Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Daniel Ponce De Leon: Preview and Prediction for Bout

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Daniel Ponce De Leon: Preview and Prediction for Bout

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    Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/Associated Press

    In a clash of former two-division world champions on Saturday night in Puerto Rico, native fighter Juan Manuel Lopez will face off against Daniel Ponce de Leon in a rematch of their 2008 fight. Lopez won that one by a stunning first-round knockout, but it happened a lifetime ago in boxing terms. 

    Puerto Rico vs. Mexico has always been one of the sport's top rivalries, and each of these warriors has represented his national tradition well. They are among the top 122- and 126-pound fighters of the past decade. 

    But they both appear to have left their best days behind them as well. When they meet Saturday, it will be at 130 pounds, with the loser at risk of becoming irrelevant. 

Tale of the Tape

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
    Per Boxrec    Juan Manuel Lopez     Daniel Ponce de Leon
    Record    33-3, 30 KOs     45-5, 35 KOs
    Height    5'5.5"     5'5"
    Reach    69"     70"
    Weight    130 lbs      130 lbs
    Age    30     33
    Stance    Southpaw     Southpaw
    Hometown    Caguas, Puerto Rico     Huntington Park, California
    Rounds    162     261

    Ponce de Leon is older and has more fights, but Lopez has the kind of explosive style that doesn't age well. The drop-off in his game has been more noticeable in recent years. 

    The height and reach between these two are close enough to be negligible. It will be southpaw vs. southpaw as well. 

Main Storylines

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    Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/Associated Press

    Three years ago, Juan Manuel Lopez was one of the hottest fighters in the sport. Heading into 2011 he was 30-0 with 27 KOs and the WBO featherweight belt around his waist. His stunning Round 1 KO of Daniel Ponce de Leon was one of the most impressive lines on his resume. 

    If you had made a list of must-see fights this time three years ago, Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa would have been near the top of the page. 

    Then, in April of that year, Lopez lost by Round 10 TKO to veteran Orlando Salido. In the March 2012 rematch, Salido stopped him in eight.

    Last June, Mikey Garcia destroyed Lopez in four. Over the last three years, he is 3-3 and has been stopped by every world-class opponent he has faced. 

    Ponce de Leon's career has never had quite the high points that Lopez enjoyed, but it's been more consistent. After dropping the WBO super-bantamweight title to Lopez in 2008, he moved up to 126 pounds. 

    In March 2011, Ponce de Leon lost an extremely close unanimous decision to the much younger and larger Adrien Broner. In September 2011, he was thoroughly outclassed by Gamboa in a Round 8 technical decision.  

    But in September 2012, he fought his way back to the top, winning the WBC featherweight belt from Jhonny Gonzalez via Round 8 technical decision. He dropped the belt to Abner Mares by Round 9 TKO in his first defense in May 2013. 

    Lopez and Ponce de Leon are a couple of fading stars in the sport. Each man needs to win to keep getting high-profile fights, so there is a lot at stake in this one. 

Strengths

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Juan Manuel Lopez is an athletic fighter with explosive power. He's one of the best pure punchers of the past five years. 

    His overhand left is dangerous, but his lead hook is his money punch. The same quick, compact blow led to his fast annihilation of Daniel Ponce de Leon the last time they fought.

    Daniel Ponce de Leon is an aggressive pressure fighter with good range. He punches well to the body and head with both hands and is usually successful at getting off first with his offense. 

    Although he doesn't have the same flashy power of Lopez, Ponce de Leon is a dangerous puncher in his own right.  

Weaknesses

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Juan Manuel Lopez keeps his lead right dangerously low. He tries to play the shoulder-roll game so he can unload quickly with his lead hook.

    But he's no Floyd Mayweather and leaves a lot of space for an opponent to pound his body and lace him with uppercuts.

    He is sloppy about returning his hands to good defensive position after punching and keeps his chin raised much of the time. It makes him vulnerable to counterpunching. 

    Daniel Ponce de Leon tends to throw his punches wide, which is why Lopez had so much space to land the lead hook in their first fight. He is an aggressive, offense-first fighter, which comes with risks. 

    He does a better job of maintaining his guard in an exchange than Lopez does, but he tends to lunge more, squaring up his body and offering a huge target. 

Juan Manuel Lopez Will Win If...

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Juan Manuel Lopez is going to need to be a smarter boxer if he wants to win this fight and start rebuilding his career. He has to accept that at age 30, following three brutal knockouts in the last three years, he's no longer the same young phenom he once was. 

    He should eliminate the Mayweather-style shoulder roll and fight behind a traditional guard. He doesn't have the footwork or the timing to pull it off. 

    To set up his lead hook, he needs to jab his way into position and then come inside of Daniel Ponce de Leon's looping left hand. 

    He needs to be aggressive with the jab, too. Lopez is going to need to land the more compact, shorter punches from inside of Ponce de Leon's range. 

    To do that, he'll need to make sure he doesn't let his opponent seize the momentum and dictate the pace. Like in their last fight, he needs to stay in tight and look to land his own big punches inside of his opponent's aggression. 

Daniel Ponce De Leon Will Win If...

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Juan Manuel Lopez might not be the same fighter he was when he knocked out Daniel Ponce de Leon in 2008, but the Mexican better assume that Lopez still has that dangerous right hook. Ponce de Leon is an aggressive fighter by nature, but he needs to be smart about the way he applies pressure in this fight. 

    He should look to control the tempo by flurrying and then withdrawing. He needs to draw Lopez into bad positions by enticing him to exchange and then moving out of range before quickly attacking again. 

    Ponce De Leon needs to get off first but be in position to get off again, even more aggressively, in the pause after Lopez comes forward with a counter. 

    He needs to exploit the holes in Lopez's defense rather than simply coming forward aggressively and offering up the holes in his own. 

Prediction

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Usually if Fighter A has knocked out Fighter B in one round, you would always pick Fighter A to win in a rematch. But Juan Manuel Lopez knocked out Daniel Ponce de Leon almost six years ago.

    And in Lopez's career, that was a very long time ago. 

    Both of these fighters are on the downside of their careers. But Lopez's slope has been much steeper. His TKO losses to Orlando Salido in 2011 and 2012 were brutal and demoralizing. 

    Against Mikey Garcia last year, he looked like a husk of his old self and took yet another terrible beating. 

    Ponce de Leon was never close to Garcia at his best. But he appears to have a lot more left than Lopez. The Mexican knows how important this fight is to his career, and he'll avoid the kind of big mistake that Lopez could still capitalize on. 

    I expect Ponce de Leon to break down Lopez in the early rounds and start piling up heavy damage by the middle of the fight. I'm predicting him to win by Round 7 TKO. 

    I have my doubts about Ponce de Leon becoming a champion at super featherweight, but I'd love to see him go back down to 126 pounds for a rematch with current WBC champion Jhonny Gonzalez.