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Show Stealers: Ponce de Leon-Lopez matchup weekend's key

Story20071206_poncedeleon_medium Most casual fan or mainstream eyes will be firmly planted on the middleweight championship match between Kelly Pavlik and underdog Gary Lockett in Atlantic City.

Many are also highly interested in the welterweight alphabet title rematch between Carlos Quintana and Paul Williams in Uncasville, Conn., and that card's headlining bout, Vernon Forrest defending a 154-pound title against "Contender" first season winner Sergio Mora.

But for the diehards and the supremely interested boxing viewers, the fight to see this Saturday is the Atlantic City opener between WBO super bantamweight titlist Daniel Ponce de Leon (34-1, 30 KO) and Juan Manuel Lopez (21-0, 19 KO).

It's a bout that promises fireworks. Ponce de Leon is a great finisher with nice power, and has always been more than happy to go toe-to-toe and mix it up. In his only career loss, he was battered by Celestino Caballero in 2005. Though Caballero -- who used his six-inch height advantage to its full effect -- spent much of the fight pummeling the living hell out of Ponce de Leon, the Mexican southpaw never quit.

And since that bout, he's gone 10-0 with seven knockouts, four of them coming in the first or second round.

His 2007 was a big one, as he found himself positioned in the featured undercard bout on the big nights headlined by Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez and later Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Ricky Hatton. He beat Gerry Penalosa in a disputed unanimous decision on the Barrera-Marquez card, and in December, outpointed a reluctant, fight-killing Eduardo Escobedo.

In between those fights, though, he hit the highlight reel. In August, Golden Boy's Mexico-Philippines "World Cup" show got its two biggest fights on HBO's Boxing After Dark. In the first televised fight, Penalosa knocked out Jhonny Gonzalez with a perfect body punch, making the Filipinos 6-0 on the night.

The main event rolled around. It was -- similar to this fight -- Ponce de Leon taking on a highly thought-of young fighter with an unblemished record, Rey "Boom-Boom" Bautista. Before the first round ended, Bautista was dropped twice, and Ponce de Leon had saved face for his countrymen. He blew the young man out of the water. After that, he took a stay-busy fight and dropped Reynaldo Lopez in the fifth.

While the Mexican-Filipino rivalry has become arguably boxing's best, the real classic war in the sweet science, in my opinion, is Mexico versus Puerto Rico. Before Cotto and Margarito go to battle in July, Ponce de Leon will meet 24-year old Juan Manuel Lopez.

Lopez3355335_medium If you've never seen Lopez in action, just believe me -- he's a treat to watch. Aggressive, skilled, powerful, and thus far, he's simply overmatched the opposition in front of him. Like his opponent, he has a habit of ending fights early (14 of his 19 knockouts have come in three rounds or less).

It does keep clicking in the back of my mind that the last time I saw Ponce matched up with a highly-touted youngster, though, he reared back and went to business. Bautista never had a chance that night. Will Lopez fall victim to Ponce de Leon's awkward style, experience, power and savvy, like Bautista did?

It's certainly possible. And we've seen Ponce take heavy punishment, so it seems unlikely that Lopez will be able to drill the 27-year old champ early on and put him away, as he's done to so many other fighters. He has gone ten rounds before, knocking out veteran Hugo Dianzo in 2007. His decisions were six- and eight-round affairs.

If a more classical boxer is your style, Juanma is your guy against Ponce de Leon. Steve Kim recently described Ponce de Leon as a guy who "seems to have two and a half left feet" -- I think that's one of the best ways you could ever explain his style to the uninitiated. He seems to almost fumble about the ring at times, throwing wide, looping, slow punches that don't seem like they should get the job done, but have in 34 of 35 fights.

His footwork is decidedly not graceful. He doesn't work off his jab very well. He seems to get frequently distracted, sometimes trying too hard for the KO, and loses his rhythm fairly easily. But he's still a world-class power puncher, and one of the 122-pound division's five best fighters.

If Juanma Lopez is to join that group, he has to win this fight. He, too, is a southpaw. He, too, has superb dynamite in his fists. But if you asked an unbiased observer who the more natural athlete and boxer is, 100 of 100 answers will come back as Lopez. While Ponce de Leon has it all over his younger foe in terms of experience and big-fight know-how, Lopez might just be able to outbox Ponce de Leon and avoid the bombs. Plus, if Ponce gets desperate, Juanma can call down his own thunder and seal the deal.

This is a pick'em fight, and one that should steal the show this weekend. There isn't a single fight among the big four to be televised on U.S. TV that I'd watch instead of this one if they were going head-to-head. There are so many ways it could go, and there's always that chance that these two don't go past the opening three minutes.

Forget hype. This fight sells itself.

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