Judah, who is attempting to make a comeback, will have to convincingly defeat the unbeaten Argentinean in order to be considered a serious player in boxing's deepest and best weight division.
Judah certainly looked every bit the fading star in his last major fights at welterweight, all losses. But Judah has kissed 147 pounds good-bye and dropped back to 140, where he enjoyed near unbridled success. More important than the change in weight class is the alterations the 32-year-old has made in his personal and professional life.
Perhaps most significant was his decision two years ago to move his family to Las Vegas from his hometown of Brooklyn, where he had frequently partied the night away during his twenties. He has also restructured his corner, bringing in former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad as his main trainer and using his father and longtime coach Yoel in a secondary role.
"He has totally rededicated himself to boxing now," says Kathy Duva, his promoter at Main Events. "I think he just woke up and said, 'Oh my God, if I had tried harder what I could have done?' He says it was the birth of his son Zab Jr. which made him realize he had to change his ways, and he has. He stepped on the scale two days ago (Oct. 13) and was already at 140 pounds. To me, Zab's career has been one of a classic underachiever. He was an undisputed welterweight champion, an undisputed junior welterweight champion and I still call him an underachiever."
Judah (39-6, 27 KOs) is doing what he can to turn that around. Among the rigors of his conditioning under Muhammad are daily runs up Mt. Charleston, 35 miles west of Las Vegas, with a peak of 11,918 feet. The fighter's return to the toughest division in boxing is a different kind of mountain climb.
Matthysse may not be a star yet at 140, but the unbeaten Argentinean could have the makings of one and should give Judah his first stern test on the comeback trail.Winner of all 27 of his fights, including 25 by knockout, Matthysse is being hailed by his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, as a fast-rising star. "We realize that Lucas Matthysse is a bit of an unknown quantity here in the United States," says David Itskowitch of GBP, "but in a way we like that because there are two other guys who were unknown quantities in the U.S. and have come up here from Argentina and made a pretty big splash. Their names are Sergio Martinez and Marcos Maidana. We strongly believe that Lucas Matthysse is going to be the next great Argentinean fighter."
Perhaps, but right now he is more than just an unknown quantity - he's untested. All but one of Matthysse's fights was in his home country, and he has yet to face an opponent remotely close to Judah's stature. "Matthysse has a lot of power, but Zab also has power and is a talented boxer," Duva says. "I don't think this guy has ever faced someone who can actually throw combos at him. It will be interesting to see how he handles it."
Judah, on the other hand, has seen it all, particularly in fights with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Cory Spinks and Miguel Cotto. Matthysse will have to deal with a boxer who brings a lot more than just combos to the table. When in shape, Judah is the total package: He has two-fisted power, ultra fast hands and feet, and is elusive and extremely agile. In contrast, the 28-year-old Matthysse is something of a limited fighter at this point in time. First and foremost in his arsenal is thunder in both hands. Only one of his fights has gone beyond four rounds, and overall he has boxed just 70 rounds compared to 262 for Judah. "I know it's a short comparison in rounds I've fought professionally," Matthysse says. "But you know what? Hey, that's my power in the ring."
Power against nonentities is one thing, but can he do it against name-brand fighters? Other than a faded Vivian Harris earlier this year, Matthysse has faced a parade of unknowns in Argentina. The last nine of his opponents in South America, for example, show a combined total of 89 losses. Other than the power, Matthysse's arsenal appears thin. He has decent hand speed but fights flat-footed and should have problems with the whirling dervish Judah.
Matthysse fights like a knockout artist, generally throwing just one punch at a time, all with bad intentions. Occasionally he'll string two shots together, but it is rare to see him throw three or four at a time, as Judah routinely does. Even in a training video on YouTube Matthysse is seen working the mitts largely throwing single shots.
If Judah has really gotten himself back, he might take the untested Matthysse to school in their fight on Nov. 6. Much depends on how much of his youthful razzle-dazzle Judah has left. Duva doesn't think he's lost of any of it. "Zab is 32, and in this world of the Bernard Hopkins and other older fighters, he's still a kid," she says. "I haven't seen any drop off in his speed and power." The 5-foot-7-and-1/2-inch Judah may have six losses on his record, but five came at welterweight, a division it could be argued he had no place competing in. "In retrospect he should not have gone up to 147," Duva says. "He wasn't big enough. But that's where the money was."
Should Judah win, not only would he be in line to face the top 140-pounders like Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander and Amir Khan, but Duva feels he will be the biggest name in his division. "Zab is the highest profile fighter in that division. Tim Bradley has trouble selling 1,500 tickets. What does that say about how people connect to him? People have always connected to Zab, whether they loved him or hated him; they had a passion about him." Boxing fans have also shown a passion for power punchers, so if Matthysse is the real deal, he could quickly gain his own big following with a victory over Judah.