Tito Mercado looks to prove he is a top contender at junior welterweight

Junior welterweight contender Ernesto "Tito" Mercado will face off against veteran Carlos Manuel Portillo on Saturday, August 26 at the Lumcolor Phoenix Center in Ontario, CA.

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As quickly as the seasons change from summer to fall, the sport of boxing always has a set of new faces to come to the forefront. Making the transition from being a highly touted prospect to a serious contender is one that not every fighter makes successfully. It takes a level of commitment and determination. More often than not, that leap is too far.

On Saturday, August 26, the undefeated power-puncher Ernest "Tito" Mercado (11-0, 10 KOs) will face veteran Carlos Manuel Portillo (23-4, 17 KOs) in a 10-round junior welterweight (140) bout at the Lumcolor Phoenix Center in Ontario, CA.

For Ernesto "Tito" Mercado, boxing has always been part of his life. The 21-year-old, based out of Pomona, CA, has familiarized himself with boxers of past generations and implemented what he has seen into his own style.

"I have similarities with so many guys I grew up watching, whether it was Alexis Arguello or Sugar Ray Leonard, who know how to move around the ring," Mercado said to Fansided MMA in an exclusive interview. "I take a lot from those guys."

Differentiating himself from most people in his age group, the power-punching Mercado always knew he wanted to be a professional fighter.

"Since four, boxing's the only sport I ever did," Mercado told Fansided MMA. "I never had an interest in any other sport, man. I'm kind of lucky; some people in life, whether they go to college and stuff, they kind of still don't know what they want. At four years old, I was fortunate to find it right away, and I never had any doubts or tried to run back to anything else."

Ernesto "Tito" Mercado will face off against veteran Carlos Manuel Portillo

Mercado has had a busy 2023, already having fought three times with a fourth and possible fifth fight on the horizon. One of those fights was against hard-nosed veteran and multiple title challenger Henry Lundy, where Mercado scored an impressive first-round knockout.

However, it was his most recent bout against Xolisani Ndongeni this past July where he was truly tested, facing some adversity. Fighting for the first time outside of the United States in his native home country of Nicaragua, he found himself in the toughest fight of his career. Due to a lack of experience in acclimating himself to the new environment over a few weeks, Mercado only arrived a few days before the fight.

"We showed up a couple of days before to Nicaragua, so the time and everything affected me," said Mercado. "I'm not going to lie to you; after the first round, I was already gassed out. I was asking my corner every round what round we were in. But it was more than being gassed out. I had my hands down a good part of the fight.

"I think the great thing that I found out about the last fight is that it doesn't matter what round it is. I can hurt you. My power never leaves. My power was always there. I could hurt you in the first round to the 10th round."

At the end of the fight, all three judges' scorecards were wide for Mercado. And while he walked away with his hands raised, Mercado recognized that work was still needed to hone his craft further. Heading into the match with Portillo, the young Mercado plans to utilize the lessons learned against Ndongeni and put them to use.

"We definitely, in this camp, emphasized keeping our hands up and going down to the body, taking this guy's legs out right away," Mercado told Fansided MMA. "Because we know that one shot can change anything, we've been going to the body a lot more and just focusing more on the fundamentals of our game."

The junior welterweight division is filled with numerous fighters at each level that can test a fighter. Those at the top include Teofimo Lopez, Regis Prograis, and Subriel Matias, who all hold major titles in the weight class. The list of contenders, with a mix of former champions and young contenders such as Jose Ramirez, Jose Zepeda, Sandor Martin, Gary Antuanne Russell, and Arnold Barboza, is just as impressive.

With the possibility of stepping in the ring five times in 2023, the next step for Mercardo will be to take on the next tier of competition. Garnering a loyal fanbase in California is going to assist Mercado in acquiring the fights he wants. After showing that he can handle adversity against Ndongeni, Mercado feels he isn't a prospect anymore but a real contender.

"After my last fight with the guy I fought, I would consider myself already a contender," Mercaid said. "I wouldn't consider myself a prospect anymore. I got another fight in November. I'm hoping I can get in there with a guy, a contender, or those gatekeeper guys that could push me to the next title fight already.

"Whether it's a guy like Jose Ramirez or Arnold Barboza or a guy that's at the top that hasn't got a title, to get a fight like that for me and to win the fight, I think I will put my name up with the world champions quickly."

Mercado-Portillo is promoted by Fight City Promotions and will be broadcast live on their YouTube channel on August 26.

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