Over the span of two months, 2023 has been more than an above-average year for boxing. In fact, when it comes to fight quality, it's been sensational. Before we delve into the Saturday clash pitting Subriel Matias vs. Jeremias Ponce, let's note that thus far, there have been at least five fights that could be in contention for fight of the year honors.
Emmanuel Navarette's battle with Liam Wilson was an unexpected brawl, with the underdog nearly pulling off the upset. The United Kingdom's Anthony Yarde over-delivered against Artur Beterbiev, giving the Russian knockout artist one of his most challenging tests before falling to an 8th-round TKO. Amanda Serrano and Erika Cruz went to war, setting Compubox women's boxing records for the undisputed featherweight championship. And just last weekend, Mauricio Lara scored a stunning seventh-round stoppage over Leigh Wood in another fantastic bout, followed by Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan battling to the brink through 11 rounds.
This weekend at The Armory in Minneapolis on Showtime, another exceptional match is on the horizon. Puerto Rican power puncher Subriel Matias (18-1, 18 KOs) will take on Argentina's Jeremias Ponce (30-0, 20 KOs) for the vacant IBF super lightweight championship.
Former undisputed champion Josh Taylor initially held the title; however, he chose to vacate the championship to move forward with a rematch with Jack Catterall that will likely never occur.
Matias, 30, is as high as a 4-to-1 favorite over Ponce, who will be fighting for the first time in the United States. The southpaw puncher will be following in the footsteps of Puerto Rican legend and Hall-of-Famer, Miguel Cotto, who, through the first half of his career, became one of the best junior welterweights of the last 25 years.
Other than his vaunted knockout power, Matias may be best known for the tragic match with Maxim Dadashev (July 2019), where his opponent passed away from injuries sustained during the bout.
Anytime something as devastating as an opponent dying occurs, it has an impact on the fighter that stood in the opposite corner. However, Matias, who has seen his fair share of tragedy in his life, including two shootings in 2012 and 2013, has been able to move on from the Dadashev incident.
“You are talking to a dead man who God has brought back to life,” Matias expressed in an interview with ESPN in 2020.
Although Matias would lose to Armenia's Petros Ananyan in his second match following the Dadashev event, he would respond with victories over two undefeated fighters in Batyrzhan Jukembayev and Malik Hawkins. Last year, Matias got revenge against Anaynan, stopping him after nine rounds in a rematch. Thus far, Matias has stopped every fighter who has stepped in the ring with him. But, this doesn't mean that he isn't prepared to go all 12 rounds against Ponce.
“Anything could happen, but I'm confident in my abilities,” Matias told Boxingscene.com. “I know what I can do, but I'm ready to fight one or 12 rounds, regardless of what happens.”
Like Matias, Ponce may be looking to follow in the footsteps of fellow countrymen. In the 2010s, Lucas Matthysse and Marcos Maidana were both prominent contenders at junior welterweight who went on to win world titles at welterweight. Maidana, in particular, made a huge impression in his first fight in America, almost derailing the career of Victor Ortiz, stopping in six rounds after being knocked down three times.
Ponce's knockout percentage isn't as high as Matias', yet, often times the bigger puncher is the one who can take the other's punches better. Boxing history has numerous examples of a fighter that was thought of as the lesser puncher knocking out the perceived knockout artist. In 1986, Mike McCallum stopped Julian Jackson in two rounds for the WBA junior middleweight crown. Two years later, Iran Barkley upset Thomas Hearns with a shocking third-round stoppage.
“I do agree that the fight isn't gonna reach the final bell,” said Ponce in an interview with Boxingscene.com. “It's gonna end by a knockout. But you know what I think the most? I'm gonna be the winner by knockout.”
Having titles unified is far from a negative occurrence in boxing. However, when the undisputed champion is relegated to fighting just once a year, they hold the division hostage. Unification has its ramifications. Josh Taylor relinquishing three of his world titles has opened up junior welterweight to potentially significant bouts. Matias-Ponce could be the first of many to come.
We won't know until they step in the ring if it is either Matias or Ponce who is able to take the other's punch. Both men have a healthy amount of respect for each other. But with a world title on the line, I don't expect there to be an abundance of glove-touching between the two. Ponce is the underdog who has the advantage of the unknown. But, Matias isn't underestimating him. Therefore my pick is for Matias to win via stoppage in the championship rounds, with the referee or Ponce's corner halting the match.