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Holm/Mathis ".....And Only Half of What You See"
By Bernie McCoy
October 10, 2011


(OCT 10)  The best advice I ever got regarding coverage of boxing came from a guy who wasn't even talking about the sport when he proffered his counsel. Paul "Skinny" D'Amato, who ran the "500 Club" in Atlantic City before that great resort town turned into a blot of casinos surrounded by slums, was advising how a young, tender, naive wannabe newspaper reporter should cover what D'Amato, rightly, considered "his town": "Don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see." I applied D'Amato's advice for the year I worked the "AC beat" for the Asbury Park Press and I've kept it in the forefront of my mind each and every time I come within writing distance of a sport that continues to outlive it's critics, while, at the same time, often disappointing it's most ardent supporters.

Here's the latest we've heard about the next big event in Women's Boxing: On December 2, at the Route 66 Casino Hotel in Albuquerque, NM, Holly Holm will fight Anne Sophie Mathis over ten rounds; twenty minutes of boxing that is being contested, according to the advance publicity, for "World Dominance." Ignoring for the moment, the propensity of the sport of boxing to overstate the significance of upcoming bouts, a claim of world domination may seem a bit of a reach. And when it comes to big bouts in Women's boxing, we've been here before, replete with the same type of "catch your breath" hype, except previously the names were Martin and Rijker, Ali and Wolfe. And, in the crystal clear light of retrospect, we would have been wise to not "believe anything you hear...." about those events and their resulting impact on the sport.

But, this time, there is a key difference. Behind the December 2 promotion is a guy named Lenny Fresquez, who has been the moving force behind some, if not most, of the best female boxing bouts in this country over the past decade. No, the estimable Mr. Fresquez is not the New Mexico reincarnation of Tex Rickard, but rather he has been the guidon behind the professional boxing career of Holly Holm. Holm is, with only marginal dissent, considered to be the best active female boxer, at the least, a landslide choice as the best welterweight female fighter. And, as a clear eyed businessman, Lenny Fresquez would probably stipulate that the winner of the December 2 bout will, rather than ascending to any status approaching global domination, emerge as the IBA female welterweight champion and the WBAN welterweight belt holder. And in a sport that has been increasingly populated by far too many bouts that should not have been made and were and an equal number of bouts that should have been made, but weren't, a match-up of fighters the quality of Holly Holm and Anne Sophie Mathis is a welcome respite. The "if only" connected with the December 2 event is that this bout should have happened three years ago.

Mathis vs. Lamare

In June 2007, Mathis won a hard fought majority decision over Myriam Lamare, recording her (Mathis) second win over the tough French countrywoman. This was followed, six months later, by a second round stoppage of Jane Couch, in what was that tough English fighter's last professional bout. And three months later, Mathis dismantled an overmatched, previously unbeaten, Ana Pascal in two rounds in a bout that, likewise, ended Pascal's career. Anne Sophie Mathis was clearly on the top of her game in the ring and just as clearly out of quality opponents in Europe. Talk started in earnest about a Mathis/Holm bout in either the US or France. But, after a ten round decision in November 2008 over Belinda Laracuente, Mathis dropped from the boxing scene, a hiatus that lasted two years, almost to the day.

Holm vs. Sanders - Photo: Lori Steinhorst

In June 2008, Holly Holm beat Mary Jo Sanders over ten rounds in what was being billed as the "fight of the year," dropping Sanders, a highly regarded Detroit fighter. from the unbeaten ranks. Four months later, in Detroit, Sanders was awarded a return bout draw in what turned out to be her (Sanders) final professional bout. Holm continued to campaign and in January 2009, in New Mexico she won a closely contested ten round decision over Myriam Lamare, the same fighter who had previously tested Anne Sophie Mathis twice in Europe. This juncture in the careers of Holm and Mathis would have been the ideal time for the two to step into the ring. Both fighters were at the height of the prominence and skill, but, unfortunately, Mathis was, in early 2009, well into the second extended gap in her boxing career. (Mathis fought two bouts in 1995, losing the second via a five round TKO to the formidable Marischa Sjauw. Following an eight year absence, Mathis resumed boxing in 2003,)

Mathis ended her second hiatus in November 2010 against a 3-3 Romanian fighter, Mihaela Dragan, who was dispatched in the first round. It was the type of bout one would expect a fighter to take after two years outside the ring. One would also expect that subsequent bouts might take on a more competitive tenor, once a fighter like Mathis got back to a full time training regimen, particularly, since as soon as Mathis returned to the ring, talk of a Holm bout rekindled with a fervor. That has not been the case. Mathis' second bout was with Angel McKenzie, a 4-21 "opponent," who lasted into the fourth round of a scheduled six round bout last December. Diane Schwachhofer followed in February, coming to the bout having lost three of her last four fights and did not survive the second round. Duda Yankovich, whom Holly Holm punched around almost at will for four rounds in June 2009, lasted only three rounds with Mathis last April. Two months later, Mathis' fifth bout into her return was against Olivia Boudouma, who came to the fight at 8-0, an impressive record until it was noted that seven of the eight wins came against boxers with losing records. Mathis won in five rounds. At this point, in her return, Mathis was on a "final approach" towards a, now scheduled, bout with, ostensibly, the best fighter in the sport and yet, it could be argued that she had yet, since her return, been in the ring with a known, quality opponent.

Serrano vs. Mathis   Photo: Courtesy photo

Cindy Serrano was a known, quality opponent, decided emphasis on the past tense. Serrano had fought some of the top fighters in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. In 2005, her bout with Rhonda Luna was adjudged by Ring Magazine to be the female fight of the year. However, Cindy Serrano had had one fight since April 2008; last June, in the Dominican Republic, Serrano now fighting as a welterweight, went six rounds to a draw with Oxandia Castillo. A closer look indicates Serrano was the first fighter Castillo had been in the professional ring with who had a win on her record. On October 1, Cindy Serrano went ten rounds with Anne Sophie Mathis in France, in what was the final "prep" for Mathis' December 2 bout with the best female fighter in the sport.

Thus, since her second return to the ring, Anne Sophie Mathis has had six fights, winning five by TKO and one with a shutout ten round decision. None of the six opponents come within light years of the skill level of Holly Holm. In fairness to Mathis, she shouldn't have been expected to engage the best of the top rank fighters with an opponent like Holm in the future. And, more pertinent, it is completely up to Mathis and her handlers how to prepare for what is the biggest fight of her career. Several years ago, I asked a fighter who had fought both Mathis and Holm who would, in that fighter's opinion, win a bout between the two. The fighter rolled her eyes and didn't hesitate with her answer, "Mathis, easy." She was kind enough not to add "Duh!" to what she considered a simplistic question.

Three years ago this match-up could have been the best female fight ever in the sport and the boxing community might still be talking about it and using it to measure other great female bouts. It didn't happen three years ago, it's going to happen on December 2 and I hope it approaches the level of what could have been when these two fighters were both at the top of their skill levels. Two years is a long time to be out of the ring, absent from top flight competition, but champions have a way of reaching back and resurrecting the greatness that was once theirs. I hope it happens this time for Anne Sophie Mathis. But when you read, as you will, in the run-up to December 2, press releases that talk about "world domination" and when you catch some You-Tube highlights of Anne Sophie Mathis' recent six fight winning streak, keep in mind "Skinny" D'Amato's words, "nothing that you hear" and only "half of what you see." But, also hope, like me, that on December 2, Anne Sophie Mathis will prove that, all along, she knew exactly what she was doing and, on that December night in Albuquerque, she will be able to reach back and retrieve her former world class boxing skills. If so, the sport of Women's boxing will be the big winner.

Bernie McCoy

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