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Sebastian Fundora is a Towering Inferno whose Money Punch Rises from the Furnace

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  • Sebastian Fundora is a Towering Inferno whose Money Punch Rises from the Furnace

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    By Bernard Fernandez

    His anatomical measurements alone almost certainly would stamp Sebastian “The Towering Inferno” Fundora as the most unusual super welterweight ever, but there are other spatial matters that help to identify the 24-year-old southpaw from Coachella, Calif., as something even more unique, and more dangerous, than standard-sized 154-pounders.

    When Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KOs) defends his WBC interim super welter title Saturday night against rugged Mexican Carlos Ocampo (34-1, 22 KOs), in the PBC on Showtime main event at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., the matchup at first glance might suggest an NBA power forward posting up a point guard. Fundora is, depending on which listing you choose to believe, 6’5”, 6’5½” or 6’6”, but what’s a half-inch or so one way or the other when your opponent is 5’10½” and is giving away seven inches in reach to your condor-like wingspan of 80 inches?

    Many fighters with physical advantages so seemingly apparent would opt to fight at a distance of their choosing, peppering the shorter man with boarding-house-reach jabs, the better to set up their own power shots while making it more difficult for the shorter guy to close the gap.

    But Sebastian Fundora, who might be lean but hardly scrawny, does not fit anyone’s expectations other than his own and those of his Cuban-born father-trainer, Freddy Fundora. Jabs? The Fundoras know it’s necessary to have one as part of the overall package, but their preference is not to rely on it any more than is absolutely necessary. It is Sebastian’s signature shot, a ripping right uppercut thrown from tight quarters, that has elevated him to the position of mandatory WBC challenger to Jermell “Iron Man” Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KOs), the undisputed super welter champion. Fundora lives, breathes, eats and sleeps with that megafight in mind, but before it can happen, he has to take care of business against Ocampo, who comes in on a 12-bout winning streak and presumably confident he can find a way to get chin-to-chest with the Towering Inferno, if not nose-to-nose.

    It was that uppercut, a very damaging blow from below, that has been the gift that keeps on giving to Sebastian Fundora. He delivered one to the chin of highly regarded Erickson Lubin in the third round of their April 9 bout in Las Vegas for the WBC interim super welter belt, sending Lubin to the canvas, and he closed round nine with a couple of more just before the bell, prompting Lubin’s corner to signal that their man had had enough and would not be coming out for the 10th.

    But Lubin had his moments as well, most notably in the seventh when he landed several telling blows, causing a shaken Fundora to take a knee and give himself a few precious seconds to recover from the most precarious spot he’d been in as a pro to date.

    “I had the composure to use my brain and take a knee during that fight,” Fundora said, apparently as pleased by his presence of mind at that moment as he is of his trademark uppercuts that eventually closed the show. “I got hit with a good punch and I was, like, `Let me take a little breather,’ instead of getting hit like that again. I used my intelligence.”

    Ocampo, whose only loss came on a one-round knockout against IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. on June 16, 2018, thereafter moved up to super welter and launched his dozen-fight winning streak. He no doubt is envisioning doing unto Fundora what Lubin did, only more emphatically and ultimately victoriously. But there is a price to be paid for entering that toe-to-toe danger zone. When Fundora connects to maximum effect with his weapon of choice, and he usually does at some point in every fight, he feels the outcome is all but preordained.

    “It goes up and their faces are usually right there,” he said of his lengthening list of victims. “It’s as easy as that. The uppercut is my lucky punch. It lands most of the time, with everybody. Southpaw. Right hand. It doesn’t matter. Once I (land) that, I feel like the job’s done.”

    Sebastian Fundora is one of six siblings, all of whom have boxed at one time or another. His 20-year-old sister, Gabriela (8-0, 4 KOs), takes on Mexico’s Naomi Apellanos Reyes (9-1, 5 KOs) in the scheduled 10-round lead-in to her really big brother’s marquee bout. Gabriela is tall for a female flyweight (5’9”) and while not exactly towering, might reasonably be described as a high-rise inferno. She, too, has been tutored to make liberal use of the uppercut.

    “We call it a `hot shot,’” Freddy Fundora said of the punch that could soon make Sebastian, if you’ll pardon the expression, the next big thing in boxing. “Most of the fighters he’ll be facing are going to be shorter than him, and they’ll be charging him. They pretty much fall into the uppercut all by themselves.”

    Punch statistics furnished by CompuBox illustrate just how busy a bee Sebastian is, in a general sense, and how reliant he is on that uppercut. They also tell a tale of a jab that is so seldom employed that cobwebs could be growing on it, a juxtaposition of resources that, on the face of it, defies logic. The Towering Inferno averages 72.1 punches a round, second in his weight class only to Brian Castano (75.5), but he is first in punches landed per round (24.4), first in connect percentage (33.4%), first in power punches thrown per round (54.8) and first in power punches landed per round (22.4).

    The pie chart also reveals that boxing’s version of a praying mantis throws only 18 jabs a round, lowest among all super welters, only two of which actually connect. For an especially tall fighter with an 80-inch reach, that paucity of use and effectiveness of the jab would seem to be anomalies.

    Should Fundora get past Ocampo, the waiting period will commence for a Charlo-Fundora showdown, which could be the special event fight fans will be clamoring to see, much as they are now for the Spence-Terence Crawford full unification extravaganza that has been boxing’s most drawn-out tease since the five-year slow dance before Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao finally squared off. But it better happen sooner rather than later, because super welterweights as tall as Fundora are not guaranteed to remain in that weight class in the long term.

    “Right now I’m comfortable at 154,”Fundora said. “But who knows? Maybe after this fight I’ll jump up to 168. We’ll see what happens in the next few years. I walk around at this weight. I don’t shoot up too heavy during my breaks. The heaviest I’ve been is, like, seven pounds over. Never anything crazy.”

    Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the Class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Round 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, is currently out. The anthology can be ordered through Amazon.com and other book-selling websites and outlets.
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