Lucas Matthysse entered Saturday's bout looking to bounce back from a high-profile defeat last September to unbeaten junior welterweight division champion Danny Garcia.
What he found for himself, instead, was an absolute war against fearless puncher John Molina as both fighters overcame cuts and multiple knockdowns to produce a leading candidate for fight of the year.
Luckily for "The Machine," he does his best work under pressure, as Matthysse got up off the canvas twice in the early rounds to outlast a determined Molina by 11th-round TKO in an all-action junior welterweight bout at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
Matthysse (35-3, 32 KOs), one of the sport's most feared punchers, rallied to score a trio of knockdowns in the final four rounds. A flush four-punch combo along the ropes sent Molina (27-4 22 KOs) to the canvas for the final time as referee Pat Russell called a halt to the action at 22 seconds of Round 11.
"It was really a war and it got very complicated for me at the beginning of the fight but I trained very hard for the fight," Matthysse said. "[Molina] is a really tough fighter. He took some big blows from me."
Both fighters exchanged brutal shots at close range from the opening bell. A short right hand floored Matthysse in Round 2 for just the second time in his career.
After a clash of heads opened a cut above Matthysse's right eye and another behind Molina's right ear in Round 3, Matthysse hit the canvas for a second time in Round 5 on an overhand right that he complained was illegal.
"In the fifth round when I got hit in the back of the head, I kind of crumbled a bit," Matthysse said.
But the native of Argentina never broke despite Molina's heavy counter shots. Matthysse was the busier fighter throughout and continued to get the better of their exchanges by throwing shorter punches.
Matthysse was credited with a knockdown in Round 8 when it appeared he had shoved Molina to the canvas. But the moment also proved to be the beginning of the end for Molina as Matthysse dominated the final three rounds, scoring devastating knockdowns in the last two.
"I'm just disappointed I didn't finish Lucas," Molina said. "I think I'm the only one who ever had him hurt like that. Matthysse is the real deal. He can punch. Yeah, he's coming off a loss to Danny Garcia, but he is still a No. 1 rated fighter in the world.
"He is a hell of a man, has great heart and I give him all of the credit in the world."
With the victory, Matthysse has his eyes on securing a rematch with Garcia, who badly swelled Matthysse's right eye before scoring a late knockdown in a unanimous-decision win.
"I definitely want the rematch," Matthysse said. "I think he did have very good luck that night, but I want the rematch."
Figueroa edges Belmontes by split decision
At 24, there's little question unbeaten lightweight titlist Omar Figueroa is considered throughout boxing a superstar in the making.
But the native of Weslaco, Texas, sidestepped a potentially dangerous pothole on his road to the top by claiming a split decision (113-115, 116-112, 118-110) over Jerry Belmontes. ESPN.com scored the bout 115-113 in favor of Belmontes.
Figueroa (23-0-1, 17 KOs) was making his first appearance since winning an interim title from Nihito Arakawa in a July 2013 fight of the year candidate. Not only did hand injuries in the bout sideline Figueroa for the rest of the year, he pulled out of a March 8 title defense after reinjuring his left hand.
Belmontes (19-4, 5 KOs), 25, took advantage of any rust Figueroa brought with him by outboxing him behind his quick jab in the opening rounds. The native of Corpus Christi, Texas, entered Saturday's bout with a history of success against Figueroa, having defeated him five times as an amateur. In fact, Belmontes not only scored a stoppage in their final meeting, he claimed to have made a young Figueroa cry in the process.
"He almost made me cry again, but out of laughter by saying he was going to beat me," Figueroa said.
This time, however, it was Figueroa who established himself as the bigger puncher, enjoying his best moments in the middle rounds by enforcing his will on Belmontes and forcing him to fight at close range. Figueroa switched stances throughout and overwhelmed his opponent with volume punches.
But it was Belmontes who made a strategic adjustment in the second half and appeared to close the bout as the fresher fighter. The former amateur standout used his footwork and jab to score from the outside and keep himself out of trouble through a series of close rounds.
"I came here to fight and put on a show and he was just running," Figueroa said. "That was basically it. I'm not blaming him as stylistically that was what he was supposed to do. But I apologize to the fans."
Charlo puts away Munoz
Looking for a quick return to the ring after his first shot at a world title was called off, unbeaten junior middleweight Jermall Charlo took out his frustrations on Hector Munoz.
Charlo (18-0, 14 KOs) saw his March 8 title bout cancelled just days before the fight when titlist Carlos Molina was jailed in Las Vegas. The 23-year-old Houston native, and twin brother of fellow 154-pound prospect Jermell Charlo, had little trouble against the limited Munoz.
Referee Tom Taylor conversed with the ringside doctor before stopping the bout after four rounds as Charlo landed just about everything in his arsenal against a determined Munoz (22-13-1, 14 KOs).