Ernesto Mercado has always wanted to be successful, both in and out of the ring.
That has been the case thus far for the unbeaten junior welterweight prospect.
Mercado will face Xolisani Ndongeni tonight in a homecoming fight at the Plaza de Colores in the tourist section of Puerto Salvador Allende in Managua, Nicaragua. The 10-round bout will be part of the Bufalo Promotions card that will stream live on Showy TV worldwide and on canal6.com.ni in Nicaragua (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT).
At Friday’s weigh-in, Mercado weighed in at 142.4 pounds. Ndongeni came in at 142.2 pounds.
The 21-year-old Mercado (10-0, 10 knockouts) last fought on April 15, knocking out former world title challenger Hank Lundy in the opening round. In his previous fight on February 4, Mercado broke down Jose Angulo to win by knockout in the seventh round.
Mercado also has a knockout win over former fringe contender Jayson Velez, which took place on October 22.
Tonight, he will face a fighter in Ndongeni, a 33-year-old from Duncan Village, South Africa, who has faced modest opposition. His most notable fight was a decision loss to Devin Haney in January 2019. In his last bout on November 17, Ndongeni knocked out Apinun Khongsong of Thailand in the seventh round.
Ndongeni has won his last five bouts since losing by knockout to Prince Dlomo in October 2020. Mercado is not overlooking Ndongeni, but does want to make a statement to the 140-pound division.
“He’s fought guys like Devin Haney and he went the distance with him,” Mercado told BoxingScene Thursday. “I think he made (Haney) look bad in the sense that he got (Haney) to fight his fight. He’s the type of fighter that can make the fight real ugly if you don’t stick to the game plan. He’s tough and he has a real weird style where he moves around a lot and throws all these looping shots. If I’m not on my ‘A’ game, he can definitely make it a real long night for me.
“Just like every fight, we’re trying to make a statement. We’re trying to show why the 140-pound division should be put on notice. Let all these champions know I’m coming. I’m not looking for the knockout but, initially that’s what we’re trying to do. I think on Saturday night, that’s what is going to happen again.”
Tonight will be a homecoming for Mercado and father/ trainer, Ernesto, Sr., who was born and raised in Nicaragua before migrating to the United States.
There had been plans for Mercado to fight in Nicaragua, but when the opportunity presented itself for him to fight tonight, Mercado could not pass up on this opportunity.
“It was something that we wanted to do,” said Mercado, who made his pro debut in July 2021 and fought five times in 2022. “We got in contact with (former world champion-turned promoter) Rosendo Alvarez, who is in charge of Buffalo Promotions. We just kind of made it happen. I didn’t think it would be so soon, but I’m glad it is. I hope I’m able to come out here again. It’s been one of our dreams to fight here. I want all the people from Nicaragua to come see me and I’m glad it’s happening already.
“The reception here in Nicaragua has been great. I’ve been interviewed by Channel 5, Channel 6. It’s a lot of media coverage and they’ve greeted me well. I guess they’re all excited to see what I’m going to do on Saturday night. A lot of the people have been really hospitable to us. It feels good. It feels like we’re right at home. I can’t wait for the fight.”
Mercado may have power in both hands, but he has developed his skill-set to become a better-overall fighter.
He has hoped to face top opposition to gauge his progress as a fighter, including facing Ndongeni. Mercado hopes to face another fringe contender in his next fight so he could begin facing top-10 level opposition in 2024.
“It feels good that I can either box or hit with power,” said Mercado. “It feels good to know I can switch gears and adapt to what I need to do in the ring. That’s an important thing a fighter needs to know is when to adapt and being able to switch on the fly. I think that’s what wins championships and ultimately puts you at the next level. To be able to know all that gives me a lot more confidence in the ring. Worse case, knock on wood it doesn’t happen, but I’m down in a fight, and I know I need that one shot to knock out and win the fight, I know that I got it. I’m super confident in the abilities I know I have. Whatever obstacle comes to me, whether it’s this fighter or the next, or a world champion, I know I can overcome it.”
Mercado and his father run an organization called ‘Gangs to Grace,’ a program that helps adolescents channel their aggression in a more positive way. The program has since grown from its beginnings in a church to a larger facility that now serves kids who have been sent there by the court system.
Mercado has spoken to junior high and high school-aged kids who are considered at-risk in his hometown of Pomona, a suburb of Los Angeles. Mercado sees himself in these teenagers who have utilized the center as a place to box, train, and stay away from trouble. He has seen success as many of these teenagers have bettered themselves in school and in their lives.
“Hopefully I see this program growing and expanding. I hope it reaches more kids and make more programs, not just in Pomona but in all areas that really need it. It means a lot to me because I was once those kids, in those positions. I could’ve easily chosen the wrong route. Thankfully, I had good people guiding me, like my father and other people that I had in my life that guided me and never got me off-track. That’s what a lot of these kids need too. Certain individuals, they just need good role models that lean towards them in rough times. So to be able to be one of those people for these kids in the gym means a lot to me. Hopefully we would expand this program, not just in Pomona, but all over the world. Maybe in some places in Nicaragua, where (some of these kids) might not get attention as well.
“Not necessarily that these kids want to become boxers, but as long as (this program) saves them and takes them off the streets, it’s a win in itself. To be able to see a couple of kids in this program become world champions, that’d be great, but to keep them off the streets, that’s the one win itself.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September 2012 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 by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing