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Thursday, May 25, 2006
Super bantamweight champ still below HBO radar

By Steve Kim

Before the bright lights of HBO go on for its latest edition of "Boxing After Dark" from the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., this Saturday night, Daniel Ponce de Leon defends his WBO super bantamweight title against the unbeaten Alejandro Barrera.

That night's doubleheader on HBO will feature a main event of Jhonny Gonzalez, the defending WBO bantamweight titlist, facing the challenge of WBO junior bantamweight belt-holder Fernando Montiel. The telecast will kick off with a battle of unblemished welterweights Paul Williams and Walter Matthysse.

Daniel Ponce de Leon, right, and Sod Looknongyangtoy
Daniel Ponce de Leon (right) gritted out a win over Thailand's Sod Looknongyantoy for the vacant WBO super bantamweight title on Oct. 29.

So why is Ponce de Leon fighting "in the dark" (which is boxing lingo for fighting a non-televised bout) on this Golden Boy-promoted card? Why is a fighter who has a major championship belt and while far from being the most stylish fighter in the world (which is a huge understatement) being cast aside for two unknown, largely unproven welterweights?

"We've been trying to put him on these big shows and we hear from HBO that they don't think he's ready," explains Eric Gomez, the matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Ponce de Leon. "They don't think he's ready unless he's fighting one of the other champions. They're not convinced with Ponce de Leon."

Fair enough, but what has Williams or Matthysse (who is also with Golden Boy) done to merit this slot?

"I really don't know, we've been doing our part as Ponce's promoters," Gomez said last month at a press conference at the Staples Center. "We've been putting him where we feel he has to be. Obviously, we got him in position to fight for the title and he won the title, a vacant title."

Ponce de Leon, since inking his deal with Golden Boy a few years ago, was a staple of the now-defunct HBO Latino "Boxeo de Oro" series and won the vacant title last October by decisioning Thai Sod Looknongyantoy over 12 rounds.

"It's absolutely wrong," says the 26-year old native of Cuahutemoc, Mexico, who represented his country in the 2000 Olympics. "I think my fight should be televised because they're putting on a fight that should not be televised," he said of the welterweight scrap. "I mean, that fight is not a championship fight, number one. And nobody even knows who these fighters are."

What has frustrated Ponce de Leon and his team is that Golden Boy has had several opportunities in which to showcase them on television. It's no secret that no other promotional entity enjoys the type of relationship with HBO that Golden Boy does with the leverage it has due to Oscar De La Hoya being its head honcho.

"We were always informed that our fight would be televised because we were scheduled to be on Oscar's pay-per-view and that we'd be on the show," said Ponce de Leon through his adviser Joe Hernandez last week before a training session in Hollywood. "Somewhere along the line, they changed the bouts in Vegas and moved us out of that spot and moved us to May 27th."

Initially, when this "B.A.D." was made, it was announced that junior middleweights Kassim Ouma and Marco Antonio Rubio (two Golden Boy boxers) would open up the show. They were eventually moved to the De La Hoya-Mayorga undercard on May 6.

"It's a long story but this is coming directly from Golden Boy that HBO doesn't really think much of Ponce, which we understand and that's normal because we haven't performed to the expectations of the press and the media," admitted Hernandez.

"But gimme a break, this is a De La Hoya fighter, Joel De La Hoya is the actual manager and not only that, this is a young Mexican that seems to get better every day," Hernandez continued. "He needs more time but what the overall picture is -- and why Ponce was not on the show -- the word I got directly from Golden Boy is that they got a fighter that is Al Haymon's fighter and for whatever reason, they're the ones that make out the checks. They're the ones who pay the salaries and therefore, that young man is out."

Ah, yes, the Haymon Boxing Organization, which seems to be becoming (or already has become) the most influential organization over at "the Network of Champions" in recent years. It seems that if you ink a deal with Haymon, for some reason, your chances of getting on HBO increase greatly. Or if you become an HBO fighter, you somehow end up with him as your "adviser," having latched on to Vernon Forrest, Antonio Tarver and Floyd Mayweather, among others.

Hey, that's why this guy was the "manager of the year."

Many in boxing circles decry this seemingly quid pro quo arrangement, but don't dare speak on the record on it, for fear their own pathway to the network would close on them.

But it is what it is. That's the business of boxing in 2006.

But if you're Ponce de Leon, you can't be happy. Especially in light of the fact that your own promoter wouldn't put you on a pay-per-view undercard (that they theoretically control), then you see Jorge Barrios blow out an unknown in 49 seconds on another Golden Boy promotion on a "World Championship Boxing" telecast and then your relegated to being off-TV on a show in which the HBO Web site says of that broadcast: "A Mexican Storm is Rising."

"Not only haven't we got the respect that we should get, and I'm not the best prospect or biggest attraction out there," said Ponce de Leon, "but I think I deserve that respect. Being off seven months, getting transferred one show to another. That shows disrespect."

Gomez, when speaking about Ponce de Leon's future, says, "I think maybe with this performance he's going to have -- it's going to be a very tough fight against Barrera -- I feel after that fight, if he has a convincing victory, we won't have to argue to have him on the network anymore."

Hernandez agrees that the only thing they can do now is perform at a high level.

"We've got to put out a great performance, not only in this fight, we've got two more fights with Golden Boy and we'll do that," he says. "If we win, maybe we'll be eligible for HBO or maybe Showtime in the near future."

Well, Golden Boy doesn't do business on that side of the street -- it's all Time Warner, never Viacom. But yes, it would be a good idea to win -- and to do so impressively.

Ponce de Leon says all this has added a sense of urgency to his first title defense.

"It motivated me to train harder and learn more," he said. "For this particular fight, they're going to see exactly what motivation I get out of all this maneuvering that's been happening between Golden Boy and ourselves."