What lies beneath Super-Bantamweight Supremacy?

11.08.07 - By Francisco Lobo: It has not passed one whole week since fans at ringside in Hidalgo, Texas, and Showtime Championship Boxing watchers at home were held obviously entertained since watching Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez go toe to toe for the Super-Bantamweight Supremacy. The question now, however, is who in the super bantamweight division is on par with Marquez and Vazquez? At present, there is Celestino Caballero, the 5'11" rangy Panamanian who presently holds the WBA super bantamweight title after having defended it last week to the tough Jorge Lacierva. Caballero appears to be the dark horse of the division tournament. Is he really, though?

The four fighters to compete this Saturday night are the WBO/IBA Light-Featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce de Leon and former WBC Super-Flyweight Champion of the World Gerry Penalosa matched against each other back in March, and undefeated Filipino Ray Bautista who squared off with Argentinean Sergio Medina in a major 122 pound eliminator between the pair of undefeated fighters, back in May. The fourth man in the upcoming August 11, HBO televised card is the WBO Bantamweight Champion Jhonny Gonzales, a major player in the 2006 Fight of the Year along with Israel Vazquez, coming up short in his shot at the WBC junior featherweight title.

Gonzales welcomes game Filipino Gerry Penalosa in the 118-pound Division. The 25 year old rangy Mexican Gonzales defends his WBO title for the 3rd time after beating junior Bantamweight WBO titlist and countryman Fernando Montiel, and takes another 34 year old plus opponent in seasoned Gerry Penalosa, 18 years as a pro fighter, after having stopped the 36 years old Colombian Irene Pacheco in March 2007. But many questions may be resolved at 122 pounds when most dangerous puncher and southpaw, 26 year old Indian-Mexican Daniel Ponce de Leon, Cuauhtemoc, Mexico (31-1, 28 KOs) takes on young Filipino gun, 20 year old Ray “Boom Boom” Baustista, Candijay, Philippines (23-0, 18 KOs), likely to be Manny Pacquiao heir apparent, this Saturday night and for that WBO/IBA Light-Featherweight Championship at the Arco Arena, Sacramento, California - a double event that has been already called as “Phillipines vs Mexico World Cup of Boxing”, surely a billing that takes PPV customers minds to the Pacquiao-Morales trilogy.

From the Tarahumara Indian tribe of northern Mexico, pony-tailed Ponce De Leon (signifying his relationship with his beloved tribe in the Nation of Mexico) has one of those amazing stories like Kassim Ouma and Edison Miranda that make you shake your head in awe and wonder. He worked hard as a farmer in the Mexican high mountains and lived in one of those tiny villages without basic services like light, running water and electricity and where his four elder siblings all died in early infancy. He was taken to live in the town of Cuauhtemoc so that his family had medical services and he might survive – survive he did when this Mexican Olympian from the Class of 2000 knocked out former title challenger Emmanuel Lucero in three rounds to earn the vacant NABO bantamweight crown but suffering his first professional setback and only loss so far when he was decisioned over 12 rounds by awkward Celestino Caballero on February 17, 2005.

Ever since, southpaw powerpuncher Ponce De Leon beat Sod Looknongyangtoy for the WBO super Bantamweight title title, October 29, 2005. Then, he demolished former 115 pound fringe contender Gerson Guerrero who survived a first round swift maelstrom of fire but was crudely put down in the second with chopping rights in a non-televised bout on the undercard of Gonzales-Montiel at the Home Depot Center, Carson, California, in May 2006. As Juan Manuel Marquez lost his opponent, Jimrex Jacca, due to Visa problems in October 2006, Ponce De Leon moved into main event status of that HBO Pay-Per-View card televised from the Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas, to face Georgia’s previously undefeated Al Seeger and halted him in the eight stanza with relentless, sometime reckless aggression from the sound of the first bell – back then, De Leon was already targeting Marquez and Vazquez as future opponents, while ignoring the only man to have beaten him and at ringside to call him out for a rematch, recently crowned WBA 122-pound titlist Celestino Caballero.

On short contrast, mandatory contender and a ring sensation himself, Ray Baustista earned the right to fight Ponce De Leon as he outscored 25-year old Sergio Medina in a see-saw battle at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, last May 5, 2007. That was when the youngster from Candijay, Philippines, took precious seconds to recover from the Argentinean’s left hook and a barrage of punches which followed in the seventh round and as referee Robert Byrd gave the Filipino a standing-eight count (which was not in effect), probably costing Medina his big chance of victory but at the same time, enabling Bautista to recover, survive the round and continue to unload crisp body shots, hooks and uppercuts which had Medina floored in the 6th and 11th stanzas.

As a result of the grit, skill and spirit, Sergio Medina jumped to the Ring Magazine ratings number seven slot right behind Ray Bautista at sixth and Ponce De Leon at fifth position, all three fighters clearly underrated compared to top notch 122 pounders Vazquez, Marquez, Caballero, Panamanian Ricardo Cordoba (29-1-2, 19 KOs) and Thai Somsak Sithchatchawal (49-2-1, 40 KOs).

Despite the fact that 5-foot-11 elongated Panamanian Caballero showed how to control an almost 5 inches shorter, eye-popping, left-hander De Leon, sometimes somehow, almost crude in his unorthodox mugging, slugging attacks, with his own long left jab and winging right crosses from outside and on his way to score a flash knockdown and what would be a comfortable unanimous points decision, it was De Leon’s last fight with Gerry Penalosa that opened the appetite for the up-coming showdown with the younger Filipino Ray Baustista.

Make no mistakes about it, Penalosa’s spirited attacks in the early rounds didn’t make a strong case for a win back then – Ponce De Leon is a freakish punching machine very much like welterweight Paul Williams, the Indian-Mexican threw 1399 punches in twelve rounds, the third highest total ever measured in a junior feather fight, starting out with 111 thrown in the first, 152 punches in round six, which were 108 more than Penalosa in that round, and all these were solid, powerful shots that could be heard at ringside whether they hit the side of the head or just shoulders, neck, arms, it was clearly a case of De Leon’s doubling Penalosa’s output and Penalosa doubling up De Leon’s percentage or effectiveness by CompuBox numbers.
But the interesting story was that back then, as De Leon, chockfull of testosterone, sprang into action with the power surge, swinging hard, hurrying out menacingly with his endless supply of batteries, Penalosa, old enough to have learned a lot, young enough to maintain his sharpness, seemed awfully difficult to spook.

Penalosa was never stopped in 59 pro fights and made an appearance in America much before Manny Pacquiao did. He seemed totally obnoxious to Ponce De Leon’s activity and in his mind’s eye and gut, under these odd circumstances, shown exactly where to look or what to look for, known what one would do until the occasion arose – as each moment went by, Penalosa relaxed and noticed that the larger, taller Mexican would repeatedly present a weak right jab to set a big, arced left hook to the body and eventually a hybrid right uppercut/hook from outside, with no such thing as proper body balance, too upright, pretty tight above the waistline and most important of all, never ending a combination with a straight punch, leaving himself open upstairs with that body position.

He was also always unable to block shots and started getting popped shot in between his shoulders by Penalosa’s slicker, speedier transition to counter, snapping De Leon’s head back and distorting his face with eye catching right hands that had rounds two and three won for him.

The sleek motion in which opportunity and body language, fluid movement and pressure, combined, Penalosa made things look like the fight would develop steadily upon the rise of his need and the climax would present itself. By round four, it appeared to the practiced eye that the Mexican Lion was chewing on grass and the Filipino turned from prey to predator, wanting to hop on at any time with some wicked looking weapon, putting leverage behind his punches and putting his punches together to get that abrupt ending. At that defining moment of the fight, end of round number five with scores even unofficially, De Leon may have been disturbed to realize that besides his busier action, he was performing something akin to camouflaged aggression.

The Mexican warrior must have grown sceptical on the bravado of his performance that far. Ponce De Leon’s trainer Mario Morales may have talked sense into him on putting everything into perspective and acknowledging that going straight into Penalosa’s open invitation as he was ever going to get could have been a tricky mischief and he could have been had big time. Maybe De Leon self-consciously realised that he was going off track, it may have come to him irrationally but all too real, he couldn’t be set adrift, amidst pure fascination and discovery and simply could have perished in that muck soup, that trap that he was getting himself inadvertently into… Fact is that De Leon felt the urge to reappear sober from the sixth round on, not taking chances anyway.

Without being too obvious, he moved closer sometimes and maintained the distance and avoided his target with more leg movement – the result of these adjustments was that the Mexican would not get pop shot with counters punches and would maintain his punching output high to win a lopsided decision - Ponce De Leon learned and proved his intellect on a single fight against his elder. If he learned his lesson to prove it against one hungrier, younger aggressor who can get also be caught like Baustista did with Medina, remains to be seen.

It is easy to question oneself what happens after the third Marquez-Vazquez confrontation takes place, who will move closer into their aura and covet what they have at the moment. Will it be a rangy, skillful, long puncher like 30-year old Celestino Caballero or 25 year old Jhonny Gonzales? Will it be a natural powerpuncher like the 26-year old Daniel Ponce De Leon or will it be a highly spirited warrior like 20-year old Rey Baustista, or will someone else rise to the moment?

Article posted on 11.08.2007

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