Best I Faced: Daniel Ponce De Leon
Daniel Ponce De Leon was a rugged, heavy-handed two-weight world titleholder in the mid-2000s into the early-2010s.
Ponce De Leon was born on July 27, 1980 in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, Mexico.
His early years were particularly tough, being the only one of five brothers to survive the extreme poverty and harsh environment of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range.
“We had no electricity and lived in a very natural environment,” Ponce De Leon told The Ring. “Even though we were very limited in the resources we had and we were poor, I lived a very pleasant childhood, I lived happily. I always loved playing with toy soldiers and army games. I always played fighting games when I was a kid. I think I already had it in my blood.”
Ponce De Leon belongs to the Tarahumara tribe and first came into contact with boxing when he was 12 years old.
By the late 1990s, Ponce De Leon was part of the Mexican amateur setup and he would go on to claim six national titles. He represented his country at the 1999 World Championships in Houston and took bronze at the Pan American games that same year. The following year, De Leon ventured to Sydney, Australia for the Olympics but lost in the opening round to future bantamweight titleholder Wladimir Sidorenko.
After going 109-27 in the unpaid ranks, Ponce De Leon based himself in Los Angeles and turned professional in March 2001.
He would become gym mates with the late – and now infamous – former two-weight world titleholder Edwin Valero. The two struck up a friendship and enjoyed more than a few tequilas together, “We were very good friends for about a year-and-a-half,” said De Leon. “Together with Joe Hernandez, we shared the same gym and ran together always.”
The young prospect developed a reputation as a crude puncher, winning his first 21 fights by knockout before seasoned veteran and former world title challenger Carlos Contreras took him the 10-round distance.
In early 2005, De Leon met his biggest challenge to date in the form of Celestino Caballero in what was sanctioned as an IBF junior featherweight title eliminator. The Panamanian boxer-puncher proved to be an awkward adversary and used considerable height and reach advantages to stay out of harm’s way. Caballero picked and prodded his way to a wide unanimous decision, handing De Leon his first loss as a pro.
Ponce De Leon bounced back with two wins before being matched against Sod Looknongyangtoy for the vacant WBO junior featherweight title in October 2005. The Mexican recovered from a second-round knockdown to edge his Thai opponent by hard-fought but unanimous decision.
After easily vanquishing Gerson Guerrero, Ponce De Leon met Looknongyangtoy in a rematch in 2006. He considers this his best performance.
“I knocked him out 52 seconds into the first round,” he said. “That fight was dramatic for me; it was great and the knockout of the year. Being ranked with the best in the world made me proud. Now that I am retired, people still recognize me from my career as a boxer and that makes me very happy.”
Ponce De Leon made seven successful defenses, including a 12-round unanimous decision over Gerry Penalosa and a first-round stoppage of the previously unbeaten and highly regarded Filipino Rey Bautista.
Fully established as one of the best junior featherweights in the world, Ponce De Leon’s reign suddenly ended when – on the undercard of a Kelly Pavlik title defense – he was sensationally stopped in the opening round by fellow puncher Juan Manuel Lopez.
After losing his title, Ponce De Leon moved up to featherweight and won seven fights over the course of three years. A shot at a featherweight belt was not forthcoming, so he took a fight against rising star Adrien Broner at 130 pounds in March 2011.
Although Ponce De Leon lost a decision, he gave Broner all he could handle and enhanced his reputation.
Next up, he took on then Ring No. 1 featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa. That fight ended midway through the eighth round due to a deep laceration on Ponce De Leon’s forehead and the Cuban claimed a technical decision.
Two more victories followed before Ponce De Leon was matched against Mexican Jhonny Gonzalez for the WBC featherweight title. The fight was stopped in the eighth round following a head clash, but this time Ponce De Leon claimed a technical decision and, with it, a second world title.
In May 2013, he and was dropped twice en route to a ninth-round stoppage loss to Abner Mares. Ponce De Leon told The Ring that he made mistakes during his preparation for that bout and was disappointed with his performance.
The former two-weight world titleholder continued his career for one more year before retiring following back-to-back losses to Lopez (in a rematch) and Miguel Roman. His final career record was 45-7 (35 knockouts).
Ponce De Leon fought eight world champions during a 13-year career, however, there are two men he’d have liked to have shared a ring with.
“I would have loved to fight against Israel ‘El Magnifico’ Vazquez and Oscar ‘Chololo’ Larios, who were champions at 122 pounds,” he said. “’Chololo’ was WBC champion and Israel was IBF. I would have loved to unify those belts with mine.”
Now 39, Ponce De Leon is married to Mayra and has four children. They live in West Covina, California, where he trains and manages several prospects.
He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Celestino Caballero: He used his distance very well. It was difficult because he was very tall and always maintained his distance using his jab and movement.
Caballero: I had several opponents with good defense. Yuriorkis Gamboa had very good defense; good leg work and waist movement, but I never stopped throwing. The one that was difficult to connect on, because of his height and leg mobility, was Celestino Caballero. He knew how to use that to his advantage. He counter-punched, and when I wanted to go in, I couldn’t find him because he’d left me out of distance.
Yuriorkis Gamboa: His hands were very unpredictable, he was always out of my reach.
Gamboa: Let me remember, I had 52 fights… Well, the fastest feet where Gamboa’s. He moved a lot; his feet were very quick.
Juan Manuel Lopez: The strongest puncher had to be Juanma Lopez. He is the one that hurt me most. He was the strongest of them all. I lost to him by KO when I blocked his punches; I felt his strong punch in his fists.
Adrien Broner: The one who fought an intelligent fight was Adrien Broner. He felt my punches and was able to assimilate them. He always moved back the more I pressed forward. He couldn’t fight toe-to-toe with me. He didn’t fall into fighting my fight. He fought an intelligent fight. Even though I felt I won the fight, he never exchanged punches with me, therefore he was an intelligent fighter.
Eduardo Lazcano: Well there were a few. Eduardo “Chucky” Lazcano is the one I believe had the best chin because I hit him a lot. He took a lot of powerful punches. I would hit him and he would not fall; he survived all my power punches.
Lopez: The one who I felt was a great puncher was Juanma Lopez. He was the one who punched more and gave me the hardest punches. His punches were powerful.
BEST OVERALL SKILLS
Gamboa: He was such an unpredictable fighter. He had lateral movement and I couldn’t find him. Even though he didn’t hit me or do any damage, he made it a difficult fight.
Caballero: Well there were a few. I lost seven fights and those six opponents [he lost twice to Juanma Lopez] were very strong. The most difficult was Celestino Caballero; he was very tall and fast. It was one of the toughest fights of my career, that’s why he was the best that night.
Pepe Sulaiman and Nancy Rodriguez helped co-ordinate and translate this feature. The Ring appreciates their assistance.