This time last year, Sebastian Fundora was the prospect.

Sure, he was highly-ranked, unbeaten, had received positive notices from the fans and media, and fought legit competition in the 154-pound weight class.

But regardless of what the sanctioning bodies might say, a prospect doesn’t become a contender until he’s forced to dig deep for a win against a fighter that isn’t there for a payday, but to put an “0” in his loss column.

For the Florida-born Fundora, that fighter was Erickson Lubin and the fight on April 9, 2022, not only marked him as a contender, but a future star.

All that’s missing is the championship belt. Not the interim WBC strap he won against Lubin and will defend for the second time against Brian Mendoza in a Showtime televised fight this Saturday in Carson, California, but the ones held by Jermell Charlo.

And Fundora, wise beyond his years at 25, knows that in the boxing business these days, those who have earned an opportunity don’t often get it, especially not on their own ideal timetable.

“I feel like I’ve been proving myself over and over again,” Fundora said during a recent teleconference. “We’re waiting for our shot to fight for the title. They keep putting guys in front of me who they say will knock me out or expose me, but I keep proving them wrong.”

Lubin was one of those guys.  

Slept on after a first-round loss to Charlo in 2017, Lubin quietly won six straight, four by knockout, to earn the interim title fight with Fundora. If you haven’t seen it, Lubin described it perfectly when we spoke last June.

“Man, we were rumblin',” Lubin laughed, but he wasn’t exaggerating. Both fighters hit the deck and Lubin was ahead on two of the three judges’ scorecards and even on the third before Fundora turned up the heat and prompted Lubin’s trainer, Kevin Cunningham, to pull his charge from the fight before the tenth round. It was a Fight of the Year candidate and the perfect vehicle to take Fundora to the next level. 

And by his return last October against Carlos Ocampo, everybody knew the story of the nearly 6-foot-6 Fundora, the fighting family that includes his sister Gabriela (who won a 10-rounder over Naomi Arellano Reyes on the undercard of her brother’s fight with Ocampo), and the reality that with his frame, southpaw stance, power and willingness to get in a dogfight if necessary, he was going to be a problem for anyone in his division.

He proved it against Ocampo as he scored a dominant 12-round win that displayed the other aspects of his game.

“I’m using my jab and using my distance more,” Fundora said. “I’ve always been able to do it, but I’m more comfortable with it now. Lubin was really in my chest, so the fight didn’t really call for it. Against Ocampo I was able to use those skills more.”

With Charlo sidelined due to injury and expected to face Tim Tszyu when he returns, Fundora was forced to stay busy, and that means he’s back for this weekend’s bout with Mendoza, who bounced back from the first two losses of his career against Larry Gomez and Jesus Ramos, which sandwiched a win over Thomas LaManna, to stop Benjamin Whitaker and Jeison Rosario.

The TKO of Rosario last November was the real eye opener, and it landed him in the biggest fight of his career. And while Fundora was impressed with the Las Vegan’s victory, he knew what he was bringing to the table and expects more of the same at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“Mendoza had a great performance in his last fight and he looked strong,” said Fundora. “I didn’t see anything different from him, really. We knew he was strong.”

So do we get the boxer or the puncher from Fundora this weekend?

“Just expect fireworks,” he said. “I’m bringing my best, so I hope he brings his best. I’m always ready to go toe-to-toe. Everyone I fought have been strong guys and Mendoza is another. We’re just going to go for the win like always.”

But will this win get Fundora what he ultimately wants? That’s not up to him, so he’ll just keep controlling what he can.

“I feel like some people are trying to skip me in order for the title, but I’m remaining patient and staying focused on this fight,” he said. “I just have to keep moving forward while everything else gets dealt with.”

Like his opponent.

“Mendoza is gonna find out that I’m the next world champion at super welterweight.”

What a difference a year makes.