LOS ANGELES – Sampson Lewkowicz knew he had something special when Sebastian Fundora defeated Victor Toney five years ago.

Fundora was just 19 years old and had only four professional fights on his record when he stepped into the ring to face Toney, who was 5-0 at that time, in a six-round, non-televised bout in September 2017 at Cannery Casino Hotel in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Lewkowicz, Fundora’s promoter, wasn’t sold on the 6-foot-6 southpaw’s potential prior to the Toney fight, either.

“Even myself, I said to his father, ‘He’s very fragile,’ ” Lewkowicz told BoxingScene.com in reference to a conversation he had with Freddy Fundora, Sebastian’s father and trainer. “He fought Victor Toney, an undefeated guy who went up to fight as a cruiserweight, and [Fundora] beat the sh*t out of him. And after that, I knew. After that, I took him to Uruguay and Argentina and put him in tough fights. He went the distance [in those two fights] and I knew I had a champion at that moment.”

Lewkowicz knows it wasn’t until this past April 9, however, that the boxing world accepted Fundora as much more than an unusually tall boxer for his weight class who loves to trade on the inside. Fundora’s fantastic performance in his classic clash with Erickson Lubin established him as a championship-caliber boxer who can overcome adversity against top opposition.

Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KOs) dropped Orlando’s Lubin (24-2, 17 KOs) with a right uppercut toward the end of the second round, wisely took a knee to recover from a barrage of punches in the seventh round and stopped Lubin after the ninth round of a spectacular slugfest for the WBC interim super welterweight title. The Coachella, California native doesn’t consider himself a legitimate champion, but Fundora feels fans should view him as a true threat to beat whoever wins the Jermell Charlo-Tim Tszyu fight for Charlo’s four 154-pound championships early in 2023.

“I felt like I proved to the people that I’m an elite fighter as well,” Sebastian Fundora said during a press conference Thursday at The Westin Los Angeles Airport to promote his “Showtime Championship Boxing” main event against Mexico’s Carlos Ocampo (34-1, 22 KOs) on Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. “You know, I’m hanging in there with all these guys. I’m stopping these guys as well, so you know, I have what it takes to become a world champion.”

Fundora’s previous performance in a 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat of Spain’s Sergio Garcia (33-2, 14 KOs) was unremarkable, but Fundora knocked out Nathaniel Gallimore, Habib Ahmed and Jorge Cota in three successive bouts before he squared off against Garcia. “The Towering Inferno” is 6-0 since his 10-round split draw with Jamontay Clark (16-2-1, 7 KOs) in August 2019 at The Armory in Minneapolis.

“As a coach, I’ve seen it since he’s been boxing, since he’s been 5 years old,” Freddy Fundora said. “So, I saw it as a kid, when he was growing, progressing, maturing. The world is seeing now what I’ve seen before. Remember, he’s only 24 years old. He’s still got years to mature. He’s maturing. That’s all it is.”

The most noticeable sign of Fundora’s maturity, according to Lewkowicz, was how he handled getting hurt by Lubin in the seventh round of their “Showtime Championship Boxing” main event nearly six months ago at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Taking a knee was vital for Fundora, who got up, caused more damage to Lubin’s grotesquely swollen face and eventually forced Lubin’s trainer, Kevin Cunningham, to stop their 12-round fight following the ninth round.

“When he beat Lubin, he went all the way up, especially when he demonstrated he’s very smart in the ring,” Lewkowicz said. “When he took a knee, he recuperated and he knocked his opponent out. He demonstrated that he’s very mature for his age, and for only having 20 fights.”

The discipline and patience Fundora displayed against Lubin were emblematic of how the mild-mannered fighter lives on a daily basis. His father feels Fundora’s complete dedication and professionalism set him apart from his contemporaries more than anything.

“He doesn’t drink, smoke,” Freddy Fundora said. “He’s a homebody. He doesn’t do training camp. It sounds very weird and rare to say, but he does not do training camp. It’s a way of life for us. We have a ring in our backyard. Some people water their plants – we train. That’s why when people say, ‘How does he make weight?’ He doesn’t make weight. He doesn’t ever, ever, ever use plastic [suits to make weight]. He walks around at that weight. The most he gets is 159, 160. Most of these guys fighting at 154, remember, they come from 190, 185. He doesn’t.

“They forget about that. They forgot that when you lose that 20, 30 pounds, you’re dehydrating your brain. … When you dehydrate, even with a simple jab, you see some of these guys hurt. That’s the advantage for him. People say his height, that he has a reach advantage. Imagine if he didn’t train. If he had all those advantages and didn’t train, he’s gonna get beat. But he trains very hard. When everybody’s coming at 200 pounds to training camp to try and prove they’re stronger, and he’s walking around at 160 and he’s still hurting these 200-pounders, there’s a reason for it.”

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.