The road back to a world title opportunity for Daniel Ponce de Leon has not been as fear-inspiring as his first tour towards the big time. The two victories over durable but limited opponents that separate him from back-to-back defeats to Yuriorkis Gamboa and Adrien Broner in 2011 have been more workman-like than remarkable, as were many of the performances during his nearly three-year reign as WBO junior featherweight titleholder.
Perhaps that is the reason why Ponce de Leon (43-4, 35 knockouts) is getting the golden opportunity so quickly this time. This Saturday he’ll face WBC featherweight titleholder Jhonny Gonzalez (52-7, 45 KOs) on the undercard of the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Ponce de Leon, 32, of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Mexico has never quite been viewed the same since the first-round knockout defeat to Juan Manuel Lopez in 2008 that ended his six-defense reign as 122-pound titleholder. Still, his crowd-pleasing style, the occasional highlight reel knockout (see Antonio Escalante, Rey Bautista) and vulnerability have made him an endearing fighter whom fans want to see in competitive matchups.
“It has been a little difficult,” said Ponce de Leon of the road back to this point. “I’ve been looking for this opportunity for a long time, but the opportunity came at the right moment because I feel very good now.”
Since the defeats, Ponce de Leon has retooled with veteran manager Frank Espinoza, who said he signed Ponce de Leon with the expressed purpose of staging a match with Gonzalez.
“Before he signed with me, he asked me to get him a fight with Jhonny Gonzalez,” said Espinoza, who was Israel Vazquez’s manager when he knocked out Gonzalez in ten rounds back in 2006. “I’m happy I could make it happen after two fights.
“Jhonny Gonzalez is an excellent technician, but he doesn’t have a great chin,” continued Espinoza. “Ponce de Leon has a good game plan and is ready to put it to use this Saturday.”
On the road towards Gonzalez, Espinoza arranged bouts for Ponce de Leon with Omar Estrella in January, followed by Eduardo Lazcano in May.
Against Estrella, Ponce de Leon was ruled to have been knocked down in the second round on a body shot, though replays show that their feet tangled as Estrella stepped in. Ponce de Leon eventually stopped him in round six due to the accumulation of damage. The Lazcano match was very much the same kind of performance, though Lazcano was more durable and has yet to be stopped.
Gonzalez can relate to Ponce de Leon’s struggle. The long, rangy boxer-puncher with a busy style and questionable chin has thrice been knocked out in title fights while ahead on the scorecards. His last three defeats — to Vazquez, Gerry Penalosa and Toshiaki Nishioka — were all knockouts that raised questions about his ability to take a punch and persevere under adversity.
Gonzalez’s window to regain a title appeared to be closing when, last April, he traveled to Japan to face Hozumi Hasegawa, who himself was rebuilding after a surprise knockout loss to Fernando Montiel. Gonzalez knocked him out in the fourth to earn the strap and has since made four defenses, earning a no. 4 ranking at featherweight by THE RING.
The 5-foot-7 Gonzalez presents a difficult style matchup for Ponce de Leon, who is listed at 5-foot-5 but seems shorter due to his crouching posture.
“Jhonny is a little taller than me, but so were a lot of the opponents I’ve had and I haven’t had problems with them for being taller,” said Ponce de Leon.
One common opponent that Ponce and Gonzalez share says it’s Gonzalez’s fight to lose. Gerry Penalosa, who knocked out Gonzalez in 7 rounds on a left cross to the body in 2007 but lost a decision to Ponce de Leon months earlier, says his gut is going with Gonzalez by decision.
“Ponce is too slow for Jhonny,” said Penalosa. “Ponce should fight like there is no tomorrow. Jhonny is a good boxer but has no heart. Ponce should stay in front of Jhonny all night in order to win.”
Ponce de Leon says he isn’t deterred by the naysayers who have written him off.
“It doesn’t bother me. The people can think a lot of things,” said Ponce de Leon. “I’ve just prepared myself to give good fights and I think that’s how it should be.”
Translations: Jose Martino/Venky Cantua