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Azad Championship Report - Man in the Middle

(L-R) Mares, Espinoza, Ponce
(L-R) Mares, Espinoza, Ponce

It’s not unusual for two fighters from the same promotional entity to compete in the ring. In fact, with the state of the business nowadays, it’s the easiest way to make a fight. Most of the major firms, whether they be Golden Boy Promotions, Top Rank, Don King Productions or Main Events, have all made a multitude of in-house match-ups pitting their clients against each other. It’s happening this weekend when WBC featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce de Leon defends his belt versus Abner Mares this Saturday night as the featured support bout on the “May Day: Floyd Mayweather vs. Robert Guerrero” pay-per-view card. Both fight under the Golden Boy banner.
What makes this match-up unusual is they are also both managed by one Frank Espinoza.
During the early part of this year, Golden Boy and Espinoza tried unsuccessfully to cajole Top Rank into bringing Nonito Donaire to the dance to face Mares. At that point, Ponce de Leon was in line to face Jayson Velez on March 2nd on Showtime. That fight eventually fell by the wayside as the Puerto Rican challenger had to postpone with an injury.

Then as Saul Alvarez basically pulled himself off this card to face Austin Trout on April 20th in San Antonio, there was a need to feature an undercard bout appealing to the Latin/Mexican fan-base counted on to purchase this card from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Ponce de Leon vs. Mares was the most natural and obvious fit.
“I got a call from [Golden Boy CEO] Richard Schaefer and he asked if I would be interested in taking the fight with Ponce and Abner Mares,” said Espinoza at the media day for this undercard a few weeks back at the Azteca Gym in the City of Bell, near Los Angeles. “After that, because of the unique situation, out of respect to both fighters, I thought it would only be right to talk to each fighter, have a conversation with each one. Both agreed that they’d be willing to take the fight and fight one another.”
It put Espinoza in an unusual position of having to negotiate for both boxers.

“It’s different,” he admitted, “but listen; it’s part of a manager’s job. I have to do the best I can for my fighters. They’re making the most money that they’ve ever made in this fight. So I’ve done my job.”
Ponce de Leon admitted he was surprised when this fight came up. “A little bit, it did surprise me. I’m not going to lie; when he did offer the fight but then after, it made sense,” he said through Ricky Mota. As for Mares, he said this dynamic, “wasn’t an issue but it was a little bit uncomfortable knowing who it was, knowing the name, knowing the opponent. Daniel is a good guy, a guy I’ve known for a lot of years and again, it comes down to business. It comes down to numbers and it’s a good fight. So I ended up taking the fight. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s make it.’”
For Mares, it’s a chance to win a third major world title and clearly establish himself as one of boxing’s most accomplished practitioners. For Ponce de Leon, it’s an opportunity to defend his title against a marquee name who’s coming up in weight. For both, it’s a chance to fight on a huge international stage.
Both are very familiar and friendly with each other, having seen each other for years on the L.A. gym scene, whether it be at the Maywood Boxing Club or Azteca Boxing Gym. And yes, they have sparred. “About three or four times a while back,” recalled Ponce De Leon, who said of Mares, “He’s got good technique; he’s fast. He’s a good fighter.”
But despite their past relationship, like a Simon Brown and Maurice Blocker (who were literally best friends and waged a memorable war with each other in 1991), they will put all of that aside in the name of business and advancing their careers.
“It’s a little awkward,” said Ponce de Leon at the media gathering where he and Mares stayed clear of each other. “He is my friend but it’s a friendly rivalry. It’s a friendly rivalry; that’s all it is. Y’ know, sometimes you spar hard with your friends. Sometimes there’s gym wars and they’re your friends.”
Mares says he has faced acquaintances before in real fights.

“If you go back, I fought Jonathan Arias, who I was training with in Mexico City for camp. I was supposed to fight someone else; he was supposed to fight someone else. But my fight fell through, so I ended up fighting him,” said Mares of his 10-round unanimous decision win in June of 2008. “Yonnhy Perez, another guy I didn’t grow up with but I brought him to the States, we did a lot of training camps here as well. So it’s not something new to me but at the same time, it does not mean it’s not uncomfortable. But it’s business.”
Eric Gomez, matchmaker for GBP, explained that making these types of match-up is, “Always a hurdle. We’ve been in that position as a promoter on a number of fights. The biggest one we did was probably [Marco Antonio] Barrera- [Juan Manuel] Marquez. So it’s always different. Frank and I, we had numerous conversations about it but I commend Frank because he did the right thing for his fighters. He’s getting them paid their biggest purses ever on a big stage and that’s all you can do. If you do that as a manager, that’s your job: get your fighters on a big stage and to get them paid. That’s what he did.
“So we had numerous conversations about it. He felt a little bad about it. I told him, ‘Frank, you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. You gotta have a clean conscience. You’re getting your guys paid and you’re getting them on a big stage. It’s going to be a helluva fight. It’s a terrific fight. You just happen to have two of the best guys in the division. What else can you do?’”
Back on April 23rd, 1977, famed manager Cuyo Hernandez found himself in a similar situation as he handled both bantamweight champions Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora, who fought in front of a packed house at the Forum in Inglewood, California.
Veteran publicist Bill Caplan recalled, “One was the WBC champion [Zarate]; one was WBA [Zamora], so they decided they were going to have a unification fight. So [Hernandez] had to make a choice on which corner he was going to work or he was going to work neither one. He decided to work with Zarate because he thought Zarate was the better fighter. He was right.”
Zarate stopped Zamora in four rounds and according to Caplan, the lack of neutrality was duly noted.
“Zamora’s father was so pissed off that he abandoned his son. He came across the ring and tried to kick [Hernandez] in the balls, I would say, maybe, five or six times. It was just hilarious. It looked like a guy trying to kick goals. GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! GOAL!”
Espinoza isn’t looking to get booted in his private regions or anywhere else. It’s the main reason a manager who routinely drops by his boxers’ training camps decided to stay completely away from both factions.

“This is the first time I’ve seen them,” he said on that media day. “I’ve made a commitment to stay away from both camps. I don’t go to sparring for either one. Neither does my son. We don’t go to either camp. We stay neutral.” And he let both Ponce de Leon and Mares know the was Switzerland leading up to May 4th. “They understand; they know that and they respected the decision to stay in the middle and I’d rather just stay that way out of respect for both fighters. I think that’s the right thing to do.”
Then on the night of May 4th, Espinoza says, “I’m not going to be either walking or working. Frankie Jr. will not be working the corner. I’ll be in the ring to greet both of my fighters to wish them both luck. Then I’m going to sit down. At the end of the night, listen; I’m not really keen on seeing my guys punch at each other but I love them both like sons and I want them to come out healthy. They both know the benefits of taking a fight like this.
“They know that fighting on this kind of a platform, when you have millions of people watching you, they know that to showcase their talent, this is going to be phenomenal.”
Schaefer told Maxboxing via email that a fight between IBF light heavyweight titlist Bernard Hopkins and Karo Murat is “95 percent done” for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on July 13th with Gary Russell Jr. on the undercard.
Now it’ll be interesting to see if anyone will face the talented Russell Jr. He’s developed the reputation as a guy who hasn’t been matched very tough (which is valid) but now he’s being accused by many fans of avoiding tougher matches (which isn’t fair). The bottom line is there aren’t a lot of marquee names willing to face this quicksilver southpaw unless they absolutely have to.
Golden Boy has made repeated overtures to Jhonny Gonzalez, who has thus far rejected the fight. Gonzalez, though, has a rematch clause with Ponce de Leon (who beat him for this WBC belt) that extends to a year from when they fought on September 15, 2012.
Ponce de Leon vs. Mares is part of an attractive undercard that takes place this weekend. In addition to this bout, J’Leon Love and Gabriel Rosado square off in a middleweight contest and the always fan-friendly Leo Santa Cruz makes his junior featherweight debut against Alexander Munoz.
Here’s a complete preview of the card:
According to the state of Texas, the April 20th bout at the Alamodome in San Antonio which saw Saul “Canelo” Alvarez defeat Austin Trout sold 36,420 tickets with just 543 comps for a total gate of $2.77 million.
This event wasn’t just a home run for Golden Boy and “Canelo”; it was a grand slam.
Here’s a Showtime preview of Ponce de Leon-Mares: The Tyson Fury-Steve Cunningham card at the Theater at MSG (which took place on April 20) sold just over 1,600 tickets and had a gate of just over $111,000...How ‘bout a match-up between welterweights Ruslan Provodnikov and Luis Carlos Abregu? Hide the women and children...Look for the resurgent Raymundo Beltran to sign a promotional pact with Top Rank soon...Lee Purdy was officially announced as the new opponent for IBF welterweight champion Devon Alexander on May 18th in Atlantic City...In his exit interview with the local media in Los Angeles, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak got “Rocky IV” and “Rocky V” mixed up. He called the fifth edition “the one where Rocky fought the Russian.” He was quickly corrected by the press. OK, do we trust this guy to rebuild the Lakers with a faux pas like this?...Did anyone really think Stephen Curry would be this good in the NBA?...If you’re the Lakers, do you give Dwight Howard a max-contract?...This week’s edition of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” will air on Thursday and has a main event of my cousin (not really), Ji-Hoon Kim, against Mauricio Herrera but I’m still expecting it to be delayed by something...I can be reached at and I tweet at We also have a Facebook fan page at, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.

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