Tito Mercado takes aim at the best in the 140-pound division as he takes on Jeremia Nakathila
Junior welterweight prospect Ernesto ‘Tito’ Mercado says he is going to face the best available fighters in and around his weight class.
In his mind, as long as he continues to win, the top 140 pounders will have to eventually face him.
Mercado faces another well-known fighter Saturday night, squaring off against Jeremia Nakathila of Namibia at the LumColor ‘Phoenix Center’ in Ontario, California in a junior welterweight clash.
The 10-round bout will stream live on BXNGTV (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT).
The 22-year-old Mercado (12-0, 11 knockouts) has generated a growing fan base in and around his hometown of nearby Pomona. The venue for Saturday’s card is less than about a 10-15 minute drive from his house.
In his last bout on August 26, which also took place at Saturday’s venue, Mercado dropped Carlos Manuel Portillo of Paraguay twice en route to a first-round knockout victory.
Mercado has faced decent opposition as of late, including former world junior welterweight title challenger Henry ‘Hank’ Lundy, former featherweight contender Jayson Velez, and Jose Angulo, who represented Ecuador at the 2012 Olympic Games. In his previous fight on July 15, Mercado defeated Xolisani Ndongeni, who is best known for his decision loss to Devin Haney in January 2019.
Nakathila (23-3, 19 KOs) will be another test for Mercado. The 33-year-old has had mixed results in recent fights, losing by decision to Shakur Stevenson in June 2021 and stopping former WBC junior lightweight titleholder Miguel Berchelt on March 26 of last year.
In his last fight on May 20, Nakathila lost by technical knockout in the second round to unbeaten lightweight contender Raymond Muratalla.
Mercado is not looking too much into the Nakathila loss to Muratalla and is expecting the best version of Nakathila on Saturday night.
“I’ve been wanting to fight the best opposition out there, and Nakathila is no different,” Mercado told The Ring Thursday afternoon. “I try not to overlook or look past what my opponents have done.
“Maybe he had a bad night against Muratalla in his last fight. I’m expecting a tough Nakathila to come in and fight. We have a game plan set up and we’re going to do our best to execute it. I plan on beating Nakathila more impressively just like or more impressively than what Muratalla did. I’m not looking at the Nakathila that fought in his last fight in May. I’m facing the Nakathila version that faced Shakur and Berchelt.”
Saturday marks the fifth fight of this year for Mercado, who also fought five times in 2022.
Activity has meant a lot to Mercado and Ernesto, Sr., who is his father and trainer. Mercado has benefitted from sparring top contenders in the gym in recent months, but believes he gets more out of facing opponents on fight night.
“You gain a lot from sparring and doing the work in the gym,” said Mercado, who amassed an amateur record of 278-11. “You learn the most when you are actually in the ring. I’m grateful for the opportunities and the fighters I’ve been able to fight.”
Those fighters may come in the form of a regional title belt, for a ranking amongst boxing’s sanctioning bodies, or a world title elimination bout.
Mercado has been adamant about facing the top fighters at 140 pounds. While he cannot force them to fight, Mercado hopes sanctioning bodies take note of his activity and impressive wins and rank him accordingly.
“I don’t know if they want to fight me,” said Mercado. “I want to fight the top 10 at 140 pounds. I want to fight the best.
“I’m just going to keep knocking on the door until somebody answers it. Maybe I can fight someone through an elimination bout or a (regional) title fight to get a shot at those (world titleholders). I’m going to just keep doing my thing.”
Outside of boxing, Mercado devotes his time to serving at-risk teenagers in and around his hometown of Pomona. In 2012, Mercado, Sr. began an outreach program called Gangs to Grace Foundation, which works with at-risk teenagers who are failing classes at the high schools and junior high schools and run with the wrong crowd.
The foundation opened at a local church and included a gym along with a boxing ring.
Since its inception, Mercado has had dozens of teenagers take up boxing, which instills discipline and self-motivation, and improving their standing in school as well.
Mercado gets great satisfaction knowing those who stick with the program turn their lives around and become amateur boxers or graduate from high school. Having run with the wrong crowd early in his life and being a devout Christian, Mercado hopes more young people continue the correct path in life.
“That’s the most important thing to me, besides boxing,” he said. “I want to continue guiding these younger generations. They’ve been through what I have been through and my experiences. My Dad and I have helped these kids for over 10 years. The amount of kids I’ve talked to and have turned their lives around means a lot to me.
“I do want to use my status to continue having these kids listen to me. I even have older people than me come for advice. I get a great deal of satisfaction from this.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected]