As a youngster who excelled at basketball and boxing, cruiserweight prospect Matt “Too Smooth” Godfrey was hell on the hardwood but virtually untouchable in the makeshift rings that were regularly set up in the Jack Brown housing projects where he grew up in his native Providence, Rhode Island.
“I always had a natural ability to get out of the way of punches, a real knack for it,” said the 6’0” Godfrey, who is now 24-years-old and 10-0 (5 KOs) as a professional. “Boxing came so easy to me.”
Realizing that he had unlimited potential, Godfrey followed one of his best friends, Jason Estrada, to Manfredo’s Gym in nearby Pawtucket, where he began training with Jason’s father Rolando and Peter Manfredo Sr., whose son Peter Jr. was a finalist in “The Contender” reality television series.
Estrada would go on to represent the United States as the super heavyweight in the 2004 Olympic Games. While he suffered a disappointing loss in Athens, Godfrey, who had a 194-23 amateur record, also had his share of Olympic-sized disappointments.
Many people expected him to represent the U.S. in 2000, but he was edged out at the Trials by Randy Griffin, who is now 22-1-2 (22 KOs) as a pro. In 2004, Godfrey lost to the eventual American representative Devon Vargas in the Trials, as well as to Chazz Witherspoon in the Box-Offs. What was especially disheartening about those losses was the fact that Godfrey had already beaten both of them.
In fact, there is no shortage of hot professional prospects that the well-spoken Godfrey has not beaten as an amateur. They include Griffen, Lenard Pierre, who is 18-1 (13 KOs); Vargas, who is 7-0 (4 KOs); Witherspoon, who is 9-0 (6 KOs); Corey “Black Ice” Cummings, who is 14-0 (11 KOs); and John Johnson, who is 10-0 (9 KOs).
“I thought it was a lock for me to go to the Olympics,” said Godfrey. “By the time I graduated from high school, I had two national championships as a boxer and none as a basketball player. When I weighed my options, boxing seemed the way to go.”
All in all Godfrey captured a slew of amateur titles, including six national championships, four open tournaments, the 2004 Everlast U.S. championship among them, two Junior Olympic titles, and six New England Golden Gloves crowns.
As despondent as Godfrey was about not making the Olympic team, he is still able to be philosophical about it. “As one window closes, another door opens,” he explained. “Right now I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.”
What that is is fighting hard, fighting often, and winning all the time. Since turning pro in May 2004, Godfrey has been on a very ambitious schedule. Nine of his ten fights have been televised nationally or regionally, and he has laced up the gloves in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida and Missouri.
“Fighting on the road prepares you for everything,” said Godfrey. “In the pro game, just like the amateur game, you can’t take anything for granted.”
Godfrey realizes that boxing is an unforgiving sport, but seems more than up to the challenge. He saw firsthand what he perceived to be shabby media treatment of Estrada for his lackluster effort in Athens.
“I’ve known Jason since first grade, so no one knows him better than me,” he explained. “I think his comments about losing were taken out of context. I feel that Jason meant well, gave 100 percent, and is still a great professional prospect.”
While Estrada continues to have plenty of critics, Godfrey’s career has been picking up steam. He plans on fighting another year just to gather experience before he starts trying to garner major titles.
He considers WBA/WBC champion Jean-Marc Mormeck the best cruiserweight in the world and believes that he will destroy IBF titlist O’Neill Bell when they meet in a unification bout at Madison Square Garden in January. Somewhere down the line, he would love to see himself standing across the ring from Mormeck.
“Besides myself, Mormeck and David Haye from England (who is 15-1, with 15 KOs) are the only guys that really stand out to me,” said Godfrey. “[Former WBC champion] Wayne Braithwaite was a big light heavyweight but a small cruiserweight. Mormeck walked through him.
“When Braithwaite fought Guillermo Jones, he showed how easy he was to hit,” he continued. “I think Mormeck will be around for a while. He’s a real strong, solid, all-around fighter.”
Another fighter Godfrey admires is Canadian contender Dale Brown. Although most people believe that Brown beat Bell for the vacant IBF title in May 2005, Brown has become the unofficial gatekeeper to the division’s elite.
“He’d be the perfect opponent for me a year down the road,” said Godfrey. “He’s an excellent boxer, but is underrated and ignored because he’s from up there (Canada). He’s not flashy or muscle-bound, but he gets the job done.”
Another option would also be eventually evolving into a heavyweight in much the same fashion that Evander Holyfield did. Godfrey has been working with a strength coach and says his walking around weight is about 225 pounds.
“I can make 200, but it’s getting harder and harder,” he said. “Right now I’m better off being a big cruiserweight than a small heavyweight.”
The future certainly looks golden for Godfrey. He is promoted by Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment & Sports Inc., managed by Bret Hallenback, and trained by Manfredo Sr.
Besides boxing he works part-time for the Providence Recreation Department, mentoring youngsters by playing sports with them and even helping them with their homework.
Although he came from somewhat humble beginnings, Godfrey is not by any stretch a hardscrabble man.
“I will not have any heavyweight plans until after I have a major cruiserweight title belt around my waist,” said the modest but confident Godfrey. “I have no business fighting as a heavyweight until then. There’s no need to rush anything. My time will come.”