By Tim Starks
Daniel Ponce De Leon started his 2012 on Saturday night better than he finished his 2011, stopping Omar Estrella in six rounds, looking something like his old, crushing self and rebounding from two losses in a row suffered last year.
The veteran De Leon (42-4, 35 KOs) had to endure a flash knockdown in the 2nd round, but otherwise he cruised to victory in Ensenada, Mexico. He never let up on Estrella (15-4-2, 10 KOs), the local favorite, swarming him and pressuring him. The jab set things up, but De Leon did most of his damage with clubbing shots that came in combination after combination.
Estrella had some success with single right hands. One of them dropped De Leon in the 2nd round, but De Leon appeared to be more off balance than truly hurt. He dusted himself off and resumed his pressure, and his volume attack was superior to any of the occasional clean blows Estrella — who had never faced anyone on De Leon's level — would land.
By the 4th and 5th rounds, the accumulation of blows was beginning to take its toll on Estrella. No longer was he evenfinding De Leon with single flush shots, and a mouse developed under his right eye from all of the left hands he suffered from the southpaw De Leon.
De Leon finished Estrella off in the 6th. He trapped him against the ropes, unleashing a long sequence of blows to the head and body that eventually forced Estrella to the ground. Either hurt, discouraged, or both, Estrella didn't beat the 10 count.
Golden Boy's plan for De Leon is to get him back into the alphabet title picture in the featherweight division in 2012, and this was a good beginning step. De Leon got something of a pass from fans for losing to Adrien Broner in March, since he had moved up to junior lightweight and lost a decision many believe he deserved to win.
His lackluster showing against Yuriorkis Gamboa, where he seemingly was pleased that the fight was stopped after a bad head butt, might have lost him some fans.
Since moving up from junior featherweight full-time, De Leon hasn't been as concussive as he once was — 31 of his fights ended with him stopping his opponent at 122 pounds, compared to six that didn't. His record since permanently departing that weight class had included only three stoppages wins, compared to five non-knockouts.
But he added one more stoppage to that total Saturday. And De Leon himself has talked about facing Jhonny Gonzalez, a fight that would be an action-packed affair, to say the least — especially after a performance like De Leon's against Estrella.
In the main featured undercard bout, another Mexican Golden Boy product got his year off to his own knockout start: Bantamweight prospect Leo Santa Cruz won in the 4th round when his opponent, Alejandro Hernandez, retired.
Santa Cruz (19-0-1, 11 KOs) dominated Hernandez (24-9-2, 13 KOs), a step up from Santa Cruz' most recent opponent, Jorge Romero, who had only one pro fight to his record. Hernandez, however, had faced the likes of Omar Narvaez and Carlos Tamara and had never been stopped.
Santa Cruz used his length and jab to control things from the outside in the 1st round, and Hernandez couldn't get anything through the prospect's high guard. Hernandez switched tactics in the 2nd, forcing his way into close distance against his taller foe. He had more success hitting Santa Cruz from that proximity, but the problem was Santa Cruz had just switched to a volume punching style.
Hernandez got some licks in, but he paid for it by getting hit even more himself.
By the end of the 2nd, Hernandez was backing up again, and the 3rd was more of the same. Santa Cruz was too sharp, and his two-handed attack too fearsome. Between the 3rd and 4th rounds, Hernandez was clutching his right arm at around the elbow; when the referee came over to investigate, Hernandez wouldn't get off his stool and the contest was ruled a technical knockout in the 4th.
Golden Boy wants Santa Cruz, like De Leon, to get into the title picture by the end of 2012. Beating an experienced opponent like Hernandez the way he did points to the possibility that Santa Cruz could soon be ready.
In a swing bout that aired on AT&T U-Verse, junior welterweight Mario Hermosillo Padilla beat Eduardo Gonzalez in a four-round majority decision that drove the crowd wild. Padilla (9-4-3, 1 KO) backed Gonzalez (0-2, 0 KOs) against the ropes and kept him there the whole fight, but Gonzalez fought well off the strands. It resembled a spirited bar brawl, and Padilla and Gonzalez got a good ovation for their passionate scrap.