LAS VEGAS – Mike Dallas Jr. has never, and will never, be mentioned as one of boxing's greats. He's a solid, representative professional fighter, no more, no less.
Dallas is a virtual unknown, but to Lucas Matthysse, he represents the pinnacle of the sport.
Matthysse has dreams of hitting it big in boxing, and the only way to get there is to get past guys like Mike Dallas Jr. and keep the hope of the big score alive.
The quiet 30-year-old Matthysse is one of boxing's best-kept secrets, the modern era's answer to Arturo Gatti. He's aggressive, he's intense and he's always entertaining.
He comes from a prominent boxing family in Argentina. His father, Mario; his mother, Doris; his brother, Walter; and his sister, Edith, were all fighters. It's as if the ability to hook off the jab and set up a right cross was genetically conferred upon him.
He's 32-2 with 30 knockouts, but he meets Dallas on Saturday in the main event of a Showtime-televised card at the Hard Rock facing something of a crossroads.
Those two defeats came to Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, slick boxers who weren't simply willing to stand in front of Matthysse and slug. They had speed, quickness and nuance to their games. And though Matthysse still believes he deserved to win both of those bouts, he didn't.
And that puts pressure on him to defeat Dallas. He not only needs it to keep his dream alive for a shot at Danny Garcia's super lightweight title, but he needs it to prove that slick, skilled boxers aren't his Kryptonite.
"I don't consider that I lost to Alexander and Judah," Matthysse said. "But I want to stay on the first level of boxing and I have to defeat Mike Dallas to do that."
Matthysse is passionate about boxing and loves to be immersed in its peculiar culture. It's why he has fallen so hard for Las Vegas, the gambling mecca known as "The Fight Capital of the World."
Matthysse's first foray to Las Vegas came on a historic weekend in the spring of 2007. He fought the night before Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya met at the MGM Grand Garden in what would turn out to be the highest-grossing fight in boxing history.
Coming from a small town in Argentina, the sights and sounds of Las Vegas were odd to Matthysse. But he instantly felt at home. The sights, the sounds, the feel of boxing was everywhere.
Boxing is part of the city's culture in Las Vegas, nearly as much as the omnipresent slot machines, and the ghosts of big fights past are never too far away. It's the kind of scene he knew fairly quickly that he wanted to be part of regularly.
"I love Las Vegas," he said. "It feels like my home. It's a big stage and this is where I want to be."
He's on track for a fight against Garcia at the end of the year, assuming he gets past Dallas. Garcia faces Judah on Feb. 9 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and so is on the same schedule as Matthysse.
De La Hoya, the Golden Boy president whose company promotes both Matthysse and Garcia, has an affection for Matthysse that was born out of some amazing battles already.
"If you turn on the television and Lucas Matthysse is fighting, you're probably not going to turn the channel," De La Hoya said. "He's the kind of guy you can't take your eyes off of. He's a very entertaining fighter. He's the kind of guy we'd match with anyone."
That's what Matthysse wants to hear. He wants to be in those epic Las Vegas fights one day, as well, and have the crowd roaring and chanting his name.
To get there, he needs to prove that he can effectively deal with slick boxers and demonstrate that his crowd-friendly style can survive at the sport's highest level.
"I'm not a guy who talks too much," he said. "I just like to fight and make the people happy."
You don't have to talk too much if you bring it every night the way Matthysse does. If his dreams play out, he'll become as much a part of the Las Vegas landscape as the neon lights.
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