As Advertised: Juanma Lopez and Daniel Ponce de Leon give us a mini-classic (but a controversial ending tarnishes things)

Going into the rematch fight, we knew super-featherweights Juan Manuel Lopez and Daniel Ponce de Leon would exchange bombs in a can’t miss fight. And last night in “Juanma’s” homeland of Puerto Rico, on a card that was headlined by Danny Garcia’s controversial points win over a determined Mauricio Herrera, we saw a blisteringly exciting battle that was, unfortunately, tarnished somewhat by yet more controversy; this controversy coming by way of a premature stoppage.

Back in 2008, a new star burst onto the world stage down at super-bantamweight, as Lopez iced defending WBO boss De Leon inside a round. A lot has happened to both power punching fighters since, and last night the rematch, up at 130-pounds, was largely seen as the last roll of the dice for both men, Lopez especially. Many experts, including Lopez’ former promoter Bob Arum, openly called for Juanma’s retirement after his TKO loss to Mikey Garcia last year. De Leon, who is the older man by three years at 33, was also looked at as a fine fighter who had seen better days, yet he was deemed to have had more left than his fellow southpaw.

What went down in the return meeting was something quite special that could perhaps have been ever more special had the referee not made the debatable decision to dive in and call a halt to proceedings when he did.

The opening round saw De Leon hold an edge in speed and accuracy. Both men wasted no time in looking for a fight-ender, and the bombs were being loaded up on already. Then, in the 2nd-round, the lid of the fireworks box was well and truly removed. De Leon scored first, hurting Lopez with a left to the head that discombobulated Lopez and forced him to touch the canvas with his glove. De Leon went for the finish as soon as battle recommenced and he was made to pay for his eagerness to end matters. A cracking right hand counter smashed into the Mexican’s head and he went down on his back in spectacular fashion. It looked for a second or so that the fight was over, with Lopez having come back from certain defeat. But De Leon got back up and fought on.

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Lopez scored a second knockdown, but this time it seemed as though De Leon was bundled over, although he had been tagged by another shot upstairs. De Leon looked stunned yet he was not “gone” by any means. But Lopez went in for the kill, pinned his man on the ropes and let loose with both hands. De Leon, still trying to throw punches back at the time, found the referee’s arms wrapped around him, the fight over. Instantly, De Leon signalled to the crowd that he was fine and that the stoppage was a bad call. It did look as though De Leon had a reasonably clear head. Still, betting underdog Lopez didn’t care about any of that and began celebrating in front of his hometown fans.

His career resurrected, at least partially, Lopez – one of the most consistently thrilling fighters on the scene today – proved his withering power and his big heart will always make him a threat in any fight.

Both men had spoken of going for a third world title after winning on Saturday. Lopez might not get that far but he can be expected to give his fans some more thrills and spills before his career does finally come to an end. De Leon too will not want to retire after coming so close to getting the revenge win he craved.

Could we see a Lopez-De Leon III?