By Diego Morilla
After years of toiling under the bright lights of the arena and the dimness of a damp gym, the dream is finally within reach. A trip to California, a tough competitor, a trying effort, an emotional ride to the top, a hand raised, and the name Matthysse echoing through the walls and reaching the world, letting them know that a new champion has been crowned.
Many people are expecting that scene to take place on Saturday, Oct. 3 when Lucas Matthysse fights Viktor Postol for the chance to crown himself as a new junior welterweight champion at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif, on HBO Boxing After Dark, 10:15 PM ET/PT.
But the scene has already taken place in a very recent past, when Lucas’ 9-year old daughter Priscila Matthysse won a gold medal as an aerobic gymnast in San Diego, earning the first title ever achieved by a member of the Matthysse family outside of a boxing ring. And a similar scene also took place around that same time when Lucas’ sister Soledad unified her WBA female featherweight title with Jelena Mrdjenovich’s WBC belt to further legitimize her career, thus setting up the chance of her and Lucas becoming the first pair of male-female siblings to hold world titles at the same time.
Unbelievably enough, the man who took on the task of carrying the emotional and physical burden of putting the Matthysse name on the world stage will be the last one in the family to actually achieve that status at the world championship level should he win on Saturday, after opening a path that his family continues to follow.
“I am a bit nervous,” admits Soledad, already training for her next bout while she waits (and hopes) to get a call for a possible joint award ceremony by the WBC in which both siblings would receive their green belts on the same day. “To think that we’re going to make history is something awesome, and I hope it happens.”
But for that to happen, Lucas will have to do his part and lift the now vacant WBC belt in his fight against Postol
The magnitude of the challenge at hand remains as large as any of his most recent efforts, many of them considered some of the toughest bouts seen on television in the past few years.
“It is weird, because I fought (Ruslan) Provodnikov and not having a title at stake at that fight felt really strange,” said Lucas about his extraordinary effort against the Russian slugger back in April, in what has already become an early candidate for fight of the year, (it would give Matthysse his second such award in consecutive years after he received that distinction from the Boxing Writers Association of America for his winning effort against John Molina in April of 2014). “But Postol is the number one in the division and this is a possibility for me to finally win a title.”
Matthysse will have his hands full in his upcoming bout against the 31-year-old Postol (27-0, 11 KOs), who is both taller and younger, and coming off signature victories. The Argentinian hopes to make his Ukrainian adversary the victim of the silent rage that has been brewing under his skin since he took up boxing as a teenager after seeing his father, his uncle, his older brother and even his mother take up boxing in search of the glory he now has within reach.
“In the ring I am different,” said Lucas, trying to bridge the gap between his quiet demeanor as a civilian and his uber feisty persona within the squared circle. “I am not a different person up there, but I leave my feelings behind because I know what I am up against. I know that once I am up there I am fighting for my daughter, my family, my wife, and once the fight is over I am myself once again.”
It is that separation between the ruthless knockout artist that he is in the ring and the tearful, emotional human being he becomes once he steps out of it what has allowed him to quietly develop one of the most exciting careers in today’s elite welterweight-ish division, scoring one highlight-reel stoppage after the other and building up a career that has taken him to the cover of The Ring magazine even before he earned a proper title, as well as being considered one of the most fan-friendly fighters to watch.
The rest of the respect he deserves, he hopes, will come after his next bout.
“If I win the title I will definitely earn a different kind of respect and I will be able to get the best fights out there,” said Matthysse (37-3, 34 KO), who has been routinely mentioned as a possible opponent for every relevant fighter between 140 and 147 pounds. “I am already competing at a high level, but I never had the chance to fight against the top money fighters in my division, and now I hope I will have that chance.”
As fellow boxers, Soledad and Lucas have been sherpas in each other’s trip to their personal Everests, and they continuously encourage each other in the right emotional and athletic direction using social media and instant messaging.
“I always send him videos of my sparring sessions, and he’s always commenting on that,” said Soledad, reaffirming Lucas’ role as the family’s new “leader and pioneer”, the trailblazing role once occupied by their father Mario. “We know how he feels because we’ve all been through that,” said Soledad, tacitly including in the “we” the figure of his nephew Ezequiel as well, currently training under Robert Garcia in Oxnard, California, in his own personal search for glory and recognition.
Regardless of how deep Lucas can bury his personal feelings before the fight, in its aftermath he will surely find himself releasing the emotions that three generations behind him (and a few more ahead of him) have been holding back until this moment.
“I believe I can get into Lucas’s head and I can see that he is hungry for glory and is ready to make history,” said Soledad. “Recently, I sent him an inspirational phrase and asked him whether he felt he was about to become a world champion, and I got emotional when he wrote back saying “sister, I want to be a champion like you, and we’re going to make history together”. That’s how I know that he will put his life on the line for this one.”
History and emotions aside, the victory against Postol would also set a few other personal traditions in motion.
“I hope I can get a tattoo of the new belt in my elbow,” laughs Lucas, pointing at a seemingly intentionally blank space in his right arm, amidst the profusion of mostly self-inflicted crudely artsy tattoos that he loves to work on between each fight.
If Lucas allows himself to heed the call of his pent-up emotions, his family’s crowning achievement will call for many more tattoos in the years to come.