Veterans Matthysse and Linares to Answer Big Questions About Their Future

By Eric Raskin

You can’t afford an off night in boxing. When a baseball pitcher gives up six runs in two-thirds of an inning and gets the hook, he gets a chance to erase the memory five days later. When a boxer gets the hook — or the cross, or the uppercut, or whatever punch puts him down and keeps him down — his sport isn’t so forgiving.

The very best fighters keep those off nights to a minimum. Consistency is key when pursuing boxing immortality. And consistency is precisely what has eluded Lucas Matthysse and Jorge Linares, rendering their careers very good but not quite great, with their worst results still threatening to define them. Their styles are different — Matthysse is a puncher first, Linares a boxer first — but both rode those strengths to the fringes of pound-for-pound consideration. Linares fell hard with a couple of upset losses and re-established himself; later, Matthysse suffered two upset losses of his own and is now in the process of re-establishing himself.

As co-headliners on a Boxing After Dark doubleheader on Jan. 27 (HBO, 10:30 PM ET/PT), the two must-see South Americans both find themselves at a place in their careers where they simply can’t afford another off night. In the opposite corners will be Tewa Kiram and Mercito Gesta, respectively, looking to benefit from an off night out of their favored opponents — or, even better, looking to force one.

The Matthysse-Kiram welterweight bout is loaded with unknowns and X-factors. Is Matthysse (38-4, 35 KOs) past the point of no return at age 35 or is he rejuvenated under new trainer Joel Diaz? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that he’s only fought once in the last 28 months? Does it matter that Kiram is a naturally bigger man, one who’s spent his entire pro career at 147 pounds, whereas Matthysse was a junior welterweight until his last fight? And how much of the perfect 38-0 (with 28 KOs) record of Thailand’s Kiram means anything?

“I understand not many people know me in the U.S.,” Kiram said recently, “but they’re in for a big surprise. I’ve never been defeated, and I am fully confident that I will return to Thailand with the [belt] around my waist.”

Despite that confidence, Kiram’s credentials and his available fight videos are not entirely convincing. His roll call of opponents isn’t a who’s who; it’s a “who’s that?” In fact, just two fights ago, in Kiram’s 37th pro bout, he took on a fighter from India, Vijender Kumar, who was making his pro debut. Mickey Rourke looks at this guy’s opposition and scoffs.

That said, nobody gets to 38-0 without skills, and Kiram undoubtedly has some — including certain attributes that could give Matthysse headaches. Boxing behind a high guard held over from his days as a Muay Thai fighter, the 25-year-old Kiram boasts one of boxing’s busiest jabs. According to CompuBox, he averages 43.2 lead lefts thrown per round and connects on 11.1. (The welterweight average is 4.9 landed out of 23.7 thrown.) Kiram will jab you while you’re standing still, he’ll jab you while you’re stepping forward, he’ll jab you while you’re trying to throw your own jab. And when he’s done hypnotizing you with that jab, he’ll uncork a sneaky right hand that can do damage.

On the flip side, Kiram isn’t especially fast-handed, he might have chin issues (a clean southpaw right hook dropped him in his most recent fight, against journeyman Ramadhani Shauri), and he’s extremely vulnerable on the inside, where he stands still with his hands high, open to uppercuts. Shortcomings like that could play right into Matthysse’s capable fists. The Argentine has always been a beast of a puncher, and he looked like his old self last May against Emanuel Taylor, scoring knockdowns in the third and fifth rounds en route to a stoppage late in Round 5 in his first fight under Diaz.

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“We’ve had one camp together, and everything went well against Emanuel Taylor,” Diaz said at the press conference announcing the Kiram fight. “And now I see him coming into another camp with a lot of motivation. He’s a happy fighter, and I always say a happy fighter always performs better. … You’re going to see an explosive Lucas Matthysse.”

Kiram’s goal is to expose a different Matthysse, the one who couldn’t get anything done against Viktor Postol and suffered an upset knockout, the one who struggled unexpectedly with John Molina, as opposed to the one who walked through Lamont Peterson in three rounds or outmaneuvered Ruslan Provodnikov over 12. Those results speak to the inconsistency of Matthysse. Everything from an early knockout win to a devastating defeat to an unknown opponent is in play against Kiram.

Despite riding a 12-fight winning streak, lightweight Jorge Linares (43-3, 27 KOs) still finds himself in his own constant battle with inconsistency. All three of his losses have come by knockout, and after the last of those, against Sergio Thompson in 2012, the Venezuelan was almost universally written off. But he righted the ship … sort of. Even when Linares wins, he rarely seems to fully deliver on his magnificent talent. His most recent victory, a split decision win over British southpaw Luke Campbell, is a perfect case in point. The 32-year-old Linares was dominant at times and scored a critical knockdown in the second round, but he was too relaxed and comfortable at other moments and let Campbell outwork him.

Some of those same criticisms and concerns have surrounded the career of Linares’ opponent Gesta. He teases you at times with his talent — which is not Linares-level talent, but is appreciable just the same — but can’t seem to display it round after round. He cruises in spots against inferior opposition. The 30-year-old Gesta has built a record of 31-1-2 with 17 KOs, the lone loss coming in a title challenge against tricky Miguel Vazquez in 2012. His best wins? Maybe Ty Barnett. Maybe Gilberto Gonzalez. In other words, he hasn’t faced anyone within sniffing distance of Linares’ caliber.

“I know it’s going to be a tough fight, I’m the challenger and the underdog in this fight, but I love the feeling,” Gesta said. “I love when people say, ‘He has little chance of winning this fight.’ That makes me more hungry. That makes me want to train hard.”

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but Gesta is a Filipino southpaw trained by Freddie Roach. Interestingly, Roach has worked with Linares in the distant past (before his current winning streak, which has been achieved under the guidance of highly regarded Cuban coach Ismael Salas), and perhaps it’s telling that when Gesta was offered this fight, his people are said to have asked for a contract within minutes. Maybe they saw how Linares had problems with the southpaw style of Campbell. Despite being left-handed, however, Gesta has a much more compact build than Campbell and a completely different skill set.

And the Filipino, who has been dropped in two of his last three fights, has a bad habit of fighting with his hands down. Against as quick and accurate a puncher as Linares, that could turn him from an underdog into a no-hoper.

Unless, that is, Linares provides him with a free helping of hope. On Dec. 12, Linares tweeted, “After M. Gesta, I Can See You @VasylLomachenko.” A Linares who is looking ahead to his ultimate challenge is a Linares who is setting himself up for a potential letdown.

If the wrong versions of either Linares or Matthysse show up at the Forum, the result could be a defeat that they can’t recover from.

PODCAST: Ep. 231 - Matthysse-Kiram and Linares-Gesta Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview this Saturday's Boxing After Dark doubleheader, providing analysis and predictions for the welterweight clash between Lucas Matthysse and Tewa Kiram and the lightweight fight pitting Jorge Linares against Mercito Gesta.

Donnie Nietes to Battle Juan Carlos Reveco on Superfly 2

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With the extraordinary fan and media interest from the previously announced fights for SUPERFLY 2, another excellent world title bout has been added which will open the HBO Boxing After Dark telecast. Fighting Pride of the Philippines and four-time world champion Donnie Nietes, (40-1-4, 22 KO’s) will make the first defense of his IBF Flyweight World Title over 12-rounds against three-time former world champion Juan Carlos Reveco, (39-3-0, 19 KO’s) from Las Heras, Argentina. The triple header takes place Saturday, February 24 from The Forum in Los Angeles and will be televised live on HBO Boxing After Dark beginning at 9:30 PM ET/PT.

“We’re very proud to add one of the Philippines longest standing warriors and four-time world champion Donnie Nietes to this tremendous event as he defends his world title against three-time world champion Juan Carlos Reveco at the Forum on Saturday, February 24 and live on HBO,” said Tom Loeffler of 360 Boxing Promotions. 

“In the last couple of years Nietes has looked very impressive headlining events in Los Angeles and we look forward to a huge turnout of local Filipino boxing fans for this world title defense

against the upset minded Reveco who is seeking his fourth world title.”

Most recently Nietes won the vacant IBF Flyweight World Title with a 12-round unanimous decision over Komgrich Nantapech on April 29, 2017, in Cebu City, Philippines.

Prior to that, Nietes won the WBO Junior Flyweight World Title against Juan Alejo on October 17, 2015 at the Stubhub Center in Carson, California and followed up at the same venue by defeating Edgar Sosa on September 24, 2016, winning both bouts by dominant unanimous decision.

Nietes is undefeated dating back to September 2004.

Reveco’s most recent victory also came against Komgrich Nantapech on September 8, 2017, winning by 12-round unanimous decision in Argentina.

In two of his most recent and memorable bouts, Reveco traveled to Osaka, Japan, coming up just short against WBA Flyweight World Champion Kazuto Ioka in 2015. 

Currently on a three-fight winning streak, Reveco who has fought mostly in Argentina and Japan throughout his illustrious career, will be fighting in the United States for the first time.

PODCAST: Ep 230 - January Mailbag

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney open up the mailbag, answering fan questions about how to keep boxing's momentum going, top up-and-coming UK fighters, divisions worthy of a "Superfly"-style fight card, and much more.

Watch: Matthysse vs. Kiram & Linares vs. Gesta Preview

Boxing After Dark returns with HBO's first fight of 2018 when Lucas Matthysse takes on Tewa Kiram and Jorge Linares squares off against Mercito Gesta. Catch all the action Saturday, January 27 at 10:30 pm ET/PT.

PODCAST: Morales, Klitschko and Wright Defining Fights

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney count down and analyze the defining fights in the careers of new Hall of Famers Erik Morales, Vitali Klitschko, and Winky Wright.

Through the Lens: Ed Mulholland's Best from 2017

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Award-winning HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland looks back at some of his favorite photos from 2017. 

View the Slideshow

RELATED LINKS:

- Through the Lens: Ed Mulholland's Best from 2016

- View more of Mulholland's work at his website

- See more of Inside HBO Boxing's year-end coverage

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Favorite Moments

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they select their favorite moments.

More: Fight of the Year |  Fighter of the Year | Best Round | KO of the Year | Best Blow | Best Corner | Breakthrough Fighter 

Nat Gottlieb

The fight between superstars Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez was the crowning achievement of HBO’s year. HBO’s ongoing coverage leading up to the fight was spectacular and captured the imagination of boxing fans around the world. The fight itself proved to be everything it promised to be. It was as well done of an event as there was in boxing, an elite moment.

Springs Toledo

The unusual tendency of HBO commentators to bring up fighters from the recent and distant past is a real thrill for historians and purists alike. Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, and Henry Armstrong are among the long-gone greats from boxing's golden era that are routinely mentioned on air, most often by Max Kellerman. In May, Bernard Hopkins made an interesting comparison between Terence Crawford and Donald Curry during the Crawford-Diaz fight, and Rocky Marciano was mentioned during the Saunders-Lemieux undercard in December. A.J. Liebling said "the sweet science is as joined onto the past as a man's arm is to his shoulder," and so acknowledged a place where science and history converge and where no fight isn't attended by ghosts. Whenever those ghosts are recognized on a broadcast, we're reminded that boxing produces immortals then and now, and boxing is better for it.

Hamilton Nolan

Nobody watched the Cotto-Kamegai fight, because it was on the same night as Mayweather-McGregor. But Kamegai ate more horrific power shots in that fight than I have ever seen a man eat without being knocked out. It was remarkable and should be studied by scientists. And it still feels like a secret, since nobody was paying attention.

Gordon Marino

The entirety of Canelo vs. GGG.

Frank Della Femina

My favorite HBO Boxing Moment of the Year is always my favorite pick to make. While we can all be in the same ballpark in other categories, this is the one that varies wildly. Looking back on boxing as a whole in 2017, there were rising stars, shocking scorecards, circus-like events, and big-name retirements. But for me, the best moment of 2017 came in the form of Canelo-Golovkin. Not so much by way of the outcome, but more so in the lead up to the fight. Outside of Mayweather-Pacquiao, I don’t recall a more highly anticipated matchup over the past five years that had me eyeing up the clock throughout the day as we edged closer to the opening bell (maybe Ward-Kovalev I, but not to this degree). And while being there in-person may have been unreal in its own right, making new boxing friends in a crowded bar while killing a few plates of hot wings and standing on a soapbox while agonizing over the result was perfect in its own way.

Oliver Goldstein

I enjoyed seeing Luke Campbell run Jorge Linares close this year, in what was a good twelve months for British fighters on the network. Seeing Chocolatito is always a thrill, even if a diminished one now – but the first fight with Sor Rungvisai, as a last throw of the dice, was marvelous. Two excellent fighters in Andre Ward and Miguel Cotto went out in varied circumstances, though roughly on top. And both Canelo and GGG showed up this past September, giving the hype its substance. Hopefully they’ll do it all over again next year.

Kieran Mulvaney

On a personal level, it’s been a particular professional treat to spend time in the training camps of several boxers: Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, and of course Miguel Cotto, who was preparing for his final fight. And then, on the day before his farewell, Cotto’s fighter meeting with HBO talent was a truly special, emotional affair; his family was all there, as was his team from the Wild Card, and the whole experience felt like a fond goodbye to an old friend.

Canelo-GGG fight week was another reminder that there are few events that generate anything like the excitement of a truly significant boxing main event. The MGM Grand was packed with serious fight fans, straining for a glimpse of anyone on the card or indeed anybody in some way associated with it. The media room saw a steady parade of celebrities from within and beyond the boxing world, as evidenced by an HBO Boxing Podcast guest list that included Roy Jones, Jr, Stephen A. Smith, Adam Carolla, and J.B. Smoove. And, finally and importantly, the fight itself delivered; notwithstanding the scoring controversy, it was a tremendously hard-fought 12 round battle between two pugilists of the highest order.

joshua KO klitschko

Nothing, however, can top the fantastic April night in London when Anthony Joshua overcame Wladimir Klitschko. The heavyweight championship of the world, the fight of the year, an enthusiastic 90,000-strong crowd, and a legendary venue in the form of Wembley Stadium: if ever a night at the fights had everything, it was this one.

Carlos Acevedo

My favorite HBO moments involve two fighters whose struggles in life are mirrored by the struggles of the ring. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Mickey Roman both won the biggest fights of their careers after years of toiling both personally and professionally. Sor Rungvisai was ecstatic after poleaxing Roman Gonzalez, and Roman seemed on the verge of tears when he detailed his misfortunes in an interview following his KO win over Orlando Salido. Even in this brutal sport, often mean, low, and dispiriting, you can sometimes find something close to ennoblement.

Eric Raskin

First off, let’s establish the obvious choice for least favorite HBO Boxing moment: Stephen Smith’s ear nearly detaching from the side of his head. As for the favorites, I have two. On the emotional side, there was Miguel Cotto, on the eve of his retirement, crying on the couch next to Jim Lampley as he suggested that his late father was still sitting right next to him. And on the lighter side, there was my experience of interviewing JB Smoove and Roy Jones back to back while podcasting live from Radio Row at the Golovkin-Alvarez fight in September. They both brought the ruckus to one of my favorite HBO Boxing Podcast episodes of the year.

Matt Draper

Here are some nuggets that stood out, for better or for worse:

  • The 12th round of Canelo-GGG: We had reached the climax of the most anticipated match of the year and everything was still up for grabs. Both fighters were throwing haymakers. Everyone in the crowd was standing and screaming.
  • Anthony Joshua standing over KO’d Wladimir Klitschko: An iconic image that visually communicated the passing of the heavyweight torch. The legendary veteran going out on his sword while the young phenom stakes his claim to the division throne.
  • Stephen Smith’s ear following his bout with Francisco Vargas: Any doubts about boxing not being a tough sport? Here you go. (Note: Not for the faint of heart.)
  • Quebec crowd booing Billy Joe Saunders’ son: 8-year-old Stevie Saunders, who made headlines earlier in the year for punching Willie Monroe Jr. in the undercarriage during a press conference, was not afraid to speak his mind to the pro-David Lemieux crowd at the Dec. 16 middleweight showdown at Place Bell outside Montreal. And when the younger Saunders was displayed on the big screen during fight night, the crowd roundly booed him.

Diego Morilla

After picking the Joshua-Klitschko bout for so many of these categories, it is safe to admit that this fight has earned a privileged place in my DVD collection already. It had it all: the environment, the young lion vs. veteran champ narrative, the magnificence of a roaring Wembley stadium brimming with screaming fans, the passing of the torch, and so much more. And in the midst of it, as the moment of truth approached, there was the local favorite going up against the unified champion standing by his initials as they were lit on fire, like two flaming wings turning the white-clad, almost angelic Anthony Joshua into an avenging demon, ready to exorcise the pains and sufferings of British heavyweight boxing forever, like a keeper of the flame in the most literal sense possible, ready to take flight on a mission to guard boxing’s return trip to its former glories from the skies. Sure, Joshua still has plenty of time disappoint us all and become just one more British heavyweight horror story, but for that fleeting moment he looked as if he could carry the weight of the entire boxing world upon his shoulders. And after 11 extraordinary rounds, he momentarily did.

Michael Gluckstadt

The Canelo-Chavez fight may have proved to be a dud, but I can't think of a more exciting moment this year in boxing than when Canelo stood in the ring and named his next opponent. In a move out of the WWE playbook, Gennady Golovkin appeared in the wings as the unmistakable bass-line of "Seven Nation Army" blared over the soundsystem. That the actual fight lived up to the hype made it all the more memorable.

Some other highlights: Miguel Cotto's emotional farewell to Madison Square Garden; Ray Beltran winning a boxing match and with it his fight for citizenship; Yoshihiro Kamegai imitating an inflatable punching clown that keeps coming back for more; the way Paulie Malignaggi says the word "pizzeria" in this oral history podcast of Hamed-Kelley; as well as the story of Ike Ibeabuchi; and lastly, JB Smoove bringing the ruckus: