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Impressive Prospect And Free Agent Mercado Ready To Fight Anyone, Anywhere

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Ernesto “Titio” Mercado has been walking a tightrope in this business since turning pro. 

The precocious 22-year-old from Pomona, California, has backed himself through his career to date, staying a promotional free agent and staying active, fighting his way up the ladder and even to BoxingScene Prospect of the Year honors last year.

He has stayed in an unusual spot, and this week boxes on a DAZN show in Texas with a record of 14-0 (13 KOs). Eleven of his opponents have failed to escape the first two rounds. 

Mercado boxed five times last year, and fights for the second time in 2024 when he takes to the ring in the Red Owl Boxing Arena in Houston against 22-4-1 (13 KOs) L.A-based Colombian Deiner Berrio.

Activity has become a boxing buzzword, with some fighters rusting and losing form while others have been reborn by boxing more often and staying in the gym.

It has been really important because it is the only way you will learn,” said Mercado. “You can do all the sparring you want along with all the training in the gym, but if you can’t go out there and do it in a fight where it counts and matters, as the fans are watching you, none of that matters. Staying active in the ring is really important.”

Mercado’s profile is on the rise, too. He will likely be fielding calls for major shows soon, but now he is enjoying his flexibility and his early ascension.  

Being a free agent has been a blessing in that way because I have been able to get active and fight against good opponents” the likeable Mercado explained. “For example, in my last fight, I was supposed to be fighting in January, but that got cancelled and I could reschedule a date. I also had another guy who came in overweight; when that happened, I was able to get another fight date a week later. 

“Sometimes promotional companies will schedule you back two-three months if something like that happens because they haven’t got an event coming up. So it is nice that I can schedule my own activity level.”

It wasn’t always supposed to be like this. Mercado was a good amateur who might have been set to box in the Tokyo Olympic for Nicaragua had the pandemic not hit. Not only did he miss out on a berth at the Games, but he didn’t even get to attempt to qualify.

He was a Silver Gloves champion who represented the USA Boxing National Team and, having come second in the U.S Olympic Trials, the plan was to try to represent his father’s native Nicaragua. Then the pandemic hit and the qualifiers were cancelled.  

“It would have been way different if I had gone out there and won a gold medal,” Mercado reflected. “I was supposed to be representing Nicaragua, but COVID-19 cancelled those plans. However, things happen for a reason, but I am very happy where I am right now. 

“It was crushing at the time, and I didn’t even want to think about the pros when that happened. The fighters I looked up to all went to the Olympics and won gold medals. I would have been happy to have been able to go to the Olympic qualifiers and try out. If I had then lost, it would have been all on me, but I did not even have the opportunity even to try and qualify.” 

And there was no desire to stay amateur and wait out another four years. Mercado decided to turn pro and take control of his own future.

“Because nothing would have been guaranteed,” he went on. “Especially with boxing and definitely with amateur boxing. There is a lot of politics involved, and waiting another four years would have been detrimental to my pro career. 

“We have seen many great amateur fighters like [Vasiliy] Lomachenko who have stayed long in the amateurs. What would we have seen if Lomachenko had turned pro at 22?” 

While the course of the journey is different, Mercado hopes the end place will be the same, but he could not have selected more treacherous waters than those willing to greet him at 140lbs.

His top three in the division are Devin Haney, Teofimo Lopez and Subriel Matias, and asked what he needs to add to his game to reach that level, Mercado said: “I think mentally I am ready now. I do need to get some of those top-10 guys in there with me. That’s what I need. 

“Earlier this year, I was offered the [Arnold] Barboza fight. If I had gotten that fight, my stock would have definitely risen, and I would have been up there with those guys because I know he is ranked in the top five of all the sanctioning bodies. 

“That would have been a great opportunity, but they turned it down. I do think the ideal step is getting one of those top 10, top five guys in there, beat one or two of them, and after that, I will get the recognition along with a larger fanbase to make the fights happen.”

The sadness of missing his Olympic dream combined with the inconvenience of not having the same bargaining chip at the start of his journey means he has not taken the direct route to the top, but he has no doubt he will get there. He might be modest, but he is not short on self-belief.

“Initially, I was going to debut with Top Rank on ESPN but then I waited for the Olympics,” he explained. “As the Olympics were going on, we decided that we should take a [pro] fight and see how it would go, and after that, we decided to take the free-agent route. It didn’t come because of promoter and recruitment issues, it was going well with the free agency route and we decided to stick by it.”

Doing what he is means he is backing himself each and every time. He will keep winning until his success can no longer be denied or ignored, and he believes he will keep his end of the bargain up.

“One hundred per cent,” Mercado added. “My team and I have total trust in each other, and they trust in my abilities to compete with the best guys out there and take us all to the top. We are 100 per cent backing ourselves, and the only one who has done what we are doing right now is Devin Haney. 

“He did his climb in Mexico, unlike mine, which is in the States. I also think I have more reputable opponents on my resume [at the same stage], which makes my journey a little bit more special.”

Of course, there might be margins between him and those at the top of the super lightweight divisions. It is one of boxing’s most competitive classes, with one of the deepest talent pools.

Mercado said he is working on covering all bases to get to the next level. 

“I don’t think about it as much as that because I have been practicing a lot of things,” he replied, when asked what he needed to add to his game.

“If there is nothing to work on, we will create a flaw to work on and perfect it. It would help if I could get into the ring more and face different styles. 

“I obviously have a big amateur background, so I know every style already, but to do it with little eight-ounce gloves on, with three-minute rounds for 10 to 12 rounds. That is the only difference right now between the amateurs and the pros. 

“I have not fought a pressure fighter like Berrio before. I need to remain calm and patient there. Once I have shown my patience, everything will be fine.”  

And it is easier to be patient when someone like Mercado is active and busy, fighting regularly and staying in the gym, poised for the phone call, for the opportunity that could change his life, which means he is always in shape in case the phone does ring. There can be no false moves in the free agent world.

“Of course, if I slip up, it will have a very heavy impact on what I want to go out and achieve,” Mercado admitted. “I know I have to be sharp and ready. 

“A lot of those guys [other fighters] drink, party and do all that stuff. I am the type of fighter who likes to live in the gym; even if I have a week or two off from training, I am always watching and thinking about boxing. I have always integrated myself into the sport. 

“Once you get into elite competition, everyone is skilled and has power and speed. It is those little differences, like living in the gym and thinking about and learning about boxing. 

“When these guys are out partying and drinking, and I am in the gym. It gives me the edge and energy to succeed. Those guys might be going into ‘camp’ in a few weeks, but the fact they have been out there drinking it up while I have been focusing in the gym [and it] gives me those little edges to succeed.” 

Living the life is made easier by his father and trainer, Ernesto Mercado Sr., guiding him in the corner and in the gym. Freddy Fundora, father of world champions Sebastian and Gabriela, said last week that the fighters were his kids outside of boxing, but in the ring, they are his athletes. 

How does Mercado think his father sees him on fight night?

“I think an athlete. I have not asked him that question before,” Mercado continued. 

“I have been doing this for a long time, but we are very professional as a team. There is no emotion because we both know we are there for business and I think it would be hard for my dad to see me as a son and give me instructions because then emotions get involved. You lose that connection, and you don’t think the same if too many emotions come into force. 

“My dad is always on point regarding strategy, so I can trust him to ensure that I remain an athlete.”

Mercado is certain his future was mapped out long before there was an alternative to boxing. It was destined to be this way. It is in the blood, and now it has become a lifestyle, a job and a habit.

“I’m pretty sure I could have gone to school and gotten a degree in something, but when I was four years old, I knew I wanted to box as a professional. Boxing was always going to be the one for me.”

Against Berrio in Houston on Friday, Mercado backs himself again. In the future, he could see himself moving up to 147, but the dream is to win a title at 140, make some defenses and then move up, while writing his name into the history books alongside those of the fighters he looked up to, including Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, Alexis Arguello and Salvador Sanchez.

“Yeah,” Mercado concludes, “There are so many big fights out there, but some promoters won’t make them because the opponent is from across the street and won’t work with each other. 

“In my case, I can fight anywhere, such as on Amazon Prime, DAZN, or ESPN, and I can make my way through there without being conflicted and torn by promoters not wanting to work with one another. In that sense, it works out perfectly.” 

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