Tonight, at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, both Hector Tanajara and William Zepeda will trade punches with one another nearly 10 years on from when they first shared a ring together.

The two unbeaten lightweights have the potential to steal the plaudits from headliners Gilberto Ramirez (main event) and JoJo Diaz (chief support). As a 15-year-old, Tanajara sparred Zepeda at the Olympic Training Centre and shared his memories with Boxing Social last week.

“I kind of felt like I did whatever I wanted to [in the spar]. I boxed how I boxed, I just outboxed him. I know he’s a tough fighter,” said Tanajara.

“I know he’s a strong, come forward fighter. I guess I have a little experience with him. I know how he fights; I think he still fights the same way. I know he’s going to be a tough fight for me. I know he’s going to be in shape but I’m ready to show everyone who I am in this weight class.”

Who Hector Tanajara is right now is a (19-0, 5 KOs) 24-year-old lightweight who is approaching the periphery of the Top 10. Beating Mexican Zepeda (22-0, 20 KOs) will likely give the multiple time national amateur champion his opponent’s current Top 15 spot with the World Boxing Organisation (Zepeda is ranked No.13).

“I actually saw that right now,” added Tanajara. “Like I’ve said, after this win it’ll open me up there in the rankings. Anything after this fight, I’m more than willing to do. Nothing specifically, any opportunity that I get.”

Tanajara, who hails from San Antonio, Texas, has enjoyed the rewards of some stiff but beneficial matchmaking during his six years as a professional. From his 19 starts to date, Tanajara has faced 14 men with winning records. In most, if not all, cases the contender has been expected to prevail but in the opposite corner have been fighters from the likes of Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela who only know how to win. While his knockout record might not light up your eyes, Tanajara says that it is, in part, due to the tests that have come his way.

“I think that’s actually benefitted me because I’ve known each fight is going to be a tough fight,” Tanajara told Boxing Social. “I haven’t fought [anyone] with a losing record in a long time, but I think the level of competition, fighting guys like that, has helped me a lot. Helps me step up my competition, helps my level go higher. I came out with victory in every fight, so I think it helps me a lot.

“I feel like I’ve had a pretty good career. Golden Boy has matched me up very tough, I’m grateful for that because I feel like my opponent [Zepeda] hasn’t fought the opposition that I have. I never said no to a fight that Golden Boy has gave me, so I feel like my career has been good and I’ve been stepping it up each fight.”

In his last fight, way back in January 2020 on the Jaime Munguia-Spike O’Sullivan undercard, Tanajara bested former featherweight and super-featherweight world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos. A good test in the shape of someone who has been the distance with Hozumi Hazegawa, Rocky Martinez, Mikey Garcia and Devin Haney. Burgos was always going to give Tanajara a good workout and onlookers an idea of where the up-and-comer was in his career. For the winner, that was the night where everything clicked; his best performance to date, he says.

“A tough guy,” the Texan said of his veteran opponent. “He’s fought tremendous fighters; everything clicked that night I was just mad that I didn’t get the stoppage. I thought I was really close, that bothered me.”

Just five wins inside the distance will give some reason to debate Tanajara’s long-term credentials but it is something he is working on and determined to turn five into six, seven and so on.

“Other fighters I have fought against have had winning records, so I think that is a big thing in it, too, but that’s something I’ve been working on. I’ve been trying to get back to who I am, and I think by doing that it’ll show in the fights. I’m just ready to show it and all the hard work I’ve been putting in.”

The Juan Manuel Marquez fan and student – “I would always watch his videos. I would go to the gym and try to do the same thing. He was one of my big inspirations” – believes a win over Zepeda will open doors for him. The Top 15 ranking takes care of itself and, from there, it’s a case of looking at who could be next on the hit list. As ever with fighters, caution stumps reckless ambition. But with over 18 months out of the ring who knows what we might get tonight from Tanajara. This could be the breakout performance, the one where suddenly people believe he is ready for someone like rival Ryan Garcia. 

“I’m real eager to get back in the ring,” he said. “I’ve been working tremendously hard for this fight, [it’s] probably been my best camp that I’ve had and just staying ready has been the key to everything. 

“I think just by getting this fight and by winning it, it’ll open a lot of doors for me. A guy with a record like this and especially if I look good, like I said it’ll open some doors for me and hopefully I get a big fight after this, too.

“I think I still have a lot to show, and I think with big names it will come out. My skill and everything else elevates when I fight better people, better opposition, so I think there’s still a lot to see of Hector Tanajara.”

Main image: Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions.