"The Iceman" Viktor Postol, waiting for a shot at a junior welterweight world title as a mandatory challenger for 17 months, got his opportunity and made the most of it Saturday night.
In an upset, Postol outboxed and outpunched Lucas Matthysse before knocking him out with a right hand to the eye in the 10th round to punctuate a superb performance and win a vacant 140-pound world title before 7,025 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
"He's a really great opponent, really strong," Postol, who is from Ukraine, said through a translator. "I didn't want to knock him out. I didn't plan to do that. I just came into the fight and wanted to relax and box, and do what I do best. And the knockout came. It's all great."
Postol (28-0, 12 KOs) and Matthysse (37-4, 34 KOs) were meeting for one of the two world title belts Danny Garcia vacated in order to move up to the welterweight division in August.
Matthysse, 33, of Argentina, one of boxing's most fearsome punchers, came into the fight seeking his first major world title, and most expected him to get it. He had been an interim titlist and blasted through several quality opponents in recent years, but when he got a shot at Garcia in September 2013, Matthysse got knocked down and upset in a decision loss.
Three wins in a row followed, including a majority decision against Russian banger Ruslan Provodnikov on April 18 in a leading fight of the year candidate, and put him back into a title fight against Postol because Garcia left the weight class.
But the 31-year-old Postol, who was trained for the third fight in a row by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach and assistant Marvin Somodio, and got outstanding sparring at Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, was in prime condition and fought perhaps the best fight of his career.
The 5-foot-11 Postol towered over the 5-foot-6 Matthysse and used his height and considerable reach advantage to frustrate Matthysse, who could never land his powerful right hand with enough force to get Postol off his feet.
Round after round, Postol attacked Matthysse to the body and kept his jab in his face. Matthysse landed a few hard right hands that rocked Postol during the middle rounds, but not enough to do any serious damage.
Matthysse also landed several punches behind Postol's head and Postol did quite a bit of holding, but referee Jack Reiss was stern with his warnings -- especially in the sixth round -- and when they eased up on the dirty tactics for fear of losing points, the action heated up.
"When Jack Reiss told me [to stop holding] I was afraid he was going to dock a point from me," Postol said.
Postol, who began boxing when he was 12, landed a hard right hand that hurt Matthysse in the eighth round. As much as Matthysse tried to attack, Postol was there to counter him with a jab or right hand in his face.
In the 10th round, out of nowhere, Postol nailed Matthysse on the left eye with a clean right hand and he went down. Matthysse got to one knee, but with his head down and dabbing at his eye, Reiss counted him out at 2 minutes, 58 seconds.
"I felt a pop in my eye," Matthysse said through a translator. "I preferred to take care of my eye. I could have gotten up but I preferred to stay down to protect my eye. Nothing happened for me tonight."
At the time of the knockout, Postol led 86-85 on two scorecards and Matthysse surprisingly led 86-85 on the other.
"He's not the best. He had his night and I just didn't have my night," Matthysse said. "But he is the world champion tonight and I want to congratulate him."
The loss not only crushed Matthysse's lifelong dream of winning a world title but also knocked him out of contention to be Manny Pacquiao's opponent when he makes his expected return in February or March for his first fight since losing to Floyd Mayweather in their May 2 megafight and subsequent rotator cuff surgery.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao and co-promotes Postol, prominently mentioned Matthysse as a possible opponent as long as he defeated Postol. It was also a fight that Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, Matthysse's promoter, hoped to make.
Now it's out of the question and unlikely that Arum will match Postol with Pacquiao for a number of reasons, including his lack of name recognition and the fact he is so much bigger than Pacquiao.
But Arum also promotes junior welterweight titleholder and 2014 fighter of the year Terence Crawford, who defends his belt for the first time on Oct. 24 against Dierry Jean. If Crawford wins, a unification fight with Postol would determine the de facto king of the division. While it's not clear if that is a fight Arum or Crawford are interested in, count Postol in.
"It will be my pleasure to meet him in the ring," Postol said of Crawford. "I want to prove myself to the American fans and prove there are real champions in Ukraine."
Said Arum: "Postol will be a force in the 140 and 147 divisions. He is difficult to fight against. Top Rank will have a lot of big fights scheduled for him."
Postol became the mandatory challenger for the belt by virtue of a massive 11th-round knockout of longtime contender Selcuk Aydin in May 2014 in a world title eliminator. He hoped to get a shot at Garcia but decided to take a six-figure deal to step aside to allow Garcia to face Lamont Peterson in April. The deal also included a spot on the undercard, and Postol won that tuneup bout. But Garcia elected to vacate the title and move up, allowing Matthysse, the next leading available contender, to get the vacant title fight.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Postol landed 113 of 509 punches (22 percent) and Matthysse connected on 96 of 281 (34 percent).
"I took a few hard shots but that's why my nickname is 'Iceman.' I can take a punch," Postol said. "Freddie and Marvin made me the champion and I assure you this won't be my last knockout."
Orozco wins decision against Soto
Up-and-coming junior welterweight Antonio Orozco passed the biggest test of his career with a grueling, hard-fought decision victory against former two-division titleholder Humberto Soto in the co-feature.
All three judges had the fight for Orozco, 98-91, 97-92 and 97-92, even though it seemed a bit closer.
"I feel great about the win," Orozco said. "It has been something we have been working for my entire career. This means that we have stepped it up in competition, and I am ready for a world title fight. I felt that I set the pace to this fight, but it wasn't easy. Soto is a tough fighter. He came prepared and I have a lot of respect for him. This was a great learning experience for me and proves I am ready for the next step in my career."
Orozco (23-0, 15 KOs), 27, of San Diego, and Soto (65-9-2, 35 KOs), 35, of Mexico, a former junior lightweight and lightweight world titleholder, spent the first round feeling each other out and then went to battle in the explosive second round of the action-packed fight.
Orozco, however, got the better of the action in that round and most of the rest, especially with a strong body attack. A pair of left hooks to Soto's body appeared to hurt him in the fourth round.
Orozco was also much busier than Soto as he fired numerous combinations. According to CompuBox punch statistics, Orozco landed 187 of 624 punches (30 percent) and Soto connected with 184 of 529 shots (35 percent).
When Orozco floored Soto with a left hook to slightly below the belt in the ninth round, referee Jerry Cantu docked him one point and gave Soto time to recover. Orozco, however, closed strong in the ninth and 10th rounds to win the fight and undoubtedly move on to bigger business.
Soto, fighting for the first time in 13 months because three fights were canceled, had not lost since a fifth-round knockout to Matthysse in 2012, but saw his seven-fight winning streak come to an end.
"I felt comfortable going into this fight. I know the kind of fighter Orozco is and was prepared to take on a young, tough fighter," Soto said. "I think I dominated the fight. The judges, with all due respect, scored this fight wrong. The fight was really on my side."