After a rough-and-tumble journeyman's career, Mexico City's Alejandro Hernandez (28-10) has won three straight bouts and worked his way up to becoming the mandatory challenger to Tomoki Kameda's WBO bantamweight title. The two face off for Kameda's 118-pound title tonight in Chicago, at the UIC Pavilion.
Like most challengers, Hernandez believes that the crown currently sits atop a head unworthy, and that he'll show himself the rightful champion tonight. "I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity to become a world champion," he said this week at the Showtime event's final news conference.
"I'm ready to show that I'm the champion, not him."
Perhaps more than that, however, Hernandez is agitated by the champion's claim to his own home country of Mexico, and says he's out to prove that he's the "real" Mexican. Ordinarily, you wouldn't get much of an argument from anyone on a trivial issue like that in an instance like this, between the Osaka native Kameda and the D.F. son Hernandez.
Kameda (30-0), however, seems to feel as much from Mexico as he does from Osaka or Japan. The 23 year-old moved to Mexico when he was just 15 years old, and has trained there as an adopted Mexican fighter ever since.
Most of his fights have taken place in either Mexico or Asia. In fact, his Chicago title defense tonight will be just the second U.S. soil bout of Kameda's career.
He last fought and won in Las Vegas in July against Pungluang Singyu. "El Mexicanito" Kameda feels right at home in Mexico, after spending most of his adolescence, and all of his adult life there.
"I'm Japanese, but I live in Mexico," he explained.
"I fight like a Mexican. Boxing fans better be ready, because Saturday night is going to be a true all-Mexican brawl."
In the boxing world, the term "Mexican fighter" means something, for better or for worse. And Hernandez bristles at the notion that Saturday's WBO bantamweight title is a fight between two Mexican fighters.
"He's not a real Mexican," he said of the champion.
"He wants to be a Mexican but he's Japanese. I'm the real Mexican here. I'm so Mexican that even the dirt under my fingernails is Mexican. Tomoki is Japanese, and he came to my country to learn from us, the Mexicans. But let's not forget who the real Mexican is here.
"He comes here saying he represents Mexico and he's not even Mexican. I don't have to pretend. I'm 100 percent pure Mexican blood."
Of course, the notion of "pure blood," is a patently absurd, and even offensive, notion. But Hernandez has clearly found the requisite challenger's chip to place on his own shoulder for motivation.
Being Mexican won't likely be enough to take Kameda's title, but Hernandez insists he's also prepared a secret strategy that will bring him victory. One thing is clear - The "Payasito," or "Little Clown," is dead serious about upsetting Kameda.
"I have my game plan ready," he said.
"I've trained hard, and I know exactly what I'm going to do in the ring - how I'm going to move, what type of punches I'm going to throw. I'm ready. This is my chance to shine and I'm not about to let it go."
As for the champion Kameda, he's sticking to his story that he fights not just for Japan, but for Mexicans and Latinos. He's also quite sure that he'll be able prove to be in a different class than the challenger.
"This is a fight for Japan, a fight for Mexico, a fight for all the Latinos," he began.
"I respect my opponent a lot, but there is a reason I'm undefeated. There is a reason I'm the champion, and I'm going to win the fight ... no question I'll be looking for a knockout. There's no other way to go.
"On Nov. 1, you are going to see me eat up 'The Little Clown'."