Hell is for Heroes: Lucas Matthysse Powers Past John Molina

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Boxing concretizes heroic concepts other sports can only pay lip service to: courage, endurance, character. Think about that the next time a television announcer hyperventilates about a pitcher staying on the mound despite suffering from a . . . blister. On Saturday night, Argentine Lucas Matthysse and Mexican-American John Molina, Jr., pushed each other to their physical limits in a mini-inferno that ended when Molina was battered into defeat in the 11th round.

A delirious crowd of over 6,000 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, roared as Molina and Matthysse tried to dismantle each other bone by bone. At its rawest, a boxing match is a revelation of character, the embodiment of what Hemingway called “grace under pressure,” and both men showed the spirit unique to blood sports.

Despite the fact that Molina, 27-4 with 22 knockouts, was a longshot entering the fight, he proved to be much, much more than a walkover for the favorite. In fact, for Matthysse, it was more like strolling through a minefield after one mojito too many. With about a minute remaining in the opening round, Molina landed a thumping right that staggered Matthysse against the ropes. Molina proved his firepower was no fluke by dropping Matthysse in the second with a whipping roundhouse right. Matthysse beat the count, but looked surprised at how poorly things were going for him. Not only was Matthysse having difficulty judging distance against the lanky Molina, but he was also spending too much time moving to his left, directly into the power zone of a debilitating puncher. To make matters worse, Matthysse was cut over the left eye following a butt in the third round. (Molina also bled freely from a gash on the back of his head.)

Another hard right—this one to the back of the skull—dropped Matthysse to his knees in the fifth, and it looked like “The Machine” would be unable to adjust to the explosive power Molina possesses. They tore into each other in the sixth and seventh, and as the rounds went by, their bodies took on a sickly sheen beneath the lights. It was a color similar to cerise, but its ingredients were a mixture of blood and sweat.

Although both fighters are plodders, Matthysse has the edge in guile, and when he started dipping, crowding, feinting, and jabbing, the fight became a rout. Over the last three rounds, Molina alternated warring with wobbling and wobbling with warring.

In the end, finally, he traded both, unwillingly, for wilting. In the tenth, Matthysse battered Molina, crashing hooks and whiplash rights against Molina that could have toppled the obelisk in Central Park. A barrage of punches drove a bloody Molina to the mat with less than 30 seconds to go. Referee Pat Russell visited Molina between rounds with the ringside physician in tow, but “The Gladiator” fought on. Within seconds of the eleventh, Molina crashed in a neutral corner after another fusillade. Russell waved off the fight, and Molina remained on his back for a moment, a small pool of blood forming on the canvas beneath his skull.

With the win, Matthysse, now 35-3 with one no-contest and 33 knockouts, remains in the mix at junior welterweight, and he called for a rematch with Danny Garcia, who outpointed him last September over twelve suspenseful rounds. A relentless power puncher, Matthysse is still a potential hazard for anyone at 140 pounds.

A fighter like Molina, a crude but powerful banger relegated to ESPN2 for most of his career, tries to ensure his immediate future on a fight-by-fight basis, and Molina, 31, secured another paycheck with his brave performance against Matthysse. He may never be more than a fringe contender, but, for one night at least, John Molina, Jr., was part of a fever dream seen by hundreds of thousands. Call that heroic, if you want.

Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine, and Esquina Boxeo.