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Introducing Abdiel Matute: The Legend Of "Socks"
A look at an unknown heavyweight from Panama, his life and his socks.
Abdiel Matute was making his way home one night in late May from a training session, getting ready to box on June 19.
Matute had spent nearly two months in Costa Rica, far from his native country of Panama. His goal during his stay in Panama was to fight and gain valuable experience as a budding pro boxer in anticipation for his next fight. What he didn't expect was to get mugged at gunpoint.
Two men approached him, both armed, and demanded Matute to hand over everything in his person. It taking place in the dead of night, not far from where he would be fighting in San Jose, meant that he faced with a harrowing position. Matute had no choice but to give in to their demands and hope that he would walk away alive. His valuables, phone, wallet, everything on his person was stolen.
Fortunately for him, he walked away from the encounter with his life still intact. But now he faced the issue of being in a foreign country without family or his girlfriend Carla. He was able to find a means to not only get back to his temporary home in Costa Rica, but also communicate with his Carla and his mother.
The two weren't the only ones to be relieved he was still walking and breathing. There's also a group of people whom Matute had never met in person that also exhaled a sigh of relief. That group is a collective that has become an unofficial fan club for Matute and a new set of friends in boxing. They were known as The Chat.
To put it simple, The Chat is an ensemble of people from all walks of life who meet up on Zoom every Friday night with one thing in common: their unabashed love for the sweet science. It's not just fans who meet up every week. Writers, media, journalists, those who work in public relations and with promoters, and even fighters, retired and current, prospect and world champions alike, meet up every week.
The Chat isn't some secret society where only a select few can enter. It's open for anyone who wants to join with only one golden rule to follow: what's said in The Chat stays in The Chat. It was in The Chat where Matute got to meet his new friends and fans.
The idea that a group of American boxing fans and writers were even interested in his career, much less meet him, was ludicrous. After weeks of attempts from those inside The Chat to bring him on board, it took some convincing from Carla to give them a chance even as she wasn't sure what to expect.
"To be honest, I thought it was all a joke. People use the internet and social media for all sorts of things, both good and bad. I thought it was some elaborate prank. I never thought that I would have fans, much less so in that part of the world. I thought, ‘I’ll try it for one day,’ and now I feel so privileged to be able to connect with these people,” said Matute.
Once Matute hopped on board, he was met with glee and excitement from the entire group. Still baffled by the response he got, but pleasantly surprised, Matute found out why there was such an earnest fascination with a random heavyweight from Panama.
It all started on February 19 in Panama City, the site of Matute's second fight. He was facing Victory Delgado, who beat Matute one year ago. There was an online stream of the fight and The Chat stumbled upon that stream.
What they saw instantly captivated them all. Matute came into the ring wearing long compression socks, a rare sight in boxing. The Chat immediately gave him the affectionate nickname "Socks" (Calcetines in Spanish). Matute won the fight via fourth-round TKO (thanks to a devastating right hand from Matute) and became a fan favorite inside The Chat. Matute finally hopped on board and joined The Chat, where he finally got to reveal why he wears those socks.
He’s been deal with foot problems for years and risks suffering from plantar fasciitis, which results in pain in the heel and bottom of the foot. Although he has to wear those socks for medical reasons when he trains and fights, Matute fully embraces his new nickname.
“I think it’s great. So long as it doesn’t cross a line, I’ll give the fans what they want and I love the nickname.”
It was also on The Chat where Matute finally got to tell his story.
Matute never had aspirations to become a boxer, but still very much enjoyed watching and playing all kinds of sports from baseball to basketball. Growing up in Panama, it was impossible for Matute not to idolize the legendary Roberto Duran. Even today, 20 years after his last pro bout, Duran is still viewed as an almost god-like figure in the hearts of the Panama people.
It wasn’t until he was an adult that the opportunity to box was something he would seriously consider. But even when Matute started boxing, it wasn’t with the intentions of going pro.
By the mid to late 2010s, Matute was weighing more than 300 pounds and he wanted to change that. No longer was he content with his physical state at the time and wanted to do better and feel better. But like with The Chat, it was Carla who insisted he’d try and give it his all.
“I was trying to find a way to lose weight and that’s when the idea of boxing really came to me. I had gained a lot of weight during the years and wanted to change that. Carla looked at me and said, ‘You know, you can really make something out of this and have a future in boxing if you went for it.’ Those words got me thinking. No one told me I had potential,” said Matute.
Matute came in came into the gym with Carla’s words of encouragement in mind and saw that there was something for him to try out.
Even so, with his apparent lack of physical conditioning and excess weight, he was met with a lot of skepticism. When he first tried boxing for four rounds, no one thought it was possible for him to do it, but to the surprise of everyone who saw him, he went the distance.
“Doing that told me that I can do it, that I can dedicate myself to this if I really tried. That’s when I really took Carla’s words to heart and I carried it all the way to my second fight where I won for the first time,” said Matute.
His favorite active boxer is Andy Ruiz Jr., who like Matute, was ridiculed by some because of his weight and his look. Ruiz was still able to silence critics and become a world heavyweight champion when he defeated Anthony Joshua in the summer of 2019. Matute believes Ruiz is proof that a fighter’s looks doesn’t equate to success, but more so his dedication to the sport and his heart.
Now a full-fledged boxer who is dedicating all of his time to honing his craft, Matute wants to know how far he can really come along. However, the road to success is not an easy one.
Panama is not known for producing quality heavyweights. The country has never had a world heavyweight champion and Boxrec notes that there are only two active heavyweights from Panama (Matute and Delgado). The closest Panama has come to having success in the upper weights was Guillermo Jones, who was a WBA titleholder at cruiserweight from 2008 to 2012.
There’s also the fact that Matute doesn’t have much of an amateur career to call his own and the lack of any depth at heavyweight in Panama means that he has to travel outside the country just to find fights. June 19 will be the first such case of that as he faces Bruno Gonzalez, a debutant fighter, in Costa Rica.
With little to no real amateur experience to call his own, Matute is learning on the job. In addition to working on his boxing abilities, Matute focused a lot of his training on losing weight. In his debut fight against Delgado in 2020, Matute weighed in at 314 pounds. In the rematch in February, he came in at just under 297 pounds.
His goal was to drop several dozen pounds as he had a full training camp, which included running from 10 to 12 kilometers almost every day. But as he’s learning more about the ins and outs of fighting, losing weight became less of a priority and improving his skills became the singular focus late in camp. Although he’s not reaching his initial weight goal for this fight, the things he’s learning instead in camp will prove to be far more beneficial to his career in the long-term.
But it’s not just the gym where Matute has used as a source of knowledge. He’s had people on the internet comment on his fights and his gym work.
Some fighters would either disregard such as critique or lash out at those who dare comment on their boxing when those commenters have never laced a pair of boots or worn a pair of gloves in their lives. Instead of doing that, Matute thanks them and considers what they said and see if they do have a point. Whether it’s in the gym or on the internet, Matute enjoys using whatever means he has at his disposal to work on his boxing ability.
In fact, he enjoys sharing his boxing journey on social media and showing off his improving abilities.
“To tell you the truth, I stopped weighing myself more than two weeks ago. Instead, we worked more on strength, skills, movement and we’re focusing on improving my strength and my durability. My coach told me to stop thinking about the weight. The weight loss will come in the future, little by little,” Matute said.
But as motivated and as excited as Matute is for this fight, he knows that a win is the only way for his career to move forward. Even he doesn’t know what’s next for him if he wins given that he has no promoter or manager.
However, that uncertainty doesn’t scare him. Even after being away from his loved ones for almost two months, toiling away in the Costa Rican heat every day and even after being mugged and nearly losing his life, Matute continues to smile.
“Throughout life, there are going to be obstacles put in front of you and you have to put forward your best self. I know there are people in my corner and far away who love and support me. They give me the strength to push forward and work hard every day. There are few people who believe in you when you start something. When someone sticks with you from day one and says they believe in you, even in a loss, that’s something you don’t forget. I feel massive motivation from having my loved ones stick with me in the highs and lows. It’s what you as an athlete look for and I have that in my family.”
- Abdiel Matute.
Matute is also realistic of his future. He’s not screaming to the heavens that he’s winning a world championship. That’s not his goal.
His goal in boxing is a little more down-to-Earth and it’s one that he hopes anyone can follow.
“I want to leave a legacy that shows that you shouldn’t give up. No matter what path you take, I want to show that anything is possible. No one thought I could make it in boxing and few thought I should move forward with the path I took. I want to prove that you can do anything if you set your mind to it,” said Matute.
While the boxing world awaits June 19 for a marathon day of boxing with Jermall Charlo, Naoya Inoue, Mikaela Mayer, Jaime Munguia and more fighting on cards around the world, Matute hopes to leave his own statement on that day. Although most of the boxing world won’t tune in to watch his fight, he’ll still have a dedicated group of supporters ready to see him in action, one sock at a time.