I’ve been here before, on purpose, if not on purpose. It’s a strange place, especially for someone who has lived so long looking down, not haughty, not arrogant, but out of necessity, because my world, and most likely yours, run their business beneath me. This place is not devoid of comforts, the charm of charity; indeed, some sought him out for such reasons – and I sent them there. Others resisted it with a vehemence only we can understand. They failed – and I sent them there. I can understand the former, identify with them, empathize with them. The latter are my brothers; we know the fight against futility. Yes, yes, I see, your exaggerated fingers are an urgent supplement to your measured eloquence. If I could accept less than myself, I could spare you that bill, cut it short with some gesture that spurred you from ritual to rescue. If I could do more, be sure I’ll look down on you again. Unfortunately, I only offer a faint smile, and what kind of protest is that?
According to many, it was always on the horizon: Sebastian Fundora, this impossible impossibility, at six foot six and weighing 154 pounds, would one day lie stretched out like a late shadow on a canvas. With enough exceptions to firmly establish the rule, that’s the fate of every fighter, in case you’re not sure how to respect such predictions. Yet there was at least an expectation that Fundora would live up to his expectations when the stakes were higher and the caliber of the opponent calibrated accordingly. For Fundora, it was a fight, and then another, and if need be, another after this: all that was needed to ensure his territory changed hands, even under the lion’s long reign.
However, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Brian Mendoza, who faced Fundora on Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA. “La Bala” fought accordingly. In the seventh round, with a bloody nose and a swollen face, Mendoza rewrote his future and the future of the junior middleweight division with a left hook that folded Fundora like a penknife.
Upsets are nothing new for Mendoza, who retired Jeison Rosario with a fifth-round knockout in November. Once a unified divisional champion, Rosario was a downhill competitor who was apparently undergoing a makeover after knockout losses to Jermell Charlo and Erickson Lubin. Fundora was different: a flawed but captivating oddity, distinguished not so much by its size as by the chaos it caused, forsaking the safer advantages of size.
It could be argued that with its bizarre dimensions, Fundora has little to fight inside. It was this discrepancy that encouraged his skeptics. But Fundora didn’t lose to Mendoza because he squandered his advantage: “The Towering Inferno” lost because he got tricked into taking them for granted by throwing a jab he never landed to the chin to set up an uppercut fired from (so Fundora thinks ) outside of Mendoza. Mendoza lured him to this ultimate blunder by landing a body blow that intentionally fell short, but caught Fundora’s attention long enough to leave him open to the left hook that followed. The blow hit Fundora’s chin shatteringly. Instead of falling, Fundora staggered on his feet like a parachutist on power lines, allowing Mendoza to step in with his right arm and left hook of unbridled ferocity. As if siding with the inspired underdog, the canvas greeted Fundora’s toppling head with a disgusting reflection.
It was the end that the moment demanded. Mendoza accepted Fundora’s match but was losing it. Even Fundora’s coach and father, Freddy Sr., turned down Mendoza’s chances before the memorable seventh round. Freddy Sr. was right, because no one has completely solved the mystery of the warrior who prefers a phone booth even if he has to bend down to enter it. Fundora is unusual in that it seems to give up its natural virtues. But as he uses these qualities in the service of his disposition, they are not so much abandoned as used counterintuitively but effectively. Perhaps the analogy lies with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP who has been encouraged over the years to perfect his three-point shot but instead doubled down on a cut style that reflects his wiring. While he will certainly consider the potential benefits of the extra six pounds, Fundora is unlikely to change much. And really, that’s for the best. For a fighter like Fundora, there’s more money and glory in being fun than being invincible.
“Big guy, now knocked down” to borrow from John Banville, Fundora actually suffered a brutal defeat against Mendoza. But he should look at his winner to understand that one or two losses don’t have to end the journey, in fact they lengthen it. Because whatever Fundora’s story was, the night belonged to Mendoza, who, just over a year after losing two out of three fights, revived the junior-middleweight division twice with a breathtaking knockout. He will continue to play the opponent, the weaker one, not giving in to the expectations of the role. And let’s hope he does it soon in the fight he dreams of.
I’ve been here before, on purpose, if not on purpose. It is a strange place, especially for someone who has lived so long, looking in there not with gloom, not with bitterness, but with a solemn resolution: because my world runs its business at my expense. If I could accept less for myself, I wouldn’t be here, perched on these ropes, screaming, beating my chest in a spasm of catharsis and joy. I am overwhelmed by the violent confirmation of my unwavering faith in myself. That’s all I have to do with the broken figure behind me. What protocols are being developed about it, reliable diagnostics, reassuring words – it’s also my merit. I am the author of everything that happens in this little square. If there were more things I could do… But then again, I’ve done enough tonight, haven’t I?