Mexico’s Daniel Ponce De Leon holds a vice-like grip on the WBO junior featherweight title and treasures it for its symbol of victory.

The Tarahumara Indian native, a tribe located in the Chihuahua Mountains, has endured taunts on his fighting style, hairstyle and boxing ability.

But Ponce De Leon, who recently cut off his hair, still holds the WBO title and defends it against Filipino sensation Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista (23-0, 17 KOs) at the Arco Arena on Saturday. The Golden Boy Promotions fight will be televised on HBO.

He’s also trying to defend the $500,000 Boxing World Cup that Mexico has. It won’t be easy.

“I don’t care what they say about how I fight,” said Ponce De Leon (31-1, 28 KOs) taking a break from a training session in Vernon. “I’m going forward and if he stands in front of me I’m going through him.”

Other champions in his weight class like Israel Vazquez, Celestino Caballero and now former champion Rafael Marquez grab the headlines with their stylish power. Yet few acknowledge Ponce De Leon as anything but crude.

“He’s just a brawler,” said Ala Villamor, who trains Bautista. “That’s all he is but he is very tough.”

Oh, but what a brawler.

Against Panama’s six-feet tall 122-pounder Caballero two years ago, the Mexican brawler absorbed a pounding for 12 rounds and refused to surrender. Ponce De Leon’s head snapped back repeatedly but despite a huge lead in the early going, Caballero won the bout and tired toward the end. It was a clear demonstration of grit for Ponce De Leon.

Against Bautista he’s going to need it again.

Ponce De Leon’s stamina is not an issue. His Tarahumara tribe is famous for stamina and long-distance running.

Joe Hernandez, who manages Ponce De Leon, says he’s tried to polish up his fighter but the rugged boxer resorts to what comes natural: brawling.

“He used to throw his punches from leftfield, now he throws them from the pitcher’s mound at least,” says Hernandez. “He doesn’t know how to use his distance or set up punches properly. But his offense is his defense. He throws a lot of punches.”

Last year Ponce De Leon captured the title in Tucson and shocked everyone by using his jab and out-boxing a Thai boxer Sod Looknongyangtoy known for brawls too. It was a strange sight as the Mexican won the world title by using boxing movement instead of his usual raw power.

Ten months later, in Las Vegas, Looknongyangtoy stepped in the ring again to face Ponce De Leon. The Thai fighter had that look of confidence that he had figured out how to beat the Mexican’s box and move style displayed in their first encounter. A single left hand punch later, Ponce De Leon had knocked the Thai boxer in 52 seconds.

“I knew how he fought so I went through him the second time,” said Ponce De Leon.

That’s his favorite style.

Though not every fighter can be knocked out, such as his last opponent Filipino veteran Gerry Penalosa, the Mexican boxer prefers the more obliterating results. In the last several rounds he boxed and moved. It was a strange sight to see him on his toes against the smaller Penalosa. But he can change if needed.

“Whenever I fight I want to knock the opponent out,” he said. “That’s how I got here, by knocking people out.”

Hernandez shakes his head when it comes to his pupil.

“I pray he looks halfway decent,” Hernandez says. “One day he’ll learn to throw punches correctly and watch out.”

Most observers expect Bautista to box and move to create angles against the power-punching Ponce De Leon.

Villamor hopes the fight goes as expected.

“We want Boom Boom to use his speed and movement,” said Villamor. “But sometimes he gets hit and forgets everything and wants to battle.”

Expect a huge battle between the two bombers. It’s Mexico versus Philippines so don’t expect a boring fight.

Erik Morales loses, Diaz wants other Diaz’s

The former world champion Erik “El Terrible” Morales lost his bid to become the first Mexican boxer to win world titles in four weight divisions on Saturday. Despite a first round knockdown of WBC lightweight titleholder David Diaz the Tijuana fighter could not muster enough points to convince three judges he was the better fighter.

Morales said it could be retirement but did not make it official.

Diaz wants to track down the other lightweight titleholders who also share his last name Diaz. The other champions are Julio Diaz who holds the IBF title and Juan Diaz who has the WBA and WBO titles.

Israel Vazquez KOs Marquez

The return match between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, both of Mexico City, resulted in a party for Vazquez who regained the WBC junior featherweight title on Saturday by sixth round knockout.

It was Marquez first loss in seven years but their first encounter last March showed that Vazquez had the firepower to win a return match and did.

Experts are calling it another candidate for Fight of the Year. They also called their first match a candidate.

So what now?

“Lets fight a third fight,” said Vazquez eagerly. “He (Marquez) feels the fight was stopped too soon. Lets do another fight.”

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. wins

The son of the great Julio Cesar Chavez racked up another victory against another fighter from the Midwest. Maybe its time to fight someone from another region?

Chavez has been feasting on Midwest fighters for quite a while including Louis Brown, Grover Wiley, Anthony Shuler, Raul Munoz, Shad Howard, Jermain White, Aaron Drake, Tyler Ziolkowski, Jeremy Stiers, Jonathan Nelson, Ruben Galvan, Adam Wynant and more.

The few times he’s fought someone not from the Midwest he’s run into trouble such as his draw against Mexico’s Carlos Molina.

Not to denigrate Midwest fighters, but they don’t get the same training and sparring as fighters from the East Coast, West Coast or Mexico.

Chavez, who attended high school in Riverside, was supposed to fight Arturo Gatti had he disposed of former Contender Alfonso Gomez. Instead, Gomez knocked out the former great.

Gomez versus Chavez Jr. would be a great match.

Now the much smaller Paul Malignaggi has called out Chavez. That’s a pretty good fight that pits Malignaggi’s speed and toughness against the taller but slower Chavez’s body shots.

Bolo loses

Kevin Johnson captured a one-sided decision over Damian “Bolo” Wills in their heavyweight contest last Friday in Atlanta.

Johnson, who trained with Chris Arreola in Riverside for a few weeks, used a steady jab and quick combinations to offset the heavy-handed Wills over 10 rounds.

It was Will’s second loss. A main problem is his weight. The fighter who is guided by motion picture star Denzel Washington weighed more than 250 pounds. That’s too much weight for the fighter out of Lancaster.

Fights on television

Wed. ESPN2, 6:30 p.m., Joe Greene (15-0) vs. Darryl Salmon (16-1).

Thurs. Versus, 6 p.m., Joshua Clottey (31-2) vs. Felix Flores (22-5).

Fri. ESPN2, 7 p.m., Terry Smith (30-2-1) vs. Rob Calloway (65-7-1).

Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Enrique Ornelas (25-3) vs. Bronco McKart (50-7).

Sat. HBO, 10 p.m., Daniel Ponce De Leon (31-1) vs. Rey Bautista (23-0).