Super lightweight upstart Ernesto “Tito” Mercado confidently believes he’s boxing's best prospect, and he’ll look to further prove his case and potential Nov. 11 when he takes on Jeremia Nakathila (23-3, 19 KOs) at the LumColor Phoenix Center in Ontario, California. 

The calendar year has been a strong one for Mercado (12-0, 11 KOs) to secure “prospect of the year” honors. Mercado is already 4-0 in 2023, beating rugged contenders Henry Lundy and Xolisani Ndongeni along the way. Mercado also stopped former world title challenger Jayson Velez last October.

The 33-year-old Nakathila has had an uneven last 30 months going the 12-round distance in a loss against Shakur Stevenson in July 2021, demolishing Miguel Berchelt inside six rounds in March 2022, and getting knocked out by Raymond Muratalla inside two rounds in May. 

Mercado – a 21-year-old who made his pro debut in July 2021 – says the matchup against Nakathila will demonstrate that he’s ready to make the leap against more bonafide competition. 

“[Nakathila] not only has the experience but he's fought top guys and done well against them. He's the perfect fighter to show my skills against and definitely advance my career,” Mercado told in an interview. “It will make me grow, and that's what we want – fights against guys who are not just there for a paycheck. I want to prove that I'm on the level of [Stevenson and Muratalla]. I want to be mentioned with the top names. I deserve to be there.

“I'm the best prospect in the sport because of not just my skill set, but the challenges I'm willing to take and the guys that I’ve beaten already. No other prospect has the activity or is willing to fight the guys that I have. I don't think there should be any consideration on who's the best. I am the best, like I have been proving. Beating Nakathila most definitely makes me the prospect of the year.” 

Mercado views's 2022 prospect of the year award winner Keyshawn Davis as the only threat to his throne, but he’s also adamant that his career is more advanced than the 2020 Olympics silver medalist winner Davis. 

“As far as hype goes, I think me and [Davis] are going head to head right now,” said Mercado. “Most definitely [I have advanced my career more than him thus far]. I feel like my performances have been a lot better. Not only with my knockouts, but I have fought better guys. I feel like there is really no comparison, but he's with Top Rank and ESPN, so they are going to blow his name up a lot more. Hopefully I can fight him one day to prove who’s really the best.”

Mercado currently is not signed to any of the sport’s major promoters, but that’s by design. He fights under father and trainer Neto's nascent boxing company, Fight City Promotions. 

“I like to be free and active and fight as many times as I want in my career,” said Mercado. “Sometimes guys who are signed with promoters don't get the fights that they want or advance their careers. It's beneficial for me to do it the way that I am right now.”

Mercado considers himself a boxer-puncher who moves forward and brings the action rather than allowing opponents to dictate terms. But with just 35 rounds under his belt and prodigious knockout power, he hasn’t gotten too much of a chance to show off his entire skillset. 

“I guess I want to box a little bit more [against Nakathila] and show people I know how to move around the ring. I just want to show something that's a little different. People have seen my power, but I want to box a little bit more and then get the knockout. People know that I can box, but I haven't really shown it. Everytime I catch someone, I always go for the KO right away,” said Mercado.

"That's why a lot of fans are watching me fight. It's the way that I come in the ring. A lot of these guys are willing to win fights comfortably but I want to go above and beyond and do more. If I had to compare my boxing and mentality in the ring, I kind of have the mindset of Edwin Valero a little bit that wants to kill you in the ring and knock your head off. I'm old school. A lot of fighters just want to look pretty in the ring now.”

Mercado said his favorite fighters to watch on film are Valero, Roy Jones Jr., Alexis Arguello, Salvador Sanchez, and Ricardo “El Finito” López.

His path toward cracking a top contender spot is also being cut from an old-school cloth, staying immensely active by facing rugged veterans.

Mercado said he’s confident and ready to face any of the uncrowned contenders at 140 pounds in 2024, including Jose Ramirez, Jack Catterall, Jose Pedraza, Arnold Barboza, Richard Commey, and Sandor Martin, among others. 

“I am focused on fighting the big names. I'm ready to take whatever route I need to take to become a world champion,” said Mercado. “Most definitely [I am boxing's best kept secret]. I kind of like it that way. When I get my world title shot, they will underestimate me. It's going to be great to surprise everybody.”

But first he must comfortably get past Nakathila on Saturday to be considered the sport's next best up-and-comer amongst a group that also features the likes of Davis, Elijah Garcia, Xander Zayas, Diego Pacheco, and Raymond Ford, among others.

“I am willing to fight the best. I am willing to die in the ring, and to always give my all in the fights. I'm the kind of fighter that doesn't wait for the fight to come to me – I go get it,” said Mercado. 

Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer, and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, through email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at], or via