By Steve Kim: Last week, two-time world champion Daniel Ponce de Leon stated he would be more than willing to face the talented-yet-untested Gary Russell Jr. This would be a classic crossroads match-up pitting the seasoned veteran against a younger, hyped foe. Golden Boy Promotions was on board as was Showtime (which was willing to feature this bout) but alas, Russell has passed on the opportunity.
“I was notified by Golden Boy today that [Russell] doesn’t want to fight,” said Ponce de Leon (through Ruben Gomez, who interpreted for him) on Wednesday afternoon at his gym, the Ponce De Leon Boxing Club in Montebello. “I’m very healthy and definitely want to fight him. We were willing to do 128 pounds; they didn’t go for it. So we’re moving up to 130.”
As for the reason why Russell passed on the fight, Ponce stated, “I was told that due to his inactivity that they’d rather give him an easy fight before they put him in with me.”
In an interview with FightHype.com (www.fighthype.com/news/article14729.html), Russell explained why he was passing on the opportunity to face Ponce de Leon next. An official at Golden Boy Promotions (which promotes both entities), who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Russell’s bout on August 9th will take place off TV (of course, we’ll see what the always influential Al Haymon has to say about that).
Frank Espinoza, who manages the Mexican southpaw, told Maxboxing, “This is not the first time. We gave him the opportunity once before and Russell was reluctant to take the fight with Ponce.” Russell, who is now facing growing disenchantment from boxing fans who believe he has been matched Charmin-soft, is a supremely talented boxer. That said, as Russell is now 25 years of age, you get the sense he should be further along in his career.
The question is: Is Russell ducking or has he been dodged?
On one hand, there aren’t a lot of beltholders willing to face him unless he’s a mandatory. But decisions like this do leave you thinking a bit.
“I wasn’t surprised, at all,” said a disappointed Espinoza. “Listen, I respect all fighters and boxers but this isn’t the first time Russell hasn’t wanted to fight Ponce. So it wasn’t a surprise the second time around when that fight didn’t come to fruition.”
As for Ponce de Leon, moving forward, he says, “I’m going to stay active. If [Russell] changes his mind, I’ll be ready for him. If not, we’ll hopefully fight in late September.” The slugger is coming off a stoppage loss to Abner Mares on May 4th. He says of that defeat, “I felt terrible. It was the worst fight of my life. I don’t know what happened to me that day but I felt very, very tired. I couldn’t get off. I don’t know what happened.”
Asked if he’d be willing to face Russell later this year, Ponce answered, “Definitely. I’ll be ready for him but in the meantime, we’re waiting for the winner of Abner Mares and Jhonny Gonzalez.” Mares and Gonzalez face each other on August 24th at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. “But I’m not going to stand still. I got a fight coming up in September.”
So is there a realistic chance of having a rematch between Mares and Ponce de Leon?
“I’ve talked to Ponce; he wants to start campaigning at 130. He doesn’t want to fight at 126. So 130 is what we’re looking at right now,” said Espinoza, who just also happens to handle Mares, the current WBC featherweight titleholder. “Ponce says he feels more comfortable at 130; at 126 he was just too weak.”
Regardless, Ponce de Leon will fight on, just not against Russell (at least, for the time being) and this puzzles him.
“Definitely, because I was ready; the television network wanted the fight. Everybody wanted the fight except Gary Russell,” he lamented. “People wanted to see that fight and Gary Russell is the one who didn’t want the fight.”