At just shy of 6-foot-6 with a spindly frame, Sebastian Fundora might be the least likely Mexican-American brawler turned interim junior middleweight titleholder that boxing has seen.
Nicknamed “The Towering Inferno,” the 24-year-old looks more like a praying mantis inside the ring. Outside of it, he looks even less intimidating behind giant glasses and a friendly demeanor more akin to an insurance salesman or elementary school teacher.
But make no mistake about it, Fundora can fight. And any perceived advantages the southpaw with an 80-inch reach might have based upon his size alone are typically eschewed because of his willingness to fight.
“I feel like I’m going to have to prove myself every fight,” Fundora told “Morning Kombat” last week. “I could have four belts around my waist and I feel I will still have to prove myself, and that’s fine. I think that’s good for this sport to be able to prove yourself every single time with every single fight. This next opponent is another elite fighter so we are just going to have to prove ourselves again.”
The working theory on Fundora had been that he’s nothing more than an attraction — a boxing oddity because of his spidery frame — who will get folded the first time he steps up and fights a puncher. The problem with that theory is that it hasn’t happened.
Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KOs) got up from the canvas in April to finish top contender Erickson Lubin in a brutal fight that’s in contention for best of 2022. But the victory not only landed him the WBC interim title and an opportunity at a future full title shot once an opportunity becomes available, it also went a long way in forcing naysayers to start taking him seriously.
On Saturday, in the all-action backdrop of Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, Fundora returns to headline a Showtime tripleheader (9 p.m. ET) against red-hot Carlos Ocampo (34-1, 22 KOs). A victory could place Fundora in line for undisputed champion Jermell Charlo, fresh off a knockout of Brian Castano in their rematch, who is rumored to be fighting unbeaten Tim Tszyu in early 2023.
“I feel like [waiting for a title shot] is just part of the business,” Fundora said. “That’s the business side of boxing and a lot of people don’t want to work with that side but it is what it is. We are going to stay busy. I have my career to focus on, Charlo has his and Tszyu has his. I want to focus on making my legacy for myself. I want to grow up myself. I don’t need other people to do it for me.”
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If you’re wondering why Fundora, who was born in south Florida but moved to Coachella, California, when he was 13, wasn’t stolen away from the sweet science by an opportunistic basketball or volleyball coach, the answer is two-fold.
Fundora’s father/trainer Freddy was a former pro boxer who largely raised all six of his children inside of a boxing gym. Fundora’s brother, Alberto, went 12-0 as a super middleweight over a three-year career that ended in 2017. Meanwhile, his sister Gabriela turned pro in 2021 and is already 8-0.
The other part of the equation was that Fundora wasn’t all that coordinated for sports like basketball, where someone of his size would typically be playing above the rim. Asked if he can dunk, Fundora answered, “far from it. I can’t even dribble a ball.”
One thing Fundora can do is fight, in a crowd-pleasing style that he outright enjoys. And while Fundora is far from a traditional tall fighter who relies on his jab to maintain distance, he is quick to echo his father’s opinion that fighting at close range can be an advantage for someone of his wing span.
“It’s that leverage,” Fundora said. “It’s a strong thing to have.”
To fight in such a come-forward manner, a boxer also needs to have a sturdy chin. Fundora has seen his checked in multiple fights on his journey, including a 2021 war opposite Jorge Cota for four rounds. But he has passed each test with flying colors, just like he did against Lubin.
“I was enjoying every single round,” Fundora said about the Lubin fight. “That was a great fight and I felt as if I was a fan watching outside the ring. I’m glad that the fans enjoyed it. [But was I in] serious trouble? No, I don’t think so. I took that knee. I thought let’s be smart. If anything, I just needed that little breather. I got back up and I finished the job.
“I knew these things [about his chin], I just had to prove it to everybody. Yes, it is a reminder. I think with every fight, you remind yourself that you are growing and maturing.”
Fundora knows that the 26-year-old Ocampo, a native of Mexico, is a much tougher challenge than those who only remember him for being knocked out in one round by Errol Spence Jr. might realize. Since the 2018 loss as a mandatory opponent for Spence’s welterweight title, Ocampo has won 12 straight, including nine by knockout, all at 154 pounds.
“It’s funny that you say that no one noticed [Ocampo’s win streak] because we noticed that,” Fundora said. “We know he is going to come a different Ocampo and a stronger Ocampo. That’s who we are inviting. We wanted a strong opponent for this fight because we know he is tough and a lot of people are saying this is almost a step down from the Lubin fight. I don’t think so. I think this is a tough fight, as well.”
Regardless of how the Ocampo fight plays out, Fundora knows he will continue to focus on winning fans over, one by one, who see his build and assume he can’t fight.
“I don’t know if they don’t think tall people can’t box or something,” Fundora said. “You expect tall people to use their reach as an advantage. Yes, I could do that. I want to entertain, as well. This is a sport where you want to see knockouts and see people get hurt. That’s just the name of the game.”
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