- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Less than three weeks ago, featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon did not know who, or when, he would fight next after his fight with Jayson Velez, scheduled for Saturday night, was canceled when Velez suffered an ankle injury.
Now, after a brief wait, Ponce De Leon has landed a much bigger fight against former two-division titleholder and Mexican countryman Abner Mares, who recently vacated his junior featherweight title to move up in weight when he could not finalize a unification fight with Nonito Donaire.
Ponce De Leon will face Mares on April 20 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in the main event of a Showtime card, Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com on Monday night.
"Ponce De Leon versus Mares is signed, sealed and delivered," said Schaefer, who promotes both fighters. "That's a big-time fight. It's a big opportunity for Ponce De Leon to fight against one of the best young fighters in boxing and a great opportunity for Abner to move up to yet another weight class to challenge for the world title.
"I think it's one of those fights where you have no idea who is going to win and you know you will be on the edge of your seat."
Schaefer said he is working to finalize the co-feature, which would match former junior welterweight titlist Marcos Maidana (33-3, 30 KOs), 29, of Argentina, against Josesito Lopez (30-5, 18 KOs), 28, of Riverside, Calif., in a welterweight bout.
Ponce De Leon was due to headline a Showtime card at the Apollo Theater in New York on Saturday, but when Velez got hurt, the fight was canceled and the rest of the show was moved to Las Vegas.
Mares, meanwhile, was focused on trying to make a fight with Donaire. Golden Boy made a record offer [for the junior featherweight division] of $3 million to Donaire's promoter, Top Rank, to make the fight. But Top Rank rejected it and instead matched Donaire with fellow titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux. They will meet April 13 in New York.
Without a chance to face Donaire, Mares (25-0-1, 13 KOs), 27, a 2004 Mexican Olympian now living in Southern California, elected to vacate his title and move up in weight because there was little left to accomplish at 122 pounds.
"It's funny how things work out sometimes," Schaefer said. "We've had some fights fall out and some are being rescheduled and some aren't, but everything happens for a reason. With this fight, once [the Velez fight] dropped out, and with Abner moving up, it made sense. It's definitely a great fight, a great showdown. Abner is very excited and loves the challenge and Ponce De Leon can't wait. You will see two highly motivated guys."
What made the fight more delicate to put together than most was the fact that Ponce De Leon and Mares are both managed by Frank Espinoza. Managers usually don't want to match their fighters with each other, not to mention the complicating factor of it being illegal to take full percentages from both purses.
"Everything was worked out," Espinoza told ESPN.com.
As for the fight, Espinoza said, "I feel good about making the fight. It's a great opportunity for both fighters. But I did go to each fighter and have a discussion with them about to see how they felt about it and they were both wanting to fight each other.
"Abner's goal has been to win a third world championship and this is that opportunity and Ponce, as well, knows fighting Abner can only benefit his career."
Said Schaefer, "We talked to Frank and explained to him that it was the right thing to do for both of his fighters and that he has to look at it like that, that he has to represent each one of them, but it was the right fight to make. It's the biggest challenge for them so why stand in the way? Frank was immediately on board. He said, 'Let me talk to the fighters and see if we can get it done.' Frank did a terrific job getting it done with each one of them."
Espinoza said he will keep everything even between the two in the lead up to the fight.
"It's a difficult situation for a manager to be involved with both fighters, but I plan to be neutral," he said. "I respect both fighters. I will not be in either corner at the fight. I won't walk with either fighter to the ring and I won't be in the ring. I'm just going to have a seat and watch and enjoy the fight. This is a great fight for the fans. Adrenaline will be flowing at the Home Depot Center."
Ponce De Leon (44-4, 35 KOs), 32, a former junior featherweight titleholder, won a featherweight belt on Sept. 15 with an eight-round technical decision against countryman Jhonny Gonzalez, who was unable to continue after an accidental head butt opened a bad cut over his right eye. He will be making his first defense against Mares.
In 2011, Mares won Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament and a world title against Joseph Agbeko. Mares defended the title once in a rematch with Agbeko and then moved up to junior featherweight in 2012. He easily outpointed former flyweight titlist Eric Morel last April to win a vacant belt and then made one defense, a similarly lopsided decision win against Anselmo Moreno, a bantamweight titleholder who moved up in weight for the title shot, in his only defense in November.
Lopez and Maidana both fought on the same Sept. 15 card that Ponce De Leon faced Gonzalez on. Lopez, who had been fighting at junior welterweight, moved way up in weight to challenge junior middleweight titleholder Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and was wiped out in the fifth round of the main event, one fight after he scored a major upset by breaking Victor Ortiz's jaw and stopping him in the ninth round.
Maidana, who gave up his junior welterweight title to move up to welterweight in 2012, stopped Jesus Soto Karass in the eighth round on the September card. He then knocked out Angel Martinez in the third round in December in Argentina.
"If we can get Maidana and Lopez done, I think that's another fight where you know it will be a good fight," Schaefer said. "These guys are never in bad fights. Josesito can clearly take a punch and the same can be said for Maidana. They may go down, but they get up."