Kendo Castaneda considers himself a modern-day “Cinderella Man.”
Boxing hasn’t been profitable enough to become his sole source of income since Castaneda turned pro in October 2012. For about six hours each morning, starting at 4 a.m., Castaneda loads and unloads trucks at a FedEx facility in his hometown of San Antonio.
“I’ve been a package handler for the past five years,” Castaneda told BoxingScene.com. “I’ll load one to two 18-wheelers, or I’ll unload three or four every morning. Five days a week, no matter what. And I’m sweating. I’m busting my ass moving weight. I can say I’ve moved more weight than ‘El Chapo,’ but the righteous way, the American way.”
Unlike the infamous Mexican drug lord, the 26-year-old Castaneda intends to make headlines for the right reasons Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
That’s where he’ll encounter the best opponent of his seven-year pro career. Jose Zepeda (31-2, 25 KOs, 2 NC), one of the top 140-pounders in boxing, is listed as a 5-1 favorite over Castaneda, who took this 10-round, 144-pound bout on barely one week’s notice.
“It’s a great opportunity to pursue my [lifelong] dreams,” Castaneda said. “I just have to capitalize and come out victorious. I know it’ll be difficult against a great, outstanding boxer. But I’m ready for these types of fights. I’m ready for all the great challenges in the boxing ring, and I feel I can come out victorious by giving Zepeda a tough, rugged fight.”
Castaneda (17-1, 8 KOs, 1 NC) replaced Russia’s Ivan Baranchyk (20-1, 13 KOs) as Zepeda’s opponent once the former IBF junior welterweight champ suffered a rib injury during a sparring session late in June.
He didn’t hesitate to take this challenging assignment on such short notice because he had been training for a fight against Julian Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs) that Castaneda initially expected to take place Thursday night. The Rodriguez bout was pushed back to an undetermined August date, but Castaneda felt this ESPN main event was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
Castaneda suffered his first professional loss in his last fight, four months ago. Puerto Rico’s Yomar Alamo (18-0-1, 12 KOs) beat him by majority decision in their 10-rounder February 28 in Kissimmee, Florida.
“It was just simply an off night,” Castaneda said. “That’s all it was. I actually like that I suffered that defeat because it exposed me to be kind of a tough, rugged fighter that is one-dimensional, when I’m really not one-dimensional at all. I just had an off night and I just take that fight as a publicity stunt to fool everybody into thinking I suck at boxing. And [Tuesday] night is redemption. I can’t wait to show the world what I’m really about.”
The confident Castaneda senses Zepeda, a southpaw from La Puente, California, is underestimating him because of how he fought against Alamo.
“I feel like Zepeda just thinks he’s gonna out-box me easy because of my last performance,” Castaneda said. “He thinks I’m just gonna try to come forward, put pressure on him. But my last fight, I had Alamo almost knocked out three times. I was just off. I was just chasing him, without throwing punches, because of how off I felt. I was just chasing him, and I knew in the ring that night I just couldn’t do nothing at all.
“So, I just chased him around and let him run, and score punches on me, because I just felt completely off. It is what it is. I took an ‘L,’ even though a lot of people thought I won the fight. I won the fans over. I won the Puerto Rican fans over. But [Tuesday] night, I plan on displaying my full-dimensional skills I have inside that boxing ring. He’s a great fighter, and I can’t wait to display my skills against one of the top dogs in the sport of boxing at 140 pounds.”
Zepeda-Castaneda will headline what will be at least a four-fight ESPN broadcast from MGM Grand Conference Center. The show, which will start at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m., also will feature junior lightweights Andy Vences (23-1-1, 12 KOs), of San Jose, California, and Luis Alberto Lopez (20-2, 11 KOs), of Mexicali, Mexico, in a 10-round bout.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.