Sebastian Fundora learned to fight in a boxing ring set up in the family backyard. To this day, it’s where he prepares for his fights with his father Freddy and sister Gabriela. At 6’6” and 154 pounds, he looks even taller in this environment, his head towering over top of the cactuses that surround the yard in Coachella and looming amongst the palm trees, a monster preparing for battle in the desert.
But the way he fights, you’d think he learned to fight in the broom closet of the casita in the backyard where his sparring partners stay during camp. Rather than use his reach to box from long range, keeping his opponents at the end of an otherworldly wingspan, he exploits his size advantage in a different way. Fundora prefers to fight on the inside, in effect meeting his opponents on their terms, facing them in the only space where they could have success against him. In there, he leans on them, pushes them around and uses his leverage and length to sling punches under, around and through his opponent’s guard at angles they aren’t accustomed to.
On Saturday night, Fundora scored the 20th win of his career, a 12-round unanimous decision over Carlos Ocampo. The bout looked like pretty much all of Fundora’s have to this point in his career, a phone booth battle with Fundora taking some punishment, but dishing out about twice as much. Fundora could enter fights with the hypothesis of “you can’t hit me” and peck away from the outside, but instead he posits that his opponents simply cannot outwork him on the inside. For periods of the fight, Fundora would utilize his jab to set up big left hands from range, but would always move back in where he feels at home.
“I felt like in the first four rounds I boxed because I wanted to not just show myself but my father and everyone else that we could box. We'd been doing that the whole camp, boxing, boxing, lots of range,” Fundora said at the post-fight press conference. “But I felt it was moving a little too slow for me and I wanted to excite the fans, you know, give them their money's worth, and we went in there and we banged, we did the normal Towering Inferno style and we got the fans riled up.”
Ocampo did the best he could with Fundora, surprising him with leaping hooks and overhand rights. Although referee Jack Reiss threatened to stop the bout after eight rounds, which drew the ire of Showtime commentators and fans alike, Ocampo remained persistent and competitive until the final bell. Although he was outgunned, he never conceded that he would simply take his beating, trying however fruitlessly to match pace with Fundora.
“I knew he was gonna come out with a big heart, probably a bigger heart than anybody I fought because he (had) something to prove,” said Fundora. “I'm pretty sure he was enjoying the fight as much as me. It was a great fight for the fans as well.”
Fundora is part of a growing pattern of athletes who are daring to buck the trend of what their body type or position says they should operate like within their sport. In basketball, seven footers are beating defenders off the dribble and hitting fadeaway jumpers, rather than simply backing opponents down at the basket. In hockey, hulking defensemen are carrying the puck from end to end and playing like an additional forward in the offensive zone. In football, quarterbacks are more mobile and more creative than ever as 6’5” quarterbacks dazzle with their abilities in the running game.
When Fundora was discovered by manager Sampson Lewkowicz, the concern was that Fundora might be too “fragile,” perhaps injury prone in training or vulnerable on shots to the body with his slender frame. Instead, Fundora has become the ultimate test of durability in the 154-pound division, forcing opponents to endure a unique onslaught if they want to beat him. His April bout against Erickson Lubin, which will be at worst a finalist on Fight of the Year ballots, was both an outstanding fight but also a frightful beating sustained by Lubin. Fundora may be beatable, but beating him would seem as though it will come with a hefty tax.
The rugged camps in the backyard in the desert haven’t seemed to affect him either. Fundora has continued to make 154 comfortably, and even revealed earlier this year that he could “make 147 easily” if bouts against big name welterweights became a possibility. As an athlete, Fundora is certainly no lumbering tall skinny guy. In fact, he placed fourth at this year’s Nate Race 5K, held every year during Boxing Hall of Fame weekend, crossing the line in 18:12.
Relative to his weight class, Fundora is one of the most unique athletes we’ve seen in the sport of boxing in some time. Consider that Paul Williams, the volume-punching southpaw who peered down at his opponents at both 147 and 154, is five inches shorter than Fundora, who is the same height as Anthony Joshua. He’s also one of a handful of fighters at the sport’s highest levels that delivers pure inside fighting, the type touted as being best for television, every single time he fights. Now one step away from fighting for a world title, Fundora is more than just a curiosity, he’s a contender.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman