By Jake Donovan (photo by Chris Cozzone/FightWireImages)
It’s funny how the same thing can take on so many different interpretations, depending on the perspective in which it is viewed.
For boxing fans either on the fence about – or otherwise disinterested in – purchasing the Shane Mosley-Sergio Mora-headlined pay-per-view card this weekend, the late addition of Antonio Escalante-Daniel Ponce de Leon adds instant intrigue, if not providing that final push towards breaking down and springing $44.95 (plus $10 in HD) to buy the event.
For Daniel Ponce de Leon, it’s a last chance to remain relevant in a featherweight division where one of its leading players has already iced him in a single round.
Yet for rising contender Antonio Escalante, it’s a last minute opportunity that serves as a chance to bust through the ranks and prove that he’s more than just a fun TV fighter.
“This is my big time shot, I see myself fighting for a world title with any of the champions with a win on Saturday,” claims Escalante (24-2, 15KO), who prepares for his biggest fight to date when he faces Ponce de Leon in this weekend’s pay-per-view televised opener. “It’s a tough fight that I have to overcome, but this is my ticket into the big leagues.”
Escalante has been waiting for years to punch his way to the upper echelon of the sport. For the moment, he remains an action star with a huge cult following, particularly in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, where he has drawn massive crowds in each of his past four bouts.
The star status was anointed on the Mexican featherweight a tad prematurely, as fans began clamoring for more ever since he appeared on Showtime’s Shobox series more than four years ago. His multi-knockdown thriller with Jose Hernandez was an instant classic, one that led to regular televised appearances on Telefutura and eventually ESPN2.
However, for as many thrills he’s provided boxing fans, he seems to have endured as many setbacks. A surprise stoppage loss to faded Mauricio Pastrana in January 2007 slowed down plans to fast track his career towards a title run.
As he was on the road to redemption, plans were being discussed to eventually match him up with the very fighter he will face this weekend at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Those plans were seriously derailed when Juan Manuel Lopez came along and blasted out Ponce de Leon in less than a round.
Instead, his handlers decided that the time came to develop him as a hometown attraction.
Even greater than his current 10-fight win streak is his ability to turn something as basic as a headliner on ESPN2 Friday Nights or Telefutura’s Solo Boxeo series into a major event.
So of course, now that he’s established himself as a huge star on the cult level, along comes the opportunity of a lifetime – and on very short notice, no less.
The timing is of no concern to Escalante, who stays ready just in case the phone rings like it did last month for the chance to take the fight. As far as he’s concerned, it’s a chance to close out old business before moving on with his career.
“It took a while to for this fight to happen before it was finally offerd,” Escalante states, recalling two-year old plans to fight Ponce de Leon when he was still a titlist. “There were already plans to fight, but he lost to JuanMa, and those plans went into the trash can.”
In waiting two years for this fight, he received the opportunity days after his most recent affair, a three-round thrashing of Edel Ruiz last month on Telefutura. It was a rare fight in which he escape completely unscathed – so fresh that he barely broke stride in his training.
“The funny thing about receiving this opportunity was that I fought Ruiz on a Friday, and was already running the next morning without even knowing what was coming up next.
“A few days later, the fight was offered. After that, it was hard training. I felt good, and didn’t hurt myself (against Ruiz) so it was no problem to go right back into the gym. In fact, it’s a better opportunity now because I feel more complete.”
Helping Escalante evolve as a fighter is his chance to have taken care of another bit of unfinished business, which came in the form of his Fight of the Year-worthy decision win earlier this year over longtime rival Miguel Roman.
There have been a couple of fights since then to replace it as the year’s leader in that category but – as was the case in 2006 – Escalante became the table setter for discussion in the category thanks to his 12-round war with Roman, which aired live on ESPN2 in late February.
In the end, boxing fans were given their first true Fight of the Year entrant, as well as plenty to talk about all weekend and well beyond. Anyone who watched the fight walked away impressed and wanting more.
Anyone, except the winner of the fight, anyway.
“My fight with Roman was a tough fight, but not just because of what took place in the ring, but also the personal stuff. There was a lot of bad blood, which was why I went toe to toe and I’m sure he felt the same.
Escalante, who can box as well as he brawl, knew he was fighting the wrong fight, but couldn’t help getting caught up in the moment. Though displeased with the means, he was ultimately satisfied with the result, one that felt like was a lifetime in the making.
“I knew I could’ve outboxed him instead of going through all of that. But I beat him, and avenged all of those years of being bullied. I feel at peace.”
In addition to exorcising old demons, Escalante earned the distinction as one of the sport’s premiere action fighters, the primary reason why so many fans are looking forward to this weekend’s fight, even if lukewarm towards the rest of the card.
While some are expecting a Fight of the Year contender, Escalante will be perfectly content to walk away with “just” a victory.
“I’m not looking to claim Fight of the Year every time out. It just comes naturally; there’s no pressure to have to fight to that level. Styles just make a fight like that. If I have to go toe to toe, we’ll do it. Otherwise, I’ll just do what it takes to win.”
There’s good reason for Escalante to want to stop short at fighting for the crowd over fighting for his future. At stake in this weekend’s pay-per-view curtain raiser is a mandatory title shot against the winner of the November 6 featherweight clash between Juan Manuel Lopez and Rafael Marquez.
For Escalante, this fight is the opportunity to fight for the first of several titles at several weight classes. Once upon a time, there were plans (or at least hopes) to face all of the aforementioned names at 122, but those days are definitely long gone.
“I will probably move up in weight. If it were up to me, I’d cut off a leg to make 122. My manager (Lester Bedford) told me I need to move up to 126, so I moved up in weight. I want to succeed and keep moving up.”
The first step toward success begins this weekend. Anything less than his best effort, and it will also end there. But Escalante isn’t making the trip all the way to LA just to allow his opponent to enjoy a rebirth.
“Every fight, there is a certain motivation. For this, just knowing it’s a tough fight, probably the toughest of my career so far, makes me want to run harder, hit the bag harder. It’s the motivation that drives me. I see myself going for the big time fights after this. I have to prove myself to Ponce de Leon first, but this is it.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .