After getting stopped by Abner Mares last year and losing his WBC featherweight belt, Ponce de Leon had been itching for a high-profile opportunity. Now, there’s no doubt “JuanMa” is a badly-faded version of the guy who beat “The Tarahumara Destroyer” nearly six years ago - if not flat-out shot - but it’s still a significant fight that can lead to bigger and better fights down the line for the winner. As he was offered the fight, Ponce de Leon says, “I took it right away. It’s what I wanted, a big fight. I didn’t even think about it twice when it was offered.”
His manager, Frank Espinoza told Maxboxing, “This was in many ways the best fight for [Ponce de Leon]. It’s on a big stage on Showtime and he’s at that point in his career where he’s not always willing to go through tune-up fights anymore. He was very disappointed when Gary Russell turned him down and he ended up facing Joksan Hernandez in the fall and from that point on, he made it clear he wanted something much more significant. And that’s why I really like working with him; he doesn’t turn down fights.”
Back when they first met, Lopez was considered a rising star who would be next in the long line of Puerto Rican standouts carrying on the lineage from the likes of Wilfredo Gomez, Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto. But he’s turned out to be a shooting star who burned out quickly. Now he finds himself in the ultimate, must-win situation.
After getting KO’ed last June by Mikey Garcia, Lopez was released by Top Rank Promotions. But with the loyalty of the fans on the island, he was propped up one last time more for his ability to still sell a few tickets in support of Danny Garcia. This truly could be his last stand but even with the home-canvas advantage and the results of their initial hook-up, Ponce De Leon is listed as two-to-one betting favorite coming in.
“This is an incredibly important fight for Ponce too,” said Espinoza. “The reality is that if he wins, well, it will be much easier for me as a manager to get him the opportunities he wants. A loss would be a huge setback, especially at his age. It’s really that simple.”
When asked the biggest difference between now and 2008, Ponce de Leon explained, “I’m more mature; I’m older; I’m wiser; I’m in better shape. I do believe I’m a better fighter than when we fought before.” It’s actually a testament to the perseverance of this awkward southpaw that since that fight, he’s actually had the best moments of a very productive career. Coming out of the 2000 Olympic Games, Ponce de Leon has crafted quite a résumé, one dotted with notable names that has seen him win major titles at 122 and 126. His career record stands at 45-5 (35).
“Ponce de Leon is a guy that has gotten everything out of his ability. I think he is the very definition of ‘overachiever,’” said Espinoza, echoing the thoughts of many in the sport. This is a fighter who will never be lauded for spectacular, natural ability or elegance in the ring but he’ll certainly be respected for what he’s earned in this hard game.
Now 33 years old, he understands he’s coming into the twilight of his career.
“When I started, I always thought I would fight till I’m 35, 36, max. I take care of myself; I train hard and I’m still here, so the plan is working out,” he said while standing outside his gym, the Ponce de Leon Boxing Club in Montebello. The facility is perhaps a segue to the next stage of his life. Ponce de Leon says of being a gym owner, “I like it; it feels good to be the owner of your gym and I have a lot to live up to. All the pro fighters, the amateurs, I have to set the example on how to work hard, run the show here. It’s a lot of fun.”
His life after boxing might be...well, boxing.
“Definitely, a lot of fighters have asked me for help to train. There are different routes I can take; maybe be a trainer or maybe be a manager. I don’t know but I want to be involved.”
Unfortunately, unless something miraculous takes place, the proposed bout between Mikey Garcia and Yuriorkis Gamboa is headed to “Bolivian.” The bottom line is Garcia wants a certain number from HBO (north of $1.5 million) and the license fee being offered up by the network simply wouldn’t allow that to happen.
Garcia and his handlers are also miffed that HBO seems to give them no other options but Gamboa. On the flipside, HBO has given Garcia a very reasonable line-up to face over the past couple of years as he has built his profile and made more than a few bucks in the process. There is an expectation that he now faces a certain level of opponent after seven appearances on HBO.
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