IF the fight took place a decade ago, in the vicinity of the junior welterweight (140 lbs.) division, it would have been nothing short of a fistic spectacle.
As things stand, boxing fans will have to make do with the diminished versions of Manny Pacquiao and Lucas Matthysse who are set to trade punches this weekend for the World Boxing Association (WBA) regular welterweight (147 lbs.) championship.
Then again, while the protagonists are already in their dog years, the remaining tricks they have left figure to be enough to produce a, well, dog fight.
At age 39, and after more than two decades in the punch-for-pay trade, Pacquiao is no longer the fighter he used to be. He is no longer that fast on his feet and is an easier target now for less-intimidated adversaries. Pacquiao (59-7, 2 draws, 38 knockouts) has not scored a knockout since 2009 and while he can still pull the trigger, the punches are no longer coming in torrential fashion. A “slower” Pacquiao, however, is still faster than the average boxer.
Matthysse, 35, has never been known for his hand and foot speed and he may have even become a tad slower after bulking up to campaign in the welterweight class. A pesky injury on his eye caused Matthysse (39-4, 36 knockouts) to sit out 2016 and he has since fought only twice. Through it all, however, Matthysse’s powerful right hand, his Mjolnir, has remained faithful to him.
Verily, as they head to war at the Axiata Arena in Kuala, Lumpur, Malaysia, Pacquiao is only the slight favorite with Matthysse looked upon as a legitimate threat.
Matthysse’s right hand has “KO” written all over the knuckle area, but it is worth noting that he has not really pulled off highlight-reel knockouts against high-profile boxers. He was heavily-favored to beat Danny Garcia and Viktor Postol, but both men took his best punches and defeated him. Only pedestrian/washed up foes like John Molina Jr. and Vivian Harris fell prey to the right hand.
Matthysse’s defense also leaves plenty of loopholes that Pacquiao can exploit. The defending WBA champ is a pressure fighter who loves to throw a left hook to the body (to force his foe to lower his guard) and then unload a looping right hand on his opponent’s unguarded forehead. This tendency to loop the right hand was exploited by Ruslan Provodnikov in 2015. Fighting on the inside, Provodnikov caught Matthysse with several counter left hooks/crosses that jarred the slugger from Argentina.
There are also questions about Matthysse’s stamina and the health of his left eye. Matthysse suffered a broken orbital/eye injury in the Postol fight that led to an 18-month layoff. You can readily expect Pacquiao to throw a lot of jabs aimed at testing the eye. Stamina issues have hounded Matthysse’s throughout his career and not a few saw him breathing heavily down the stretch against the likes of Danny Garcia and Provodnikov.
Pacquiao, of course, is not without his share of cracks in the armor. Pacquiao is more stationary now, opting to just pick the punches off his gloves in the hope of a quick counter. It is also worth noting that Pacquiao has not faced a puncher cut in the mold of Matthysse in recent years. Guys like Jeff Horn, Jessie Vargas and Chris Algieri are not known for their punching power and it will be interesting to see if the Pacman’s chin, which is now easier to access, can withstand Matthysse’s right bomb.
Bottom line, Pacquiao and Matthysse are checking in with limited tools in their fighter’s kit. It is Pacquiao, however, who appears to have enough left to repel the more limited Matthysse. Pacquiao figures to unload a lot of jabs to zero in on the vulnerable eye and counter just enough to bring the fight to the middle rounds where he can finish off a spent Matthysse. It’s really a tough call though because a fighter like Pacquiao, who is pushing 40, can bog down and show his age anytime.
And then, of course, there is the hammer of Matthysse, a weapon that can render any analysis moot and academic.