Manager takes middle road with fighters

Frank Espinoza can’t lose tonight.

He also can’t win.

Espinoza manages Daniel Ponce De Leon and Abner Mares, who will meet at the MGM Grand Garden for Ponce De Leon’s WBC featherweight title on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Robert Guerrero welterweight title fight.

Don’t ask Espinoza to pick a favorite, because he wasn’t talking Thursday during their news conference to promote the fight, which will be televised on Showtime pay per view. He wasn’t about to get in the middle of choosing sides.

But the reality is one of his fighters probably will be celebrating while the other wallows in disappointment.

“I know that one guy is going to be on top of the world. I also know how devastated the other guy is going to be,” Espinoza recently told Yahoo! Sports. “You lose a big fight after everything you put into it, and it can be a killer. It hurts these guys so much, you can’t even really understand. The human part of this is what is going to be tough.”

The 12-round fight has a lot of intrigue. The two fighters, who both weighed in at 126 pounds Friday, get along and trained together in the past. But neither is worried about where their manager’s loyalty lies.

“Frank has kept it really professional,” said Mares (25-0-1, 13 knockouts). “I really appreciate that. It must be hard for him. But he hasn’t stepped foot in my camp out of respect to me and out of respect to Ponce. He just calls me on a professional basis, for interviews, but nothing regarding my training. I’m glad he’s keeping it 50-50 for me and Ponce.”

Ponce De Leon said: “Actually, it’s easy to make this fight. There’s no controversy whatsover. Everything has been neutral with Frank.”

Mares, 27, was hoping to get a shot at Nonito Donaire earlier this year, but when the sides couldn’t reach a deal, Mares left the super bantamweight division to move up for a shot at Ponce De Leon’s title.

Guillermo Rigondeaux fought Donaire on April 13 and knocked him out. But Mares, a two-time world champion, relishes the opportunity to fight for a world title in his first bout as a featherweight against the 32-year-old Ponce De Leon (44-4, 35 KOs).

“I think it played out great,” Mares said. “I think everything happens for a reason, and I think it was meant to be. Of course, I wanted the fight with Donaire. But it didn’t happen. Instead, we have a chance to win a world title against a great fighter in Ponce.”

Mares said normally a fighter eases his way into a higher weight class. But he wasn’t about to turn down this fight.

“I have to take advantage of opportunities when they’re presented,” Mares said. “It’s a tough fight, a hard fight to start at 126 (pounds). But I’m going to be ready.”

Ponce De Leon hopes to use his size and strength against Mares in what he expects to be an action fight.

“Abner has a big heart,” Ponce De Leon said. “He’s a very, very good fighter. He’s a pressure fighter, and he’s very motivated. But I’m motivated, too. I want to defend my title and look good doing it.”

Maybe the fight ends in a draw and Mares and Ponce De Leon come out of it intact. Espinoza then would truly win.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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