JUNIN, Argentina -- It's noontime on a Sunday as the Argentine city of Junin gets ready for a traditional siesta under a blazing midday sun. Located several hours' drive away from the city of Buenos Aires, it looks deserted and still.
One-story houses. An occasional stray dog. Complete silence.
Located a few miles from the center of town is Gomez Lagoon, where sitting among the trees and birds with only his thoughts is Lucas Martin Matthysse, interim junior welterweight titlist and, to many, one of the most exciting fighters in the world today.
Matthysse, 30, was born in Trelew, in the southern province of Chubut. His father, Mario Edgardo, was a profesional fighter who had 51 bouts, including one aganist former middleweight champion Jorge Castro. Lucas' mother, Doris, had a few amateur fights herself. And then there are his brothers and sisters: Walter (26-5-0, 1 ND, 25 KOs) fought Paul Williams and Kermit Cintron in the U.S., and Edith Soledad (9-4-1, 1 KO) recently fought in Mexico against Yazmin Rivas for a women's bantamweight title, losing on points. Additionally, Edith Soledad's husband, Mario Narvaez, is a veteran of 36 pro fights who happens to be the brother of junior bantamweight titlist Omar Narvaez.
The lineage, it seems, will continue: Walter's 14-year-old son, Ezequiel, has already made his debut as an amateur. This excites Lucas, who compares his nephew's story to his own.
"I left Trelew when my parents divorced. I started fighting at the age of 11, and my first coach was Huinca Mendez," Matthysse said. "When I left Trelew, I had already fought as an amateur when I was 14, just like my nephew. Maybe because of that I have a special affection toward him, because his story is similar to mine. I went to live in Esperanza, Santa Fe, where my dad was born. And I traveled around to other small towns, like Rafaela and Vera -- a small town where I met another guy who dreamed about becoming a boxer, like me.
"His name was Marcos, but we called him 'Chino.' Yes, it was Chino Maidana."
Although soft-spoken, Matthysse (32-2) likes to tell stories and doesn't mind opening up about himself.
"I've always been a loner, and I didn't talk much," Matthysse said. "Now I am living here, in the Posada del Sol, which is like a log cabin. I divorced a while ago. I love being alone. I always have dogs around, I like to hunt, fish and, obviously, to train. Because to me this is not a sacrifice, it's a pleasure."
Matthysse has lived in Junin, the birthplace of legendary heavyweight contender Luis Angel Firpo, for the past eight years, since the birth of his only daughter, Priscilla Yaneisi. ("I don't even know how to spell her second name," he joked. "I heard it once in Cuba and I liked it.")
Junin is a boxing stronghold in Argentina. Matthysse trains at the Arano Box Gym, located in midtown and open exclusively for him with two rings, six heavy bags, lots of mirrors and lodging space for 12 people. That's where the fighters live, along with their sparring partners and the rest of the team: Promoter Mario Arano, Barrera, coach (and cook) Dario Fernandez, physical trainer Gerardo Pereyra, longtime doctor Edgardo Leguizamoon and Smurf Arano, Mario's brother and jack-of-all-trades in camp.
Matthysse has fought five current or former champions, knocking down all of them (including DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley's nine trips to the canvas in 2011). And according to some, including promoter Arano, Matthysse could very well be undefeated at this point: "He never really lost in the ring, because against [Zab] Judah and [Devon] Alexander, he was robbed," Arano said.
Those sketchy split-decision losses are already on the books, but Matthysse can continue to build on his spectacular recent run on Saturday when he defends against Mike Dallas Jr. (19-2-1, 8 KOs) in Las Vegas. Dallas, a former prospect, lost in each of his first two step-up bouts (against Josesito Lopez and Mauricio Herrera), although he rebounded to win both of his fights last year.
"Yes, at first sight [Dallas] is not much of an opponent, but we're not taking anyone lightly and we're training, as always, all the way to be in our best possible shape and avoid surprises," said Matthysse's trainer, Luis Dionisio "Cuty" Barrera. "We're not studying videos or anything, because we -- especially me, as a trainer -- value more the certainty that Lucas is well trained and at his best possible level. If you look at it this way, then they are the ones who should be worried."
Although Matthysse says he isn't looking past Dallas, he makes no secret of his intentions for 2013: to take down the biggest names at 140 pounds.
"I want to fight Danny Garcia, that's the story," Matthysse said of the unified junior welterweight titleholder. "I feel that's the fight I need to demonstrate that I'm the true and only champ in the division. I don't like to throw names around. All I want is to be recognized as the only champion."
Matthysse had a fight scheduled against Erik Morales in September 2011, but he decided to withdraw, which might have affected his standing with the Golden Boy suits. Matthysse might have been further diminished in the eyes of some when Garcia went on to fight Morales twice in 2012, outpointing him in March to win a vacant belt and destroying him in a brutal fourth-round knockout in October.
"It was a complicated moment for me," Matthysse said. "I was getting divorced, my friend Carlitos Ponce had just lost his mom and I had a strong case of bronchitis. I don't believe my defenses were down or something like that, but I got sick. If it had been for the money, maybe I would have fought anyway, but I don't fight just for the money. I fight to be the best. So instead of risking a loss, I decided to step aside."
But as much as the boxing public might have longed to see Matthysse take on Morales, the Mexican legend, a couple of years ago, the demand may be even higher right now for him to face fellow action star and countryman Maidana. It's a tough sell for the fighters and friends.
"I've known him since we were kids, when we were traveling from one town to the other in the back of a truck to fight as amateurs," Matthysse said of Maidana. "And we fought several times in those days. But today that's a fight created by the journalists, more than anything. He is at around 147 pounds, and I don't think he'll like the idea of dropping so much weight. And I am the 140-pound champ; I am not in the mood to go that high up."
Matthysse is reminded that it's his own promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, who, more than any other, has insisted on the idea of a Maidana matchup. "Well, I don't know," he said. "If we have to fight, I am sure we will, because we're professionals. But right now, I believe it doesn't make that much sense."
Matthysse admits he has few issues making weight, and to demonstrate, he eats from a huge pot bubbling with chicken, potatoes, carrots, peppers, rice, corn on the cob and, laughs Fernandez, who cooked up the stew, "a secret ingredient from the chef."
"A few days ago, a huge iguana popped up around here, and we barbecued it," Matthysse said. "It was tasty."
According to Barrera, Matthysse "sleeps all the time." There's an explanation for that: "Lucas sleeps all he can because he works too much. He gets up at 5 a.m. and runs about 14, 15 kilometers [about nine miles]. He gets some rest and then goes to the gym for strength and conditioning training. He has lunch, takes a nap and then, at around 4 p.m., goes to the gym once again to work on his boxing. And he works out at least 15 rounds every day, sparring every other day. That takes its toll. He is lucky to be eating well, because he has no weight issues, but right after dinner, at around 9 p.m., he goes right back to sleep."
In the meantime, all of the focus is directed to Matthysse's next fight. He continues working hard in camp while carving out time for long walks with his dog, Pirate, before taking the rest of the stray dogs along for the ride.
"I have been in camp during the past four Christmases," Matthysse said. "I'm used to it. Now we have to do it again for Mike Dallas, someone I don't know too well, but just as Cuty says, the joke is on the other guy."
"When we had the fight with [Ajose] Olusegun [a 10th-round TKO victory in September 2012], I told Lucas that winning was our only choice, even though we could lose some of the good things we were working on," Barrera said. "We couldn't allow ourselves to be robbed like we did against Alexander or Judah. That's why maybe he didn't look so great from a technical standpoint, but he demonstrated he can punch and everything else he has going for him. Now that he is a champ, I am sure he will be even more confident.
"This will be the Year of Lucas."
Matthysse agrees: "All I know is that I feel better than ever and that in this year I will demonstrate that. I hope Danny Garcia takes the fight because it will be the best way to demonstrate what I'm capable of."