Thank You, Brian Mendoza
The first thing you need to understand about Brian Mendoza is that his Wikipedia page is so sparse it doesn’t even include a photo of him.
There’s just his name, a two sentence intro followed by some very basic information (date of birth, place of birth, boxing record, etc.), then his fight record (which is complete), and just before that a section that says “Boxing Career.”
It is all of one sentence, and seeing how that sentence is about the Sebastian Fundora fight, well, let’s just say the update to his page was real recent.
Brian Mendoza is not supposed to be here. But in scoring a dramatic knockout victory over Fundora to win the interim WBC Super Welterweight title, he did more than just put himself on the map in his division, he also, at least for a moment, restored my faith in the possibility of what boxing could be.
You see, it’s been a struggle for me with boxing since the middle of last year. The dearth of quality match-ups, the protection of prospects by promoters, the increasingly awful scoring by judges (which was in full effect on the Fundora/Mendoza undercard), and perhaps most impactful, the continual debasing of the sport by a YouTube personality becoming the face of boxing through exhibition fights, has left me dispirited and gassed on the sport.
We serious boxing writers (like my NY Fights brethren) are quickly becoming the keepers of a fringe sport. Hell, at this rate, MMA may take over as the main combat sport, making boxing a fringe sport of a fringe sport. If you are hardcore about boxing, or just old school, now is not the golden age–it’s almost the WWE.
I didn’t even intend to watch Showtime’s card Saturday night. While the sport has been in the doldrums, so have my spirits. But boxing has an almost inexplicable draw to me.
While I struggle with the mismanagement of boxing, the careless way the sport tosses away its beaten and battered, and the ridiculous hype for the marginally accomplished, untested, or fake fighters the fact remains that Muhammad Ali is one of the great heroes of my life, and there’s an unpredictability that occurs in the ring that you can’t compare to any other sport.
A fighter can be getting dominated by his opponent, but with one sharply placed blow, one “lucky shot” the fight can not only be changed, but lives can change too.
And that’s what happened Saturday night. Through six rounds the lean, spidery, and gigantic (by height) Sebastian Fundora was absolutely controlling, if not downright dominating, Brian Mendoza.
The early portion of the seventh appeared to be more of the same, and then Fundora, who was up 60-54 on two cards and 59-55 on the third, got careless. As he came in to work Mendoza’s body and then possibly come upstairs, two maneuvers that had worked all fight, Mendoza landed a massive left hook that turned the 6 foot 5 ½ Fundora into a thin tree being blown by the wind.
Mendoza immediately jumped on Fundora, landing a flush straight right to the forehead and another left as Fundora went timber just for good measure. As Fundora’s head bounced off the canvas, it was clear the fight would soon be over whether Fundora got up or not. Rightly deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, Fundora stayed down. He was done, and he knew it. He dropped his guard, got popped by a blow he didn’t see coming, and in that moment, the whole weight class changed.
But that’s not the only thing that changed. So did the life of Brian Mendoza.
A former hot prospect who started out 18-0 with 13 KOs, and then lost two of his next three fights. Mendoza was suddenly seen as a pretender and not a contender. A 5th round TKO of journeyman Benjamin Whitaker last year in March may have restored Mendoza’s confidence, if not his luster. However, his next bout, which ended in Mendoza scoring a stunning fifth round TKO over former WBA and IBF Light Middleweight titleist Jeison Rosario, didn’t just put Mendoza back on the map, his massive uppercut sent Rosario into retirement.
It was up until Saturday the best performance of Mendoza’s career. In truth, it probably still is. While Mendoza became a world titleist (interim or no) Saturday night, he did so despite clearly losing the fight until, all of a sudden, like a flash of lightning, he wasn’t.
I’m under no pretense that Brian Mendoza is the future of boxing or even his weight class, but I do know that if nothing else, Mendoza produced the sort of magic that keeps old school types like myself from walking away from the sport entirely.
In a fight against relatively evenly-matched fighters, anything can happen. And what happened for me when Brian Mendoza landed the perfect left hook is it gave me the feeling of hope. That true fights between real boxers, even those who are not household names, can remind you of why you fell for the sport in the first place.
Brian Mendoza is probably one of the last fighters who I thought might give me that hope. But again, in boxing, anything can happen. And sometimes that “anything” is actually a good thing.
On Saturday night, for me, a very good thing happened.
Thank you, Brian Mendoza.