The undefeated rising super welterweight star draws strength from his family as he prepares to face veteran Jorge Cota Saturday, May 1 on the Andy Ruiz-Chris Arreola FOX Sports PPV card.
The Southern California desert town of Coachella has long been known for its popular annual music festival.
But the festival may soon have to share top billing with a sensational, young and extremely tall rising star and Coachella resident known as “The Towering Inferno” who has been taking the boxing world by storm.
Welcome to the hometown of the Fundora family, led by Cuban-born father Freddy, his Mexican-born wife Monique, and six kids, all of whom have boxed at one time or another. Yes, even mom.
“Boxing is a sport that we practice,” says Freddy, the father, trainer and manager of his 23-year-old son Sebastian Fundora, who rises up to a towering 6-feet, 6 inches with a frame so slender it makes many wonder how he can stand up to the punishment dished out in his 154-pound weight class.
Promoter Sampson Lewkowicz, who introduced to the sport rejects-turned-champions such as Manny Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez and David Benavidez, initially rejected the request to promote Fundora, based on his seeming fragility. Then he watched him fight.
“The first fight I saw him in was against Victor Toney,” Lewkowicz said by phone recently. “Toney looked like (former heavyweight champion) James Toney, with his body and all. (Sebastian, then 19) beat this guy badly, and showed how much power he has. Then I took him to Argentina and Uruguay for two fights and he went the distance in (winning) each one. I don’t like to invest in something I don’t believe in, so I put him to the test and he proved me totally wrong.
“But I tell you every time I see him in the arena I think, ‘how can someone so skinny have so much power?’ I’m still surprised by his performance.”
Those who feel, as Lewkowicz once did, that Fundora is too fragile to be a successful fighter let alone world champion, are playing right into Team Fundora’s hands.
“Only a boxer and his trainer, on a daily basis, know the fighter,” the elder Fundora explained. “Everybody else is outside of the boxing ring, so we have to prove it with action. I actually like it that people think (he’s fragile). It fits perfectly to our agenda. They’ll learn pretty fast.”
And so they have. Fundora (16-0-1, 11 KOs) takes another step toward an eventual super welterweight title fight when he takes on slugger Jorge Cota (30-4, 27 KOs) in a WBC 154-pound title eliminator on May 1. It’s part of a May 1st PBC FOX Sports pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) from the outdoor Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. Heading the all-Mexican card that will feature fans in the stands is a heavyweight battle between former unified world champion Andy Ruiz Jr. and longtime contender Chris Arreola.
Fundora was scheduled to fight Cota last December, but the Mexican tested positive for the coronavirus and was replaced late by Habib Ahmed, who Fundora stopped in two rounds.
It would appear, from a visual standpoint, that the towering southpaw would be more suited to the basketball court than a boxing ring. He faces such questions often, and patiently and humorously answers.
“I played (basketball) in high school for a little while, maybe a month,” Fundora said. “Then I got sick and tired of it, because the shorter kids kept stealing the ball away from me. I wasn’t made for that. I was made for boxing.”
Freddy’s career path for his youngest son has always been a one-way street: "Sebastian is a boxer. He's been boxing since forever," the trainer said, forever being since he moved his family from Florida to California when Sebastian was eight.
Through the years, the national sport of Fundora has created a friendly sibling rivalry.
“ I like fighting on the inside. ” Undefeated Super Welterweight Contender - Sebastian Fundora
“There’s always the one that wants to be the best in the family,” Sebastian said. “Especially with my little sister (Gabriela “Sweet Poison” Fundora, who will turn pro in May). “She had the best amateur background of all of us. She won the junior Olympics two times, she was the boxer of the year twice, as well. She’s also tall, 5-9 and 115 pounds, and definitely is going to be fun to watch.
“Maybe someday she’ll catch up to me,” he added with a laugh. “But we’ll see.”
The fighting Fundoras live in the gym. Figuratively and literally.
When they’re ready for a workout, they need only to walk out the back door of their house. There in the back yard, in the open air in the middle of the desert, is what Sebastian calls “my private gym.” Unusual location, sure, but for this family it’s a godsend.
“My life is a camp,” says Freddy. “Especially with this Covid going on. We make sure we stay in a bubble . . . we try to stay as anti-social as possible, but not in a bad way.”
Included in that backyard gym is the ring, along with a small house, or casita, where sparring partners stay during training camps.
“It’s not kind of in the desert, it IS in the desert,” says Sebastian. “You look outside and you see tumbleweeds rolling in the sand. There are cactuses right next to my house. It's hot but it’s good air. I mean if you want to be a boxer, you have to go through tough situations, and this is one of them. I think that helps my mentality get stronger.”
As one of the tallest 154-pound fighters the sport has seen, Fundora, who will have a seven-inch height advantage and 6½-inch reach advantage over Cota, would seem tailor-made to fight on the outside, where he could work his strong jab to keep Cota at a distance. But the kid seems just as comfortable fighting on the inside. And he has a strong chin.
“It’s whatever the fight leads to,” says Sebastian. “I like fighting on the inside. If I feel comfortable fighting on the inside, I’m going to do it. If these guys are weak and I can run them over, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Freddy concurs: "Whatever a boxer is comfortable with, that’s what we work on. Forget about height. He’s a fighter at the beginning and a fighter at the end.”
Fundora will remain at super welterweight for now, for good reason.
“He never has to ‘make' weight, he’s walking around at that weight,” Freddy said. “He might be 153 or so for the fight. And this kid eats all day, he eats like an animal.”
An impressive victory against Cota will move Fundora closer to a coveted super welterweight title matchup, with plenty of 154-pound champions and former champions within the PBC stable. There’s current champions Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano, who will vie for all the belts on July 17th, plus former champ Jeison Rosario and Erickson Lubin, who will face off in June, along with Jarrett Hurd, Julian Williams and Tony Harrison, all former champions.
Asked if his son was ready for a title fight, Freddy said, “Sebastian’s always ready for a title fight. But remember, he’s young and there are steps to this. You don’t try to build rooms before you build the structure of a house or the walls. He’s young and still maturing, and our team is not in a hurry. We’ll do what’s best for him.”
First, Fundora must take care of business on May 1.
“Honestly, I haven’t watched any Cota fights,” Sebastian said. “I mean, I’ve seen the highlights with him and Charlo and Lubin (Cota was stopped early against both), but they’re not so much his highlights as the other guys’. They say he's got a lot of punching power.
“Being that we’ve had two camps for this guy, we’re more than ready. I honestly don’t plan on this being much of a fight.
“I’m going to do what I’ve done for the last few fights: just break ‘em.”
For a closer look at Sebastian Fundora, check out his fighter page.