THIS STORY begins in a neighborhood dance party in the 1970’s. That summer evening, Mario and Doris set eyes on each other at a club in Esperanza, in the Argentinian province of Santa Fe.
It wasn’t the first time they’ve seen each other, though.
They already knew each other. Her brother, Miguel Angel, was friends with Mario, also known as “El Tordo” (“The Thrush”). Mario was very popular in his hometown, especially since he had a reputation as a surly boxer who knew how to hold his own in a fight.
“Honestly,” Doris recalled recently at her whole family’s request, as they set themselves to listen to a what they called a fairytale. “It’s that I couldn’t even look him in the eyes. I didn’t like him at all, he cursed a lot and was so full of himself.”
But something funny happened when he asked her to dance and, suddenly, kissed her.
“And with that kiss, and then some, I realized that I was born to be at his side,” Doris said.
And that is how Mario Edgardo “El Tordo” Matthysse and Doris Steinbach started as boyfriend and girlfriend, then as husband and wife and, a little later, as proud parents of four children.
This is the story of three of those children. Walter Dario, Edith Soledad and Lucas Martin.
All three of them are boxers. Jennifer is the only one of the siblings who is not a professional fighter.
Actually, this is the family story of Lucas, nicknamed “The Machine,” who is set to step into the ring on Saturday, July 14 in Kuala Lumpur, to face Manny Pacquiao in what will be the most important bout of his life.
WHEN LUCAS gets in front of Pacquiao, he will surely remember (with apologies to Gabriel García Márquez and his “One Hundred Years of Solitude”) the moment in which his grandfather took him and introduced him to boxing.
“At age 11 I started training. At 12 I left school and at 13 I started to fight exhibition bouts with Mario Narvaez (brother of former WBO flyweight and super flyweight champion Omar Narvaez). It is funny, though, because Mario is my coach now and is also married to my sister, Soledad. So, it all remains in the family.”
His mother’s father, Miguel Angel Steinbach, was also a boxer. It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that with so much boxing running through his veins, Lucas would carry on the family’s legacy?
“I was 15 years old back then,” Lucas Matthysse recalls. “I was fighting my second bout and it was the only time he saw me box. At least, he saw me. And he saw me winning…”
LUCAS MATTHYSSE made himself as a boxer not only as a mentee of both his father and grandfather, but also of his older brother, Walter, widely known as “El Terrible.”
Walter Matthysse had a brief and explosive career, with a few fights in the United States. And he had power. Of his 26 wins, 25 were decided by KO. And his five losses were always decided before the bell as well.
Walter was born on Aug. 29, 1978. Lucas was born on Sept. 27, 1982. The “little brother” followed his older sibling’s footsteps.
“At age 11 I started training,” Lucas said. “At 12 I left school and at 13 I started to fight exhibition bouts with Mario Narvaez (brother of former WBO flyweight and super flyweight champion Omar Narvaez). It is funny, though, because Mario is my coach now and is also married to my sister, Soledad. So, it all remains in the family. When I was 14 years old, I weighed 105 pounds and I made my official debut as a boxer.”
Walter was always an explosive person. Lucas, however, is a quiet and lonely person.
“He loves the countryside, he loves to hunt, being with his dogs, he’s a very quiet person and he was always away from home for long periods of time,” says his sister, Edith Soledad, a mother of four and also a boxer. In fact, “La Itaka,” as she is known, is a former junior featherweight champion who held the WBC and WBA crowns simultaneously. Edith is currently training to face Ahahí Salles, the current Argentine bantamweight champion in Senillosa, Neuquen. Edith Soledad has already beat Salles in 2013.
“Lucas was the one brother closest to mom, he’s a ‘momma’s boy,’ as we would say. However, he used to live away from the family home because he was invited to join the Argentinian national team after he started fighting in Santa Fe. Therefore, he had to be based in Buenos Aires and he lived for a few years in there before he left amateur boxing.”
“LUCAS HAS BEEN LIVING for about 10 years in Junin, in the Buenos Aires province”, recalls Soledad. Junin, the small city in which Luis Angel Firpo, “The Wild Bull of the Pampas” was born, is the main headquarters of Arano Box, the company headed by Mario Arano for about three decades.
When Lucas decided to start a professional career, and at the request of his brother Walter, he joined Arano’s ranks and based himself in Junin. The birth of his daughter Priscilla On June 19, 2005, in Trelew, shook his life completely. “It is one of the most important things that have ever happened to me. Priscilla means everything to me,” Lucas never gets tired of saying.
“Lucas loves his daughter,” Soledad says. “Actually, he came to my place in Trelew and set up a small room for himself. He did it all with his hands. That small room is almost a sanctuary today.”
Under Arano’s helm and with his sights set in Junin, Lucas started to grow up as a fighter while following Walter’s steps closely thanks to the boxing matches broadcast on TV by Combate Space in Argentina.
Back then, Lucas was making progress. In 2007 he had already 18 wins, 17 by KO and he was making a name by himself, instead of just being “Walter Matthysse’s younger brother.”
Walter had some tough battles at the end of his career: A devastating loss to Kermit Cintron on July 14, 2007 in Atlantic City followed by another defeat on Oct. 19 against Sebastian Lujan in Rosario. That’s when Walter decided to call it quits.
THE STORY OF “EL CHINO” AND “LA MAQUINA” has a whole different chapter in our tale. Both took their first steps in boxing in Vera, Santa Fe. The owner of a produce store took them both and some other aspiring boxers, put them inside a produce truck and made trips to neighboring towns and staged fights with them.
Years later, “El Chino” — yes, we are talking about former two-division world titleholder Marcos Maidana, the same guy who fought 24 rounds with Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas — and Lucas found themselves in a plane. It is not rare that they would not say four sentences to each other since they are men of very few words.
“Hey, just to think that we used to make trips in a produce truck and now we are flying First Class, Marcos,” Lucas allegedly said. Maidana, with a smile, simply nodded in consent.
As life would have it, they both fought each other in four occasions as amateurs. Maidana won three of them, and the other one ended in a draw.
One of those bouts was held in a closed arena, with no attendants. The Argentinean Boxing Federation organized the program back in 2004. Only two journalists witnessed the fight: Marcelo Gonzalez and this ESPN reporter.
The decision of hosting a match with no paying attendants in seats was made in order to avoid any pressures, since the winner of the match would fly to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to compete in an Olympic qualifier. Maidana won fairly, in a close match. I cannot forget how Lucas cried in a sign of hopelessness when I went to greet him.
“He’s a friend of mine, we lived together in the same room. He is my friend, and I know he won fair and square and that it was a close fight. However, I would have loved to win it,” Matthysse confessed.
Despite calls from media and relatives, they never fought each other as pros and always kept (and still keep) a lot of mutual respect. Aside from their quiet and lonely ways and few words, they do not bear any resemblances on the ring.
LUCAS’ STORY is recent and well-documented. But the Matthysse family saga is long and wide-ranging.
Mario Matthysse was also a strong and tenacious fighter who, besides his defeats, was willing to step into the ring and face anyone.
He fought, and lost, against Jorge Fernando “The Locomotive” Castro (the very same one who had a huge victory against John David Jackson) and Ramon Gaspar “Pipino” Abeldano, who defeated the great Horacio Saldano at Buenos Aires’ Luna Park, among many others. Mario had 58 fights with 38 wins (18 by knockout), 13 losses and 7 draws.
“I didn’t fight at Luna (Park). However, I used to train at that gym,” Mario says from his native town of Trelew. “I fought against all of them, I fought a lot of bouts in Chile, but I never fought at Luna Park. I would have loved to do that.”
“She was always asking us how things felt like on the ring, until she decided to give it a try herself.”
Soledad Matthysse on her mother’s interest in boxing
“El Tordo” wasn’t lucky with timing, either. He retired from boxing in 1989, and Luna Park stopped hosting boxing matches in 1987.
“I am now coaching recreational boxing at the Decatlon Gym in Trelew, as usual,” El Tordo said. “And I’ll return to coaching pro boxers very soon. One of the highlights of my life was when I went to Las Vegas, alongside my son Lucas. I helped in every aspect, despite the fact Mario Narvaez was the official coach and Joel Diaz worked as technical staffer. I loved being there, next to them…”
On the night of May 6, 2017, at the T-Mobile Arena, Matthysse fought again after 18 months away from the ring, knocking out Emmanuel Taylor in the fifth round.
Matthysse’s father will not be joining him in Kuala Lumpur.
“Because of those things that happen in life,” he says. “When I split with my wife, back in 1981, the kids stayed with her in Santa Fe, and I went south, to Trelew, in the province of Chubut… And it was in Santa Fe where my kids started to fight.”
There’s a feminine side to this boxing story, as well. It is represented by Doris Steinbach, the same young lady who ended up as Mario Matthysse’s companion when she was 16.
“She was always asking us how things felt like on the ring, until she decided to give it a try herself,” Soledad recalls.
A few years ago, Doris saw an opportunity while Lucas was away from Trelew. Encouraged by the rest of her kids, she decided to participate in a fight. Lucas was adamantly against the idea of seeing the woman who gave him life stepping into a ring and exchanging punches.
A provincial tournament was about to be held and there was a vacant spot for a boxer. Obviously, she was training every day. But one thing is to punch a bag and another one to face an opponent in the flesh.
“It was a wild bout because they hit each other all the time,” Soledad recalls while laughing. Doris won the match and the provincial tournament.
“That was when I announce my retirement, as an undefeated champion,” Doris said. “I am better than my children on that,” she says jokingly. “Because no one has defeated me in the ring.”
Doris, who now works at the Secretary of Culture in Rawson, Chubut’s capital, is Lucas’ great companion even when they are apart.
THERE ARE STILL TWO FAMILY STORIES to tell. First, we have the marriage of Soledad Matthysse with Mario Oscar Narvaez, former sparring partner of Lucas and whom today is his coach.
Mario was the WBC Hispanic junior bantamweight champion. He fought his last bout in 2014 and finished his career with 15 wins (4 by KO), 17 losses and five draws.
“Mario used to train with my dad,” Soledad recalls. “I was about 14 years old and he was 16… When I met him, I had nothing to do with boxing. I liked to go out and have fun just like any other girl. However, when I met Mario, I started to hang out at the club Huracan gym more often… Casually, as they say. When I was 18, I got pregnant with (daughter) Milagros and that’s when we formalized our relationship.”
Milagros is 18 nowadays and she is one of the three daughters of Soledad and Mario Matthysse. The other two are Sasha (16) and Yanessis who is close to her 15th birthday. Milagros is the one carrying the family banner. She has already fought one bout, earning the crown at the provincial championship in the Evita Games in the 80-kg category.
Mario, alongside his brother Omar was, in some respects, the main force in Trelew in order to encourage Lucas to reclaim his love of boxing. He never admitted to it publicly, but “La Máquina” (nickname given to him by ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.) seriously considered retiring from boxing and he even posted it on Twitter. Lucas said it was just a thought and not a final decision.
The team is complete with technical staffer Joel Diaz, who says that Pacquiao’s left-handed style would not be a huge issue. Diaz is also an excellent motivator at the gym and in the corner. Physical trainer Federico Wittenkamp, boxer Marcelino “Nino” Lopez and Mario Arano as a promoter, are all part of Team Lucas.
THE MATTHYSSE FAMILY will be as close as ever on the evening of Saturday. It is a family in which boxing runs deep, of male and female boxers, of former and future champions.
“Actually, we have seen all Pacquiao fights together, as a family,” Lucas said. “That is why I don’t have to do a lot of study on him, I know him very well. I have always rooted for him, but this time, it will be different. Ha! I think he will go at me in full strength, as usual. On top of that, since I have no issues fighting against lefties, he will try to work me with his counter strike. He is a great boxer, that is no secret. However, it is a matter of ‘all or nothing’ for me, as usual; since I will try to finally insert myself into the history of Argentinian boxing.”
In Trelew, at the Chubut province, where the winds of the Patagonia are wild and raw, several hearts will beat a bit faster than those of the rest of Argentine boxing fans.
Those will be the hearts of the members of the Matthysse family. They will cheer for Lucas, the man who will step into the ring and perhaps, when he gets in front of Manny Pacquiao, will remember the moment in which his grandfather Miguel Angel took him to a boxing gym for the very first time, just like it happens on the pages of a Garcia Márquez novel.