysse, Thurman and Figueroa

Although it wasn't the main event of Saturday's fight card, the battle between Lucas Matthysse and John Molina captivated boxing audiences and will surely be in the discussion for year-end awards. Molina, who was a heavy underdog, got off to a blazing start, scoring a knockdown in the second, stunning Matthysse a few other times and getting credit for a second knockdown in the fifth. But Matthysse rallied and took control in the second half of the fight, dropping Molina in the 8th, 10th and ending it in the 11th after referee Pat Russell waved the bout off after a third knockdown. 

The last six rounds of the fight were what was expected going into this matchup, with Matthysse having too much power and boxing ability for the cruder Molina, who can be one-dimensional winging power shots. What was unanticipated was Matthysse's difficulty in taking Molina's punches. Prior to Matthysse's fight with Danny Garcia, he was thought of as having an iron chin, a knockout artist who had full confidence in his beard. In the Garcia fight, Matthysse went down in the 11th, more from being out of position than hurt by a huge shot; however, Saturday was something different. I don't think that Molina even landed his best right hand in the second, yet Matthysse dropped to the canvas. Sure, Molina has good power, but he's not Randall Bailey or Julian Jackson in the ring.

What I found most distressing about Saturday was 157 – Matthysse’s unofficial weight going into the fight. Rehydrating 17 pounds after the weigh-in is a sure sign that he had trouble making weight and/or he spent much of training camp losing pounds instead of keeping in shape while he was out of the ring. His legs didn't look good in the early rounds. Couple Matthysse's conditioning issues with his pattern of slow starts (which had gotten better recently) and Molina's early success can be even better understood. 

Ultimately, I don't think that Matthysse is long for the junior welterweight division. His power will still play up at 147 and he could be a factor in the division – very similar to the success that his countryman Marcos Maidana has had at welterweight. Sure, Matthysse might continue at 140, but it's possible that physically he is taking too much out of himself to make weight. 

However, what won't play up for Matthysse at 147 is his bad decision making. Matthysse started the fight trying to end it with every shot, unloading huge right hands and left hooks. With those wide punches, Molina could successfully land in between them. Once Matthysse decided to use his jab to initiate offense, the fight became easy. Matthysse has developed bad habits over the years. Now he immediately expects to knock out opponents. He can be a very competent pressure-style boxer/puncher when he wants to be, but when he is in pure knockout mode he leaves himself way too open. Matthysse has enough pure power that knockouts will come without having to load up on shots, but he hasn't fully bought into that approach, which is to his detriment.  

It was a thrilling fight, but much of the reason why it was so memorable can be attributed to Matthysse's strategic mistakes and conditioning issues. He can be an undisciplined fighter and he takes a number of rounds to make adjustments. Yes, he rallied with heroic conviction and he is as entertaining as anyone in boxing, but the more I see him, the less I think that he can be an elite guy. In my estimation, his ceiling has been lowered. He is certainly capable of winning a title or two before his career is over but he can be outthought, outboxed and now we know that his chin can be dented. These are not wonderful trend lines. 

Let's give Molina credit for giving himself the opportunity to win the fight. Moving up from 135 to 140, he was brought in to lose. However, Molina didn't succumb to intimidation. He had the right game plan and was in excellent condition. His right hands were pulverizing and put the whole division on notice. Molina's defense is entirely too leaky to be a well-rounded guy but he's become a hell of a one-trick pony. If he learns to put a few punches behind his right hand he could be even more successful. I'm not a huge believer in good losses in boxing but if there is such a thing, Molina had one on Saturday. He'll have lots of options for a meaningful fight in the near future.

Finally, I'm tired of Pat Russell blowing fights. In my opinion, he called two bullshit knockdowns in the match (Matthysse going to the canvas in the fifth, which was a shot behind the head, and Molina dropping in the eighth, which was a flagrant push by Matthysse). In the last few years, Russell, 65, has made poor calls in Bradley-Provodnikov and Hopkins-Dawson I that are frankly inexplicable. It's as if the sport is moving too fast for him and he resorts to making it up as he goes along. Friends of mine in California tell me that Russell was once the best ref in the state; well, those days are long gone. Give that man his gold watch; it's time. 

My lasting image of Keith Thurman's fight with Julio Diaz was the final one: the look of sheer disgust on Thurman's face when Diaz didn't come out for the fourth round. Most fighters would be content with the victory and the short night's work but Thurman is cut from a different cloth. He wanted to cause more damage; he wanted to impart a more thorough beating. 

Due to a rib injury, Diaz chose not to continue after the third round, which was actually the most competitive one of the fight. Diaz, 34 and a survivor of many wars, knew what he was up against. He had already been dropped in the second round from a left hook and understood that Thurman wasn't the type of fighter to mess around with when functioning at far less than 100%. Diaz made a calculated decision for his future after boxing and subsequently retired after the fight. The young gun had too much for him. 

Thurman now features five punches that range from above average to devastating (in no order: jab, left hook, right hand, left and right uppercut). He is athletic, goes to the body with force and has a fighting temperament that demands carnage. In short, he very well may be the goods. Yes, I didn't like how he got caught with a few overhand rights from Diaz and he can still get too wide with his shots on occasion, but he continues to improve. 

It will be fascinating to see what Golden Boy does with Thurman. Already Robert Guerrero and Marcos Maidana have turned down fights with him. He holds the interim WBA title and Maidana is the regular champion. Maidana's title will be put in play on Saturday against Floyd Mayweather. In the most likely scenario, Mayweather defeats Maidana, which should bode well for Thurman. Although Mayweather fights whomever and whenever he wants, if he decides to face Thurman in September or next year, then that is a great opportunity for the kid. If Mayweather decides to drop the belt, Thurman may pick up a title by default, which will also lead to bigger fights.  

Thurman, at 25, is 23-0 with 21 knockouts. He is bright, personable and would be a welcome addition to the sport's grandest stages. Although he has yet to defeat a top fighter, his power and temperament would be a challenge for almost anyone in the division. If he got the Mayweather shot, he'd be a healthy underdog – and deservedly so – but he would promote the shit out of that fight and make legions of new fans along the way. As choices go for Mayweather, he would be high up on my list. 

The concern with Thurman is that he could develop bad habits if his level of competition is not increased. Similar to Matthysse, who has truly fallen in love with his power, Thurman could start to slide if he's not appropriately challenged. Through caution or neglect, Thurman has had a lot longer time to develop than many other fighters in Golden Boy's stable; however, the company's job is not complete. It must push the fighter or his star wattage could dim. I would put Thurman in the ring with anyone at 147 and I hope that Golden Boy feels the same way about him. His time is now. 


One year ago, Omar Figueroa destroyed Abner Cotto in the first round. After that fight, Figueroa was thought of as a rare kind of young talent, a volume pressure fighter with incredibly heavy hands. Three months after that fight, Figueroa administered an epic beating to Nihito Arakawa, a game but outgunned challenger who refused to go down. After that fight, Figueroa had serious hand problems. He finally reentered the ring on Saturday against Jerry Belmontes, a fellow Texan who had lost three of his last five fights.

Belmontes did have one ace in the hole for Saturday's fight; he had beaten Figueroa five times in the amateurs. As early as the first round it was clear that Belmontes had a strong understanding of how to trouble Figueroa. Using spacing, movement and well-timed combinations and right hands, Belmontes immediately established his presence in the fight. 

The first four rounds of the match were actually quite special. Belmontes decided to mix up periods of boxing with prolonged stretches of slugging it out in close quarters. During these exchanges, both fighters landed and ate a ton of shots. It wasn't enough for Belmontes merely to outbox Figueroa; he wanted to impose his will on him physically. However, I believe that Belmontes' willingness to trade was a mistake. He fought Figueroa's fight, giving his slower opponent a chance to tag him with big shots. 

The back part of the fight was fairly pedestrian. Belmontes would move around the ring, land a few shots and give Figueroa a chance to flurry with multi-punch combinations at short range. To my eyes, Figueroa's shots in the later rounds were mostly arm punches and lacked any real power, but he was busier at points. 

I had Belmontes winning five of the last six rounds to squeak by with a 115-113 victory. The final scores were 115-113 (Belmontes) 116-112 (Figueroa) and 118-110 (Figueroa). Most members of the media who were at ringside or on Twitter had Belmontes winning or at minimum earning a draw. David Mendoza's 118-110 card was truly awful. (His score reflects either incompetence or corruption. He should never be judging professional boxing again. Period.) 

Both fighters could have done more. Belmontes was too sparse with his punch output in the later rounds. Although I thought that his ring generalship, defense and clean punching won him more than enough rounds, he certainly surrendered the aggression (effective or not) to Figueroa. In addition, Belmontes' 12th round was a pitiful display from a challenger with a fight on the line. He did just enough to nick the round in my opinion, but he exhibited no sense of urgency. It's a real mark against him. 

Figueroa's deficiencies in the fight were even more problematic. He spent large portions of the bout following Belmontes around the ring without throwing punches. His footwork wasn't good enough to consistently trap Belmontes or cut off the ring. In addition, Figueroa's vaunted power had vanished. His left hook had hardly any snap to it and he resorted to arm punches for much of the fight. 

There was a thought that Figueroa was almost a second coming of Brandon Rios but Rios, at least until Pacquiao, was willing to sell out to win. On Saturday, Figueroa didn't show the same type of determination that he had against Arakawa, and that is troublesome. 

Figueroa most likely will get beaten by the top fighters at lightweight. His punching power seems a fraction of what it once was and his footwork is limited. Perhaps he will recover his power, but did Arakawa take something else out of him – the willingness to engage in a war? Without that, Figueroa doesn't offer the boxing public much else. Although only 24, we may have already seen the best of Omar Figueroa.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at 
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

No comments:

Post a Comment