Lucas Matthysse couldn’t see from one eye three years ago when he was sent to the canvas by a punch that threatened to render him a contender destined for a downturn.
Now, Matthysse has a vision, one in which he becomes the man who sends Manny Pacquiao to retirement.
“Absolutely. I feel confident,” Matthysse told the Los Angeles Times recently from his Indio training camp. “I’ve been working very hard to walk away with the victory.”
Argentina’s Matthysse (39-4, 36 knockouts) confronts a 39-year-old, former eight-division champion Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs), who’s coming off a welterweight-title loss to nondescript Jeff Horn last year, has parted with longtime trainer Freddie Roach and has been distracted both by significant work in the Philippines Senate and the chaotic arrangements for this fight.
Saturday’s bout, at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, didn’t secure financing until last month, and ticket sales have been woeful.
The television deal reflects the struggle. Instead of Pacquiao’s usual home on pay-per-view, this bout can be seen on the ESPN+ app at 6 p.m. Pacific.
Pacquiao “has to come out victorious, or it’s retirement,” said friend and veteran fight manager Sean Gibbons, who is handling some fighters on this card.
Whereas Pacquiao has spoken of using the World Boxing Assn. secondary welterweight-title victory as a springboard to a late fall showdown with three-division champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, Matthysse is relishing his recovery from that 2015 knockout loss to Viktor Postol for a 140-pound belt at StubHub Center.
“I’m very proud of myself. I took a long break after the Postol fight to think about things — to think about my return — and then I worked on some things, came back and I won the world title,” with a January victory at the Forum, Matthysse said. “I’m very happy about what I’ve done.”
Matthysse, 35, was inactive through most of his January bout against Thailand’s Tewa Kiram, but he then unleashed his ultimate-weapon power punch to win by eighth-round knockout.
“I wanted to find myself. [Kiram’s] a bigger fighter. I didn’t think he’d fight that way by fighting on the outside. It started from small to big, to not really throwing my punches to finding him later,” Matthysse said. “Overall, I was happy.”
“I feel good I have that ability to end the fight with a shot like that, but either way, I still prepare hard in the day-to-day workouts to give a good fight.”
Gibbons said after Horn found Pacquiao with some clean punches, it’s a concern what would happen if Matthysse — who previously lost a 140-pound title shot against Danny Garcia — can deliver a shot similar to the ones that have defeated Lamont Peterson, John Molina (in the 2014 fight of the year) and Ruslan Provodnikov.
“It’s scary that Manny could run into a big shot. That’s the wild-card factor, no pun intended,” Gibbons said in reference to Pacquiao departing Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood for a camp led by friend and former assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez in the Philippines.
“Yes, Matthysse can take him out with any punch. Manny just has to stay careful and stay sharp. Buboy has learned from Freddie through osmosis. Manny just has to implement those lessons.
“The worst possible style for Matthysse is a guy with quick feet … .”
Yet, Matthysse feels like a fighter whose time has come as Pacquiao’s increasing age moves him to a vulnerable spot to confront a younger fighter directed by a trainer in Joel Diaz who has previously sent Timothy Bradley into the ring with Pacquiao.
While taking one year away from the ring, Pacquiao said he’s been busy as a senator confronting governmental corruption that has compromised “billions” in money in his country.
“It’s very dangerous,” Pacquio said. “Politics is more dangerous than boxing, but I’m OK. I have a security staff, the army to watch me.”
They won’t be in that Malaysian ring Saturday, however.