Despite boxing's struggles to remain relevant in the greater sports landscape, Hollywood continues to love pugilism. The latest Creed movie was a smashing success. Later this year a new George Foreman movie will hit theaters nationwide. The stories inside and outside the squared circle resonate for an audience that far exceeds weekly boxing ratings or streaming numbers.
Hollywood continues to harvest the sport for its stories because boxing is drama incarnate. The universal themes of struggle are easily expressed and understood in the boxing ring. It's man vs. himself, man vs. man, or man vs. his environment. These themes are a major part of the sport's allure and present a natural vehicle for storytelling. One fighter, one opponent, and the ability to endure physically and mentally for greater glory.
Hollywood has often been referred to as the Dream Factory and boxing is nothing if not for dreams. Fighters often come from abject circumstances and boxing is their vehicle for a better life. From the best fighter in the world to the boxer toiling on a small club card on a Wednesday night, dreams keep them plying their trade. They all got into the sport for a better tomorrow and are prepared to suffer for a wished-upon future.
Brian Mendoza understands dreams. Not long ago he appeared in a walk-out bout after the main card had finished. As the paying customers left the arena and the TV lights dimmed and the media members shut off their computers or put away their cameras, there Mendoza was, fighting in obscurity hoping to one day see a better tomorrow.
|Mendoza (right) celebrates his stoppage win over Fundora|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin
Mendoza earned his stripes as a professional boxer on the backwater circuit, fighting in places such as Green Bay, Wisconsin and Dodge City, Kansas, locales far removed from boxing's bright lights. Although Mendoza lacked top-level craft, he was tough, knew how to handle himself in the ring and he had a punch. In 2021, he faced top prospect Jesus Ramos. And although he didn't embarrass himself, he won no more than two rounds in the fight. But perhaps there's another way to look at that. He was only the third fighter ever to go the distance with Ramos and he provided quality rounds.
In 2022 he again was brought in as the B-side, to face former unified 154-lb. champion Jeison Rosario. Rosario was trying to rebuild himself in the middleweight division and Mendoza had fought almost his entire career at junior middleweight and welterweight. I doubt that Rosario's handlers viewed Mendoza as a significant threat. But Mendoza didn't believe that he was the "opponent." He demolished Rosario in the fifth round with a vicious right uppercut/left hook combination.
Enter Sebastian Fundora, the hard-punching 6'5" 154-lb. unicorn who wanted to stay busy in the ring while awaiting his title shot against undisputed champion Jermell Charlo. Fundora had beaten eight undefeated fighters in his rise to the top end of the division and also won one of the best fights of 2022 when he stopped Erickson Lubin. Fundora was already a Showtime headliner and had become a must-watch attraction in the sport. And here again Mendoza was selected as the "opponent." He was there to give the burgeoning star credible rounds.
But through the first six rounds of their fight on Saturday, Mendoza didn't even accomplish that task. Fundora was dominating the action, landing straight lefts from distance and his signature uppercuts from close range. Hardly anything Mendoza did worked. He remained in the fight only because of his toughness and his willingness to endure. Through six, it hadn't been competitive.
|Photo courtesy of Esther Lin|
Yet boxing is unlike other sports; there doesn't have to be a score to overcome. In an instant, one punch can erase whatever previously occurred in a bout, or even in a career. The past can become irrelevant.
Brian Mendoza forever changed his future in three seconds.
In the seventh, Fundora attempted a left uppercut from too far away and Mendoza countered with a quick left hook that detonated on Fundora's chin. Fundora stood motionless, the effects of the blow short-circuiting his body. Mendoza seized the moment, rushed in, and unfurled the nastiest right hand of his career and followed with a picture-perfect left hook. Fundora fell backwards almost in slow motion, completely defenseless, hitting the canvas with a thud. He sat up, but had none of his faculties. Referee Ray Corona counted to 10, and even if he had counted to 100, the result would have been the same. Fundora was finished. In three seconds, Brian Mendoza earned a world title shot.
It's the stuff of dreams, of Hollywood, of everyone who enters the sport. One punch can change everything: a life, a future, a reality. Brian Mendoza manifested in three seconds the life that he had envisioned. The obscurity, the self-doubts, the rejections, the slights: three seconds banished them to a long, unfortunate prologue in Brian Mendoza's story. It was drama at its finest and a reminder of the Dream Factory. It could be you who changes your life in one instant. It could be me. Brian Mendoza did it. Roll credits.
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