A fighter taking a long layoff in his prime is a rare sight to see, unless the situation is forced by physical or legal matters. But after a 17-month-long soul-searching recess right during the pinnacle of his career, former WBC interim 140-pound titlist and fan favorite Lucas Matthysse claims that his reasons for staying away from the spotlight for such a long time were purely personal, and that he is ready to make up for his absence in his comeback bout against Emmanuel Taylor (20-4, 14 KO) on the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez-Chavez Jr. mega-bout on May 6th in Las Vegas.
“I just felt like resting a little bit,” said Matthysse (37-4, 34 KO), as he waited to board the plane that would take him to Indio, California, where he is currently putting in the final touches of his training camp under the guidance of Diaz.
“After my last loss I decided to return to Trelew, my hometown. I went back and had a great time for about eight or 10 months. I just enjoyed my family, went fishing, riding horses and motorcycles, and all of those things I hadn’t been able to enjoy before, and just being with my family. Then I resumed training little by little, and here I am, ready to come back”.
For other fighters, spending time with the family usually means staying away from boxing and having normal conversations concerning just about anything else. But that’s certainly not the case with Lucas, whose brother, sister, brother-in-law, father and even his mother were all fighters themselves. Going back to them meant getting fresh advice from the people who shaped his life both inside and out of the ring.
“I left my hometown when I was a kid,” said Matthysse, now 34, who roamed the countryside as a pre-teen alongside other aspiring young fighters including his buddy Marcos Maidana. They picked and sold fruits and vegetables to support themselves as they climbed up the amateur ranks in Argentina.
“Then I lived 10 years away from them in Junin, and this return to my roots was great for me. I needed to rest my head and my body. Those years in Junin were tough because we were alone, me and my wife, with a lot of tough fights and training camps and little rest. I really needed this, to start training when I felt I needed it. Nobody forced me. I did it because I love boxing, and because I am anxious to return.”
Matthysse’s anxiety was surely shared by his promoters, his handlers and especially his fan base in Argentina, who in a rare display of understanding did not turn their backs on him after what they perceived largely as a quit job in his fight against Victor Postol. Argentine sports fans can be quite unforgiving in situations like this one, but they apparently gave Matthysse — who purportedly suffered a fractured orbital bone in his left eye — the benefit of the doubt for his long and meritorious service.
As part of his self-imposed exile, Matthysse tried to remain oblivious to both criticism and praise — and he apparently succeeded.
“Right now I am not using Facebook or any social media platforms, but my sister and my friends tell me about it, and I am aware of the expectations that the fans in the US place on me and in Argentina as well,” said Matthysse, who cut all ties with the outside world as soon as he decided to resume his training, even after being very active on Facebook, where he posted pictures and more than a few misleading random thoughts about his relationship with boxing.
“I am very happy to see that they want me to face the best out there. I am always ready. And now I am back in the game and ready to go all the way.”
During this second part of his career, he is adopting a completely different approach to training and conditioning.
“I started training with my dad Mario, my brother-in-law Mario (Narvaez, brother of multiple champion Omar), with my nephew (Ezequiel) and my sister (Soledad, also a female boxing champion), and my physical trainer Federico. And that will be the idea from now on. We’ll work in Trelew. We have a great gym and a few great fighters. It is difficult sometimes to bring people to help me down there because we are far away, but we’ll make progress little by little and we’ll be fine.”
One of the people Lucas brought to his training camp was Cuba’s William Scull, a super middleweight who brought a lot of power and a long reach to his sparring sessions, as well as former gym buddy ‘Cobrita’ Dominguez from Junin. His training camp was much longer if compared with previous ones, but it can be perceived as a shorter camp if we believe in Matthysse’s suggestion that it wasn’t really a proper camp at all, but rather a slow return into the groove of things just to start shedding the ring rust little by little.
“Sure, first I needed to get the feel of the ring again,” said Matthysse, about his long and gradual return to the gym. “I had never been out for so long. I am hoping that everything goes well with Taylor and then we will wait to see what comes next. We watched a couple of videos and we did a great job getting ready for him, we worked on a few combinations, a few moves, and now in Indio with Joel Diaz we will put the final touches on the whole thing. If everything goes well I hope we can do another one before the end of the year.”
One of the added challenges that will come in this second part of Matthysse’s career will have to do with his new status as a welterweight, a division with which he flirted in and out, but into which he claims to have climbed for good this time.
“We did a great job in the gym but I know I need to adapt to this weight once and for all. I am excited to return in a different division with new challenges. I’ve been making 140 since I was 16 years old, and now at 34 years old I believe I needed the change. I am focused on this new challenge.”
From now on, he’ll be preparing for this new weight and this new part of his career in a shiny, fully equipped new gym in this southern city smack in the middle of the barren Patagonia region where his family settled a long time ago, and where Matthysse seems to have found the special place he needed in order to earn the inspiration of his friends, many of whom come from the dangerous Mil Viviendas housing project where he lived as a kid and where he is now revered as a hero.
And he will need all of that mojo and inspiration if he is to tackle a division that seemed to be headed towards a post-Mayweather lull, but has been revitalized by a handful of terrific fights. But Matthysse sees a path towards welterweight dominance that is just there for him to take – one step at a time.
“First I need to move past Taylor, and later I need to get to Danny Garcia, whether it is for a world title or not, or with Thurman or anybody. I know I will need to earn my shot like I always did, with sacrifice and by facing anyone. I am already on that path to tackle those challenges.”
But as possible as this may seem, it is equally possible that his plans will be thwarted by an uninspired performance just like the one that sent him back to the drawing board. And Matthysse claims to be ready for that possibility as well.
“If I am unlucky enough to lose, I will thank everybody and go back home quietly,” said Matthysse, with a chuckle. “But I assumed this comeback with the same responsibility that I always had. I always came well prepared and I know everyone will be watching me to see what I do. I am not going to be a stepping stone for anybody. I believe I was unlucky in my last fight, but that’s it. From there on back, I know I had a great career. I know there are great things coming my way now.”
Confidence was never a problem for Matthysse, who almost always delivered more than what he promised in the ring. And during his layoff he has continued putting his promises in writing, not as signatures on boxing contracts but rather on his own skin, where he continues to pile up one tattoo after another, most of them to further declare his commitment to boxing. Like the one on the right side of his neck, in which a huge dark skull lurks over a boxing ring under the shadows of the Mil Viviendas project, a reminder of the places and feelings he has already experienced and the feelings he wishes to experience again.
His best tattoo, however, is yet to be drawn.
“I had two more on the neck, and maybe after this fight I’ll get another one,” said Matthysse, proudly exposing the fresh ink on his already profusely illustrated body. “They promised to do it for free if I win, so I am ready!”
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