Frank Espinoza faces difficult situation with two top-tier clients squaring off

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Frank Espinoza is not one of those guys who's going to make anyone's most powerful list. He doesn't seek attention, nor does he expect any.

He's an under-the-radar, behind-the-scenes kind of a guy.

But Espinoza is a fight fan's type of boxing manager, and never will that be more evident than on May 4 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, when Abner Mares and Daniel Ponce de Leon meet for the WBC featherweight title in the chief undercard bout of the Floyd Mayweather show.

The Mares-Ponce de Leon bout is easily the most intriguing on paper from that card and could steal the show from Mayweather and Robert Guerrero.

Mares is the crown jewel of Espinoza's stable, but the veteran manager had no hesitation in pitting him against Ponce de Leon, whom he also manages.

Most managers shy away from putting their fighters against one another, but Espinoza never really gave it a second thought.

"If I was a fight fan, that's a fight I'd want to see," Espinoza said. "If you put your fighters in good, competitive fights, you're building an audience for them. If you put them in those fights, people are going to want to see them again and again. They'll come back and become a repeat [customer].

"In this particular case, when we were thinking about this fight, you look at it and it made so much sense for both of them. It was a great spot on a high-profile card and it's for a major title. It made a lot sense."

Managing fighters is a family business for Espinoza, who has heavily involved his son, Frank Jr., into his work. But he also tries to make the fighters he signs part of his extended family and create an atmosphere of togetherness.

Mares and Ponce de Leon got to know each other through Espinoza and developed a friendly, though not cozy, relationship.

They've put that aside for the time being to compete in probably the biggest show either of them will ever fight on.

"I've forgotten him already," Mares said of his friendship with de Leon. "He's not my friend at all right now. He's my opponent. I see him like that. Once I step into the ring, it's just win, win, win, man. I'm going to try to tear him up and win this fight because it's a big fight for me. It's going to put me in a great position.

"I have to be straightforward. He'll be my friend after the fight, but now he's my opponent."

Espinoza, who declined to give his age and instead said he's "26 in the waist and still looking good in the face," agreed to stay away from either fighter's camp.

It will be an awkward situation for him because he'll want to celebrate with the winner and mourn with the loser.

It brings to mind the legendary tale of promoter Don King on one of his first forays into boxing. In 1973, Joe Frazier defended the heavyweight title in Kingston, Jamaica, against George Foreman.

King arrived very noticeably in a limousine with Frazier, but after Foreman brutalized him and stopped him, King stepped over Frazier and left the arena with Foreman.

Espinoza laughed and said, "I won't be that cold, no matter what happens," but he conceded it will be difficult for him.

"I'm not the kind of a manager who just stays away from my guys," he said. "I want to help them in all areas of their lives and be a part of their lives. We have a family atmosphere. They tell me their thoughts and their dreams and what they want to do, and in boxing, after a very hard training camp, when you win a huge fight, there is nothing like it.

"So, even though 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. 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."

Mares, though, insists there will be no issues, regardless of what the outcome of the fight will be. Both fighters, Mares said, hold Espinoza in high regard and appreciate how he's skillfully maneuvered their careers.

"I separate my business from my friends, because it's the smart thing to do," Mares said. "But Frank is one of those guys, he's such a good guy and you like to be around him. My family, his family, we've gotten along so well. We all do birthday parties, holidays, that kind of thing.

"I think [Ponce de Leon] and I know that Frank is going to do whatever he can to help the both of us. He makes us the best deal and he looks out for us in every way he can. What happens in the fight is going to happen and then we'll go back and we'll all be friends again."

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