New and improved Ponce de Leon?
MONTEBELLO, Calif. – Some sluggers learn, Daniel Ponce de Leon said, and some don’t.
De Leon has always overwhelmed opponents with a high volume of punches and crushing power, which led him to a junior featherweight title in 2005. Then, in 2008, the slugger was outslugged: Juan Manuel Lopez stopped him in the first round to take the 122-pound belt.
The former titleholder doesn’t dwell on the setback. Instead, he said, he learned from it. De Leon, 30, realized that he would have a longer, more-productive career if he boxed a little more and slugged a little less.
The end product, he and his team insist, is a smarter, better fighter and will prove it against Antonio Escalante on the Shane Mosley-Sergio Mora card Saturday at Staples Center on pay-per-view TV.
“I sat down and started reflecting on everything in boxing,” de Leon said through a translator, “and all of a sudden I saw the bigger picture. I thought, ‘In order to improve, I’m going to have to make a change.’ Some fighters don’t recognize it. The ones who do make adjustments and prolong their careers and become better fighters.
“ÔÇª I’m 30 years old. I’ve spent half my life in boxing. I don’t want to be incoherent when I retire. I want to feel good. So I’ve had to make these adjustments.”
De Leon (39-2, 32 knockouts) remains an aggressive fighter who throws a lot of punches. He just isn’t as reckless as he was.
The Los Angeles-based Mexican is taking his conditioning more seriously, having hired a fitness coach. And he brought in veteran trainer Dub Huntley to work with his longtime trainer, Joe Hernandez, before his last fight — against Cornelius Lock in May.
De Leon demonstrated in a unanimous decision over Lock his more-patient approach to boxing, waiting for openings instead of just boring in, but the new de Leon remains a work in progress.
Huntley has had to change his fighter’s habits.
“I’ve had to get on him over and over again,” said Huntley, a one-time world-class middleweight who fought Carlos Monzon. “You have to constantly put it in his mind. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Do this, do that. And he’s caught onto it.
“He used reach when he punched. He doesn’t do that now. He’s using his jab. He’s thinking more now. The name of the game is to box.”
De Leon is a veteran of 10 years and many big fights, including six successful title defenses before he met Lopez yet seems to be reinvigorated.
He has won his five fights since the loss to Lopez, two by knockout. And he feels he is learning a great deal from Huntley. We got a glimpse of the new de Leon against Lock, he said, but we haven’t seen anything yet.
“With Lock, I was barely settling in,” he said. “This fight you’ll see me much more settled [into his new style], you’ll see me much better. I was too open in the past. Now you’ll see that I’m more controlled. ÔÇª I’ll still be aggressive but I won’t look for the knockout. I’ll wait for it to come.
“If I did this five years ago, maybe today I’d be a star. I don’t know. But it’s not too late. You’ll see on Saturday.”
De Leon’s fight against Escalante (24-2, 15 KOs) is a featherweight title eliminator for Lopez's belt but he’s willing to fight any titleholder at 122 or 126, whomever will fight him.
Those on his team will surprised if he doesn’t win another belt soon.
“He doesn’t just go in there and try for a knockout in the first round anymore,” said matchmaker Robert Diaz of Golden Boy, de Leon’s promoter. “He goes in there to work, to break his opponent down with his punching power. He’s willing to go the distance if necessary.
“I see a more-complete fighter now.”
We’ll see how complete on Saturday.