Daniel Ponce de Leon had it all: a world title belt, only one loss on his record, and one of the highest knockout ratios in boxing at the time.
Ponce de Leon relied on power to mow over anyone who dared step inside the ring with him. Life was grand back in 2008, until he ran into an unbeaten, hungrier fighter in Juan Manuel Lopez.
Ponce de Leon was stopped in the first round by Lopez on that warm June day in Atlantic City. Flash forward almost six years later, both fighters will square off again tonight in a scheduled 10-round junior lightweight bout at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. The bout will be televised live on Showtime Extreme, beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET/ 4:00 p.m. PT.
Ponce de Leon is older, wiser, and has improved his boxing skills since their first meeting, which he lost by first-round KO.
The former 122-pound and featherweight beltholder is confident a victory will gain a measure of revenge and move him closer to winning world titles in three divisions.
Lopez is fighting in his native Puerto Rico but has looked less and less like the dangerous puncher he used to be. Lopez has lost three times in his career, all three by knockout. It is a detail that Ponce de Leon has not overlooked.
“I know he (Lopez) is a strong fighter and he hits hard, but I believe if I hit him square, he will go down,” Ponce de Leon told RingTV.com over the phone on Wednesday. “The real question is when I’ll be able to land that punch. I’m going to relax, fight intelligently, and will look to land those (decisive) punches.”
One has to wonder where Ponce de Leon’s career would have been had he not suffered that loss to Lopez. While he would eventually win a major title again, the climb to getting that opportunity was difficult and time-consuming.
Ponce de Leon (45-5, 35 KOs) is now focused on making a run at a world title belt at 130 pounds.
“When I fought JuanMa, I was overconfident and did not apply myself as I should have,” said Ponce de Leon, who runs a gym out of the Los Angeles suburb of Montebello. “Now I’m content with my how my career has gone. I’m looking forward to fighting at 130 pounds because I do not have to put strain on my body the way I used to make 126 pounds. I feel great and I have a lot of strength. I really believe I can win a world title at 130 pounds.”
With all of the success Ponce de Leon has had, he has not forgotten his heritage. Growing up in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Ponce de Leon belongs to the Tarahumara indigenous tribe.
Growing up in impoverished circumstances, Ponce de Leon is grateful that the experiences he went through as a boy allowed him to provide for his family.
“I never leave my roots and I’m proud to be a Tarahumara,” said Ponce de Leon, who lives in the Los Angeles-area. “The memories of my youth will never leave me. I have my life now in Los Angeles, where I have my family and where I train. Boxing has given me a lot and it will continue to do so for my kids.”
Ponce de Leon understands that a loss severely hurts his status as a contender and will probably remove him from all rankings. However, it seems that after a loss Ponce de Leon comes back stronger than ever, proving detractors wrong.
“I believe my career is getting a second wind and I expect to win (on Saturday.)”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for RingTV since October of 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, Boxingscene.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing