Mexico was down 5-0 to the Philippines at Sacramento, California’s Arco Arena and really needed a big score, if only to save face. No, this wasn’t a football match but a boxing “World Cup” of sorts, where two super bantam title fights were featured on HBO’s Boxing After Dark.
No matter how you come down on it, nationalism and/or ethnicity has always played a major role in the marketing of boxing: Fans get behind their own.
Sometimes this has manifested itself in egregious forms of racism, such as the circumstances surrounding Johnson-Jeffries (1910) or Holmes-Cooney (1982). Other times such collective allegiances can be humbling, whether you’re a member of that tribe or not.
I’ve gotten chills (the good kind) witnessing Puerto Rico’s passion for Felix Trinidad; Ghana’s reverence for Azumah Nelson; Japan’s rock star-style adulation of Koki Kameda; or England’s gonzo attitude toward Ricky Hatton. (I admit, as a Jew, I’d be delighted to see Benny Leonard or Barney Ross plying their trade today. It’s the way of the world, I guess.)
No two countries are more adoring of their fighters than Mexico and the Philippines. We all know the former has had a long, distinguished history of superb prizefighters; the latter is somewhat of a recent phenomenon, sparked by Manny Pacquiao’s destruction of Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003.
If all this jingoism speaks to the dark underbelly of humanity, better that we project our differences onto two gladiators—where they usually show mutual respect for each other once the fighting’s done—than the large-scale wars we engage in that ravage the planet in untold ways.
I support the concept of these world cups and would like to see other nations with prodigious boxing talent involved. How about Ghana v. Colombia, Cuba v. Russia, or Canada v. the U.S.? Provided it’s done with taste and respect, stirring such passions could give the sport the boost it so needs. Why wait every four years for the Olympics to roll around?
The main-go of this Golden Boy-promoted card had WBO titlist Daniel Ponce de Leon, 121, squaring off against Rey Bautista, 121.5.
You couldn’t design a cruder, more ungainly creature than the Mexican Leon. He’s got two left feet, terrible balance and all the rhythm of Spock. Needless to say, his respected California-based trainer Joe Hernandez has had his work cut out for him.
But Leon, a southpaw, also possesses fantastic physical strength and needs to have his gloves checked for horseshoes. Numerous times, I’ve seen him splatter opponents on the canvas like pancake mix; Formanesque! And similar to the Lean Mean Grilling Machine magnate, his punches are not sharp and snappy like KO artist Bob Foster’s once were, but heavy ponderous bludgeoning blows. It’s the difference between a construction worker handling a sledgehammer and Bruce Lee brandishing nunchucks.
Going into the fight, Leon had 28 KO’s in 32 fights, with an overall record of 31-1. His lone loss was to Celestino Caballero in 2005. While the gangly Panamanian thoroughly out-boxed him while delivered a savage beating, Leon showed a champion’s heart by going the 12-round distance. He never stopped trying.
His last outing was not his best, either. Leon won a controversial UD against savvy Pinoy vet Gerry Penalosa, in a performance he would probably like to erase from memory. He wasn’t his usual tenacious self and spent much of the night backing up with a busy but ineffective jab.
He entered the ring Saturday night with a serious attitude. He looked like the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame, ready to wreak havoc. But his Pinoy opponent, Rey Baustista, was no soft touch. A strong 21-year-old who swings for the fences.
Trained by Freddy Roach, the poor son of a fisherman had a pristine record of 23-0 (17). His hard, badass stare is not artifice. But he’s more brawler than technician and tends to leave himself dangerously open with his wide swings.
Rey, 21, was also taking a big step up and was perhaps a few fights shy of this type of meeting.
Even if you weren’t familiar with their records, you’d know within the first half-minute of the first that this bout wasn’t seeing the distance.
Leon looked surprisingly spry on his feet and stepped in with an commanding jab. He was dictating the pace and the level of aggression. The few times Bautista got off, Leon, to my amazement, did a good job slipping shots or stopping stuff with his high guard.
Just before the first minute elapsed, Leon pressed forward with a series of lefts—both straight and overhand. He threw six of them in a row and the last one landed flush.
Bautista, who was in the unfamiliar position of being forced backwards, was shaken badly. He wisely held on. As the ref separated them, he warned Leon for punching behind the head. There was no such punch, but he emitted such violence it almost seemed illegal.
Rey recovered quickly and tried to create his own rhythm by getting up on his toes. Leon looked like the Leon of old as he missed a few shots—wildly.
I admired how Bautista stayed true to himself while under such duress. He’s not a runner, and wasn’t going to start doing so just because a madman was trying to lop his head off. He moved in and out of range and looked to slow Leon down by going to the body.
Leon was all one-twos, but with maximum force connected with a left to the ear and another one to the stomach. Rey took them well, or maybe was just masking the hurt?
With 50 seconds left on the clock, Leon stepped in with a fully-committed one-two that couldn’t have landed cleaner. The second shot dented the point of Rey’s chin just as he was setting himself to let go of a left hook.
At first, Leon had no idea about the damage he’d wrought. And most likely, neither did Rey. He was frozen upright for a second, before his legs betrayed him. He then slammed into the ropes and briefly fell to a knee, as he struggled to steady himself.
Another ref might have stopped it then and there, as there was no chance Baustista was clear-headed within eight or 10 seconds. The ref asked the bleary fighter if he was ready to go. Of course, the fighter nodded yes.
The fight resumed 15 seconds after the telling blow had landed, but it was already over. Leon bore in with more rights and left. When the Rey fell to the canvas once again at 2:30 of the first, the ref immediately halted the bout.
Lennox Lewis, whose commentary on B.A.D. is generally beneath mention, exclaimed, “It’s OVER!” I don’t know how to explain it, but I love the way Lewis says this. Maybe because he’s rarely so unguarded and animated.
This is obviously a hard loss for Bautista, but he didn’t suffer a drawn-out beating. He just got caught early by an unusually awkward, destructive fighter who owns a title for a reason.
When hurt, Rey behaved like a fighter. If he can overcome the mental aftermath, there’s no reason to doubt that a solid career awaits him.
Word is Leon is no HBO darling. The suits really resisted putting him on, at least initially. But on the PPV undercard of Mosley-Vargas II, he starched a Thai fighter named Sod Looknongyangtoy, and it might have been the most vicious KO in the history of HBO Boxing.
The felled boxer lay flat on the canvas—inert, face first, arms and legs outstretched—longer than it would take you to correctly spell his 15-letter last name without peeking.
And now this! I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Daniel Ponce de Leon on HBO.
The co-feature was between the aforementioned bantam Gerry Penalosa, 117¾, and WBO titlist Jhonny Gonzalez, 116¾, of Mexico City
At 35, Penalosa is a physical marvel with no signs of wear and tear, despite his turning pro in 1989 and entering the bout at 51-6-2 (34). All of his losses are SD’s that I’ve been told could’ve gone the other way.
Money and international fame have eluded him. So like so many other Pinoy fighters of late, he’s followed in Manny Pacquiao’s footsteps to the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, CA, to train with Freddy Roach.
Steve Kim of Maxboxing.com calls Gonzalez “Rafael Marquez-lite.” Not only is this apt, it’s actually intended as a compliment. He’s a large-framed guy who boxes beautifuly. He does everything Rafa can do, just not quite as well. (Rafa is damn near perfect.) And like Marquez, his Achilles Heal is a shaky chin.
His reputation notwithstanding, I was surprised how easily Jhonny was handling Gerry through the first six rounds. The Pinoy, a heck of a crafty southpaw boxer in his own right, is normally the type of guy who can adapt to whatever you give him.
This night, however, he looked crude and limited. He pressed Gonzalez for all three minutes of each round, looking to turn it into a street fight, but he only threw one punch at a time. Gonzalez has no trouble using his significant reach advantage and playing matador at a distance.
I had Jhonny pitching a shutout, even though I gave Penalosa some credit for his constant foot-pressure.
It was more of the same in the seventh when, with 30 seconds left, Gerry landed a left hook to Jhonny’s flank. It didn’t look especially hard but it landed clean when the Mexican was out of position and not braced for it.
Grimacing, Jhonny reeled backwards. He went down on his hands and knees. At three he rose to his knees and then draped his body over the ropes. As the count continued, I kept expecting him to get to his feet—at least before 10. He never did.
The time of stoppage was 2:45, at which point Gonzlaez had been up on two scorecards—55-59, 56-58—and rather surprisingly tied 57-57 on one.
To his credit, Lennox Lewis assessed the severity of Gonzalez’s pain very quickly (well before it was clear to most of us that the boxer was staying down), and shed light on the depth of pain a well-placed body punch can cause.
It was a turn of events so shocking and sudden, it would convince you—if you didn’t already know—that no sporting event is as unpredictable as a prizefight.
Z Gorres TKO 8 over Eric Ortiz.
Diosdado Gabi UD 8 Jose Angel Beranza.
Michael Domingo UD 6 over Miguel Roman
AJ Banal TKO 3 over Jorge Cardenas.