By Jake Donovan
‘I’ll take on anyone, any place, at any time.’
The aforementioned quote is probably one of the most abused lines in all of sports. Repeated by many, validated by so very few.
Add Daniel Ponce de Leon to the latter category, please.
The Mexican banger has never shown a fear of taking on tough challenges – so much that he’s willing to return to the scene of his last title fight defeat to take on arguably the best featherweight on the planet in Yuriorkis Gamboa.
At stake? Little more than bragging rights, with the absence of alphabet hardware being made available.
Think it matters to Ponce de Leon? Think again.
“I feel really good about my chances against Gamboa on September 10,” Ponce de Leon (41-3, 34KO) says of his HBO-televised bout, which airs live from the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. “It would’ve been nice for the fight to be for a title, but (no belt at stake) doesn’t bother me at all. People will still watch the fight regardless.”
Had Gamboa not been stripped of his alphabet title belts – one belt hours prior to his knockout of Jorge Solis, another simply vanishing into thin air sans explanation, this weekend would’ve marked Ponce de Leon’s first title fight since suffering a first round knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Lopez more than three years ago.
The bout took place at the very same Boardwalk Hall that plays host to his 12-round main event with Gamboa. This weekend’s bout marks his first trip back to the Jersey Shore since that dreadful evening.
As much as he embraces the shot at upsetting, Ponce de Leon is equally excited about the opportunity to exorcise past demons.
“It motivates me more,” the featherweight contender insists of his return to Atlantic City, which is making a major comeback as a fight town. “It allows me to recover from where I left off with JuanMa.”
The bout with Lopez couldn’t have went more disastrous for Ponce de Leon, who was hoping for a more impressive showing in his debut on HBO’s flagship World Championship Boxing series, as well as his first fight on the East Coast.
Instead, seven years of hard work were erased in the span of 2 ½ minutes as he was floored twice and stopped in the very first round to end his three-year title reign at super bantamweight.
Ponce de Leon has spent the ensuing three-plus years puzzling back together the pieces of his career, emerging as a Top 10 featherweight. The thought of once again facing Lopez didn’t worry him in the slightest, in fact accepting assignments that put him in a mandatory position for a return go with the rising Puerto Rican superstar.
There is still time for a rematch to occur, though it has lost whatever luster once came with it in the wake of Lopez’ shocking knockout loss to Orlando Salido earlier this year. Lopez was being groomed for a showdown with Gamboa, although Top Rank was taking its sweet time in getting the budding featherweights in the ring together.
Plans call for an eventual face-off somewhere in the future, though Ponce de Leon will obviously have his say this weekend. An upset win of his own will force Top Rank – as well as his own promoter, Golden Boy Promotions – to reshuffle the deck and think long and hard about the best next move.
The former titlist has ideas of his own.
“I’d like to fight whoever is considered the best,” Ponce de Leon says of what lies ahead should he manage to pull off what would be by far the biggest win of his 10-year career. “Salido, a rematch with Lopez – I’d even like to fight (featherweight titlist) Jhonny Gonzalez, whose name keeps coming up a lot.”
First he has to get past Gamboa, one of the hottest young stars in the sport today, which by his own admission is no easy task.
“He’s a very quick and strong fighter that hits very hard. I’ve fought fighters with similar styles but not quite as fast. I plan on being first and fighting my style. The better fighter will win that day and I will be the better fighter.”
The fight comes six months after the 31-year old was offered up against another rising undefeated fighter in Adrien Broner, who managed to pull off the impossible in involving Ponce de Leon in an unwatchable fight.
An added bonus came in the form of questionable scoring, as Broner was awarded an unpopular decision in their HBO-televised catchweight bout. The bout snapped a seven-fight win streak for Ponce de Leon, though the court of public opinion stated that his stock remained as-is given the controversial outcome.
Ponce de Leon stood next to nothing to gain in a bout that took place just below the junior lightweight limit. At the same time, his mandatory ranking at featherweight also wasn’t in jeopardy, although that has become a moot point in the wake of Gamboa being stripped of his alphabet titles.
Nevertheless, Ponce de Leon’s career has never been about only accepting calculated risks. The only thing that matters to the all-action fighter is pleasing his fans and proving his worth against the best available competition.
It was for that reason that he accepted an 11th hour assignment against Antonio Escalante last September, a move that reaped major dividends as he scored a highlight reel third round knockout. The win was perhaps his most impressive among a seven-fight win streak over a span of two years.
The bout with Broner should have made it eight straight, but shoddy officiating instead ruled the day. In facing Gamboa, Ponce de Leon now runs the risk of not registering an official win in 2011.
It still doesn’t change his desire to become the best, which only happens when you face and beat the best.
“I want to fight the best fighters, just like I’ve fought Juan Ma, like I fought Broner and now like I’m fighting Gamboa.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]