by David P. Greisman
The fighters stepped back toward the corners, done with the referee’s final instructions and awaiting the opening bell.
“Another chapter in the long book of Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters,” said HBO commentator Max Kellerman. “It’s been a great rivalry, and this looks like another great matchup.”
“With 49 days to go before July 26,” responded Jim Lampley.
The bell rang. It was June 7, 2008, and junior featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon stepped forward to attack prospect Juan Manuel Lopez. In 49 days, another Mexican fighter, welterweight Antonio Margarito, would face Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto.
Ponce De Leon opened the bout the best way he knew, coming out aggressively and seeking to send a message to his younger foe. Lopez took the shots well, and then patiently sought his chance to show that it was actually Ponce De Leon who was in too deep.
Barely halfway through the first round, Lopez landed a southpaw left cross and then followed up with a right hook to the head as Ponce De Leon came forward. Ponce De Leon was hurt, and the glancing left uppercut from Lopez that came next helped him to the canvas.
Ponce De Leon rose quickly. His legs weren’t back, and Lopez knew it. Lopez came forward and opened up an onslaught on Ponce De Leon, all while standing close enough that Ponce De Leon’s wider shots couldn’t land. Another knockdown soon followed. Ponce De Leon got up and staggered backward into a corner. The referee waved it off.
Seven weeks later, Cotto-Margarito was an entertaining and brutal war of attrition, one in which the accumulated punishment ultimately broke Cotto down.
* * * * *
Fighting isn’t like other organized athletics, where, say, a baseball team can lose 60 times and still have a great season. In the Sweet Science, every defeat can eat away at a boxer, for it means that other person was better than him, even if time passes and that no longer is the case.
It is why Lennox Lewis had rematches with Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, winning both.
It is why Juan Manuel Marquez followed Manny Pacquiao up through weight class after weight class for eight and a half years, seeking rematch after rematch until he knocked Pacquiao out in their fourth fight. He then dismissed any need for a fifth.
It is why Vernon Forrest jumped back in the ring with Ricardo Mayorga, why Shane Mosley took a second shot at Winky Wright. Only after both lost their sequels could they truly accept the result.
Ponce De Leon’s career didn’t enter a downward spiral after the first-round knockout loss to Lopez, though he has had ups and downs since then. There were the seven straight victories over the next two and a half years, which were then followed by two consecutive defeats in 2011: a close decision loss to a 130-pound prospect named Adrien Broner, and a technical decision loss to Yuriorkis Gamboa.
Ponce De Leon went 3-0 in 2012, finishing that year with a technical decision over Jhonny Gonzalez, picking up a featherweight world title in the process. That landed him a fight on last year’s Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Robert Guerrero undercard against Abner Mares, who stopped Ponce De Leon in nine rounds and took his title. Ponce De Leon rebounded in late 2013 with a shutout win against Joksan Hernandez.
That brings him into this rematch with Lopez, which will be part of a Showtime broadcast in Puerto Rico on March 15 featuring Danny Garcia vs. Mauricio Herrera in the main event. There won’t be anywhere near as much meaning — to us, at least — in this second fight. Too much has happened to Lopez since then.
That won’t matter to Ponce De Leon, though. He’ll still think back to that evening more than five and a half years ago, to those 145 seconds and the implications of a first-round technical knockout loss.
“That loss has been a thorn in Ponce’s side for a long time,” said Ponce De Leon’s manager, Frank Espinoza, in an interview last month with BoxingScene’s Rick Reeno. “He really wants to make things right. He thinks Juanma landed a miracle punch. I’ve never seen him this eager in a very long time. … I believe Ponce will be very prepared for this fight. Ponce wants to return this favor with a knockout of his own.”
Lopez, for a brief time, was a good fighter. He’s now at the point where a loss to Ponce De Leon “could be the end of my career,” he told BoxingScene’s Ryan Burton.
The first signs of Lopez’s flaws came just 16 months after the Ponce De Leon win. He was dragged into a war with the resilient but limited Rogers Mtagwa and was fortunate to survive for the win.
Lopez moved up to featherweight afterward, won a world title and made two successful defenses before he ran into Orlando Salido. Lopez-Salido 1 was a competitive battle, but Salido was better — he was able to hit Lopez, hurt him and finish him.
Every fighter wants a chance at revenge, and Lopez got his chance a year later, though not his revenge. Once again, Salido held up to Lopez’s attack, while Lopez couldn’t hold up to Salido’s retaliation.
Lopez’s fluctuating weight and dramatic personal life didn’t do him any favors either. By the time he stepped into the ring this past June to face Mikey Garcia, Lopez appeared to be technically shot; Garcia picked him apart easily.
A fighter whose only losses are to Salido and Garcia typically wouldn’t be written off. Yet many find good reason to conclude that Lopez has little left. His lowered status is reflected in the lineup for the March 15 card in Lopez’s native Puerto Rico: Ponce De Leon-Lopez 2 is in the broadcast’s opening slot, not the main event.
Lopez, as with most fighters, does not see the proverbial writing on the wall. He feels the blowout loss to Garcia was a combination of Garcia’s ability and Garcia coming in overweight for that bout. Lopez says he feels stronger now that he has moved to 130 pounds.
“I don't belong at 126 anymore,” Lopez told Burton. “It is a lot of work to get down that low. I had to train just to make the weight.”
We shall see whether the additional four pounds of leeway will rejuvenate Lopez, or whether our suspicions will prove to be true. We’ve written off fighters prematurely before. We’ve also correctly spotted many a decline.
* * * * *
In the end, though, it won’t matter to Ponce De Leon how we write Lopez’s history, so long as we ink “Ponce De Leon” down in the winner’s column for this rematch.
It is us that will see his revenge as diluted; he won’t.
After Margarito beat Cotto, he went on to a January 2009 bout with Shane Mosley. In the dressing room before the fight began, illegal inserts were found within Margarito’s hand wraps. Mosley went on to batter Margarito, and suddenly questions arose about Margarito’s win over Cotto: Had Margarito done anything similarly illegal in previous fights? Could his win over Cotto be tainted?
Those questions ate at Cotto, who concluded that Margarito had indeed cheated. Cotto wouldn’t get his chance at revenge until the end of 2011. Margarito was no longer the same fighter by that point; he’d been pummeled for 12 rounds by Manny Pacquiao the year before, and there was uncertainty as to whether athletic commission doctors would allow him to fight with a surgically repaired eye.
None of the extenuating circumstances mattered to Cotto.
He still performed that night in front of more than 21,000 people, nearly all of them living vicariously through Cotto, hoping to see him exact an eye for an eye, to vanquish the villain, to right the wrong. Cotto gave them what they wanted, scoring a ninth-round technical knockout and standing before the roaring crowd as it rained down its approval.
The 10 Count
1. Finally, we can put aside the countless interviews, as well as the legal maneuvering, protests and sanctioning body appeals, and get an actual resolution involving Carl Froch and George Groves. The super middleweight titleholder and his rival challenger have signed for a rematch to take place this coming May.
They met this past November. Groves knocked Froch down in the first round and continued to do well, but Froch battled back and had Groves reeling in the ninth. Their bout ended too soon, however, with the referee jumping in even though Groves didn’t appear to be out on his feet. The ref didn’t give Groves a chance to show he could recover or defend himself, nor did he give Froch a chance to finish Groves off without controversy.
The International Boxing Federation ordered a rematch, though it refused to mandate a purse split that would give Groves more than 15 percent. It seemed weird that the bout would need to go to a purse bid, though, given that both men share the same promoter. Indeed, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport ended up making a deal to get them back in the ring.
Groves has still tried to get his loss overturned. It’s understandable that some people will see his public and private lobbying as being a wearying form of whining. But it’s also understandable that Groves would look into such measures; after all, this was his first pro loss, and this is a sport where losing that zero at the end of a fighter’s record sadly sometimes means too much.
It’s both maddening and bemusing that the British Boxing Board of Control refused even to give Groves a chance to argue his appeal.
“We won’t hear the case against the result,” said Robert Smith, the board’s general secretary, as quoted by my colleague Terence Dooley. “Howard Foster is a world-class referee, we support his decision, and the result will not be changed.”
Even the best referees can and do make bad calls. Groves’ case had enough merits that it deserves a chance to be heard, argued and ruled on.
Heck, the IBF’s reasoning for ordering the rematch was what it felt was inappropriate conduct by referee Howard John Foster, which in turn affected the fight’s outcome.
“Groves should have been allowed to continue, as he did not appear to be seriously hurt and was counter punching and attempting to move the action away from the ropes at the time of the stoppage,” the IBF said in a statement, citing the opinion of an appeals panel. “In addition, the referee waved the fight off from behind Groves instead of in front of him and did not look into his eyes. Groves showed no signs of being hurt after the stoppage. In sum, the panel felt it was an improper stoppage.”
2. Congratulations to Gennady Golovkin for being named the World Boxing Association’s “boxer of the month” for January 2014.
It’s quite a feat, given that Golovkin’s win over Osumanu Adama came in February.
3. Returning to something from last week:
While pondering Floyd Mayweather’s next fight on May 3, I noted that Marcos Maidana’s team had previously turned down an immediate rematch with Adrien Broner for April 19 or April 26, saying that Maidana wanted to spend time with his girlfriend and their soon-to-be-born daughter, resting and then returning for a full training camp.
“A fight with Mayweather would be just one or two weeks later than the Broner bout would have been,” I wrote. “Of course, it’s easier to change your mind when there’s a significantly larger payday available. And Maidana’s reasoning, while completely understandable on the surface, may also have been another case of contractual posturing.”
Maidana’s manager, Sebastian Contursi, affirmed that later in the week in an interview with Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com.
“Marcos would be able to sacrifice himself to get ready for May 3, but, of course, Mayweather is one thing, and Broner is another thing,” Contursi said at one point.
Later, he added: “People have to understand that Maidana really gave a beating to Broner, so, of course, when you beat a guy in that way, you are not that excited to give him a rematch. So Marcos was a little bit peeved after that beating that Broner took that Broner was still trying to dictate the terms. I mean, to impose his conditions, like, ‘I’ll be fighting Maidana in April,’ and stuff like that. We were like, ‘He cannot call the shots.’ ”
4. A lot of boxing-related press releases come my way — nearly 100 emails last week alone, and I’m not even on all of the mailing lists. But few give me the kind of laughs I got from a “Valentine’s Day Q&A” held with the eight boxers who will be on the March 8 pay-per-view featuring a main event of Canelo Alvarez vs. Alfredo Angulo.
They were asked the first thing that came to mind when they think of Valentine’s Day.
Canelo: “I think of joy.” Angulo? “I just think about training.” Lightweight titleholder Omar Figueroa had this weird answer: “The colors red and pink.”
Alvarez’s eye-rolling romantic answers continued with the best Valentine’s Day gift he’s ever given or received: “The best gift I received is love.” Meanwhile, poor Jermall Charlo: “I have never received a Valentine's Day gift,” he said, before explaining. “I have always given. The best gift I ever gave was to my mom: It was a vacation to the Grand Canyon.”
Canelo, Ricardo Alvarez and Leo Santa Cruz all said that “The Notebook” is their favorite romantic movie, while Angulo preferred “Titanic.” Carlos Molina raised my eyebrows with his pick: “Forrest Gump.”
Canelo went full-on heartthrob with his final two answers.
Q: Even though you're in training camp this Valentine's Day, will you be sending anything to anyone?
Canelo: “I don't look at Valentine's Day as the only day I make that person feel special.”
Q: Describe your perfect Valentine’s Day date.
Canelo: “If I'm with the person I love, any place is perfect.”
(Excuse me while I go vomit…)
5. If boxing doesn't work out for Canelo, he's set as a schmaltzy Hallmark card writer…
6. Don’t expect Vivian Harris to retire — even though he was kept from fighting in London after the British Boxing Board of Control informed him that he failed to receive medical clearance for a bout this past Saturday against Bradley Skeete.
Harris told the Boxing Beats and Rhymes podcast that the BBBofC said they saw something on his brain and that he should go see a specialist. But he then proceeded to rail against the commission and the promoter.
He wondered why he wasn’t sent to a specialist there with a handful of days to go before the scheduled bout. He felt that he was being sent home because Skeete wasn’t going to make weight — except Skeete did, and went on to outpoint late replacement Christopher Sebire.
He claimed his MRI was fine.
“They can’t tell me what showed up on my MRI. If something’s wrong with my head and brain, I’m not supposed to be on no plane,” he said. “If something really was wrong with me, then I’d understand that. I would never go into a fight. You crazy? I got kids and a wife to go back home to. You really think I want something to happen to me? I would not do that. But don’t tell me something is wrong with me when something is not. My doctor cleared me. He signed off on my medicals and everything. My MRI was good.”
And so if Harris isn’t going to learn, hopefully the American commissions will follow up and put him under additional scrutiny.
7. Of course, we’ve been saying that for some time.
Harris is coming off two wins in a row, but one win, in March 2013, was against an opponent with a record of 11-18-3. The other, in October against the 23-1 Danny O’Connor, was a controversial split decision. One journalist friend who was ringside told me that O’Connor deserved the win.
And that was Harris’ first win over a fighter with a winning record since October 2008. And even that victory, over a 7-4-1 fighter named Octavio Narvaez, came quite controversially as well. After the Narvaez fight, Harris went more than four years without a win, going 0-6-1 (losing 5 by knockout) with 1 no contest.
8. We need to do more to hold commissions, promoters and matchmakers responsible — and this scribe isn’t at all immune from that criticism. I’d love to hear about the thought process behind selecting and approving the opponent for Glen Johnson’s next fight.
Johnson is now 45 years old and far removed from his years as a light heavyweight champion and contender. He’s scheduled to appear this Friday at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, R.I.
(Ricardo Mayorga was originally supposed to be fighting in the main event, but he had to pull out when Don King claimed he still has rights to Mayorga and threatened to sue if he appeared that night.)
Yet this actually isn’t about Johnson, but rather about the person brought in to share the ring in the main event, Jaime Velasquez.
Velasquez is 41 years old. Though Velasquez is younger than Johnson, he is not at all fresher than Johnson. Velasquez last fought 14 and a half years ago, back in July 1999.
Velasquez never was anywhere near as good as Johnson. He was 11-5-2 with 6 KOs (and went 0-4 with 2 draws in his final six fights) back during his career — which, again, came to an end in 1999. Though Johnson is faded, his losses in recent years have come against Chad Dawson, Tavoris Cloud, Carl Froch, Lucian Bute, Andrzej Fonfara and George Groves.
9. Like the rest of you, I’d love to see light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson and titleholder Sergey Kovalev face each other sooner rather than later. And so while I’m not thrilled that Kovalev will be defending against Cedric Agnew this March and Stevenson is expected to face the aforementioned Fonfara in May, it looks like Stevenson-Kovalev could come next.
“If [Kovalev and Stevenson] win their bouts, they are supposed to meet in September in Montreal,” wrote Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. He noted that the respective promoters and HBO “have been working on a deal for the fight, although it is not done yet.”
I hope that deal gets done before Kovalev-Agnew and then is announced — with fingers crossed so that Stevenson-Kovalev isn’t jinxed. It is a big fight, but it can be made even bigger by building up the hype.
10. The best news about this coming weekend’s card from Macau, China, featuring Zou Shiming in the main event?
It’s that Petchsamuthr “Mookie” Duanaaymukdahan — last seen stealing the show on the Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios pay-per-view undercard in a loss to Felix Verdejo — will return to action, challenging lightweight/junior welterweight prospect Ik Yang.
The worst news?
Mookie vs. Yang apparently won’t be part of the HBO2 broadcast.
That, and the fact that George Foreman won’t be calling the action from Macau this time around. The broadcast team will be Fran Charles, Ray Mancini and Larry Merchant.
I would’ve loved to hear Foreman try to pronounce “Duanaaymukdahan” half as well as Roy Jones did…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at email@example.com
Tags: Juan Manuel Lopez , Daniel Ponce De Leon