CARSON, Calif. – Lucas Matthysse sat on a couch in a suite at the StubHub Center, wide-eyed in amazement. He scanned the area immediately in front of him, where he was swarmed by notepads, tape recorders and cameras.
If he didn't realize how big his WBA-WBC super lightweight title bout against Danny Garcia was before this moment, he surely did as a sea of reporters and photographers jostled for position.
Matthysse said little of substance – he's in great shape, he expects a great fight, he respects Garcia and he'd love to fight the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez winner – but the volume of media clamoring to speak with him was telling.
It was an acknowledgement both of the progress he's made in his career, as well as an indicator of the significance of the Mayweather-Alvarez fight, which will be the main event of the loaded Showtime pay-per-view card on Sept. 14 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Matthysse is a cult figure among boxing fans because of his Tyson-esque slugging ability, but the casual fans have largely ignored him. Even in Las Vegas, the supposed Boxing Capital of the World, fans were greatly indifferent toward him.
On Sept. 8, 2012 at the Hard Rock, only a mile or so away from where he'll meet Garcia in a crammed and raucous arena, Matthysse fought Olusegun Ajose in the main event of a ShoBox card. According to Nevada Athletic Commission records, the fight only sold 377 tickets for a total paid gate of $65,675. More tickets went unsold (1,336) than the number of sold (377) and comp'd (877) combined.
In January, Matthysse fought Mike Dallas at the Hard Rock. Despite Matthysse's rising reputation as one of the sport's hardest punchers and most exciting fighters, that bout sold only 1,137 for a gate of $116,925.
One fight later, and Matthysse is in a prime position on the biggest card of the year, perhaps the most significant card in boxing since Mayweather defeated Oscar De La Hoya on May 5, 2007, in the best-selling pay-per-view show ever.
Matthysse, though, isn't simply on the card. When his fight with Garcia was announced by Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer on a conference call, the sport's hardcore fan base erupted in glee.
Undercard fighters on pay-per-view shows rarely get the kind of attention that Matthysse is all of a sudden receiving.
"The fight with Mayweather and Canelo is obviously a big fight; it's a very, very important fight," he said. "As far as me being a celebrity, well, I feel good. Look, it's an honor to be in this position. It feels good and [I'm thankful] for all of the attention I'm getting."
The attention is only going to increase as the fight approaches, but if he does what many expect, he's going to have very little free time.
For all the notoriety his punching power has earned him from boxing fans – he's 34-2 with 32 knockouts, and his two defeats were both debatable verdicts – it's going to be nothing like it might be in the future.
Matthysse, though, has much to prove against Garcia. It's likely that the winner will face Mayweather, should Mayweather win. If Alvarez pulls the shocker and defeats Mayweather, though, there figures to be an automatic rematch no matter how great the Matthysse-Garcia winner looks.
In boxing, all roads lead to Mayweather because fighting him guarantees an opponent the biggest possible payday. Matthysse is no different than any other fighter and would like a crack at Mayweather, not only for the attempt to hand him his first loss but to collect the massive check he'll earn from that bout.
His boxing skills, or as some might say his lack of those skills, is what has separated him from the sport's elite thus far. He lost split decisions to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, both of whom are quick, fast boxers but who aren't in Mayweather's league.
Their boxing skill was critical in their wins over Matthysse.
So, if Matthysse happens to blow out Garcia the way he did Lamont Peterson in May, when he dropped Peterson three times and stopped him in the third round of a massively one-sided affair, there will be plenty of call for a Mayweather-Matthysse fight if Mayweather does, as expected, defeat Alvarez.
It would be the prototypical boxer versus slugger match. There is almost virtually no scenario in which anyone could conceive of Matthysse outboxing Mayweather. That said, he will have to convince the public by his performance against Garcia that he can at least hang in the ring with Mayweather.
Matthysse, remember, is a virtual unknown in the United States – don't forget those lightly attended cards at the Hard Rock – and he doesn't speak English. If he's to land a fight against Mayweather, it will be because the public feels he has a chance to win and thus help pay-per-view sales.
So, it's not just that he beats Garcia that matters. How he wins is critical. A blowout in which Matthysse batters Garcia might entertain the fans in the arena and watching on television, but if he doesn't show the ability to box with Mayweather, it may not matter long term.
"My boxing is good, but most people haven't seen my boxing because everyone runs from me," he said.
Garcia is a quality fighter who would pose a good test for Matthysse. If Matthysse passes it, he might be wise to hire a financial adviser.
In a few months, he'll need one.