More than 40 years ago, a 19-year-old girl left her small ranch home in Cosala, Mexico, for a low-paying job as a housekeeper's assistant in Beverly Hills.
"I was afraid and nervous, but I wanted a better life," Ines Campos Mora said.
On Saturday night, capping a weeklong Los Angeles celebration of Mexico's independence bicentennial, her son, Sergio Mora, will be introduced amid mariachi music and cheers to fight former world champion Shane Mosley in the main event of a boxing card at Staples Center.
"It's hard not to appreciate what that night represents to me," Ines Mora said recently, joined by her son in the spacious Downey home Sergio bought for her 62nd birthday three years ago. "I'm proud of my bloodline and my heritage, and I'm appreciative for the opportunities this country has given me and my family. Now, it all aligns on a special day."
Sergio Mora (22-1-1, with six knockouts) is a former WBC junior-middleweight champion and hopes to earn another title shot by beating Mosley. "I've always been a firm believer in destiny, and it's no coincidence I'm fighting this big event on such a historical night," Mora, 29, said. "I speak, read and write Spanish and English, and I'm proud to be an American. . . .
"We all come from somewhere, but to be able to be there on that night — with the mariachis blowing, the Tecate flowing and the punches flying — it makes your blood boil."
Oddsmakers say Mora is a 3-1 underdog against Mosley (46-6, 39 KOs). But Mora said he's "very confident" he can beat the 39-year-old from Pomona.
"I want to add another Hall of Famer to my resume," Mora said. "It's all about the resume. [ Muhammad] Ali had those names on his. Oscar [De La Hoya] was the best at it. By continuing to beat those legends, I'm thinking of getting to the other big names at 154 pounds now — [Floyd] Mayweather, [ Manny] Pacquiao, [Antonio] Margarito. But there's a legend in my way right now."
Mora was levied a $57,000 penalty payable to Mosley when he weighed in three pounds over on Friday for the junior-middleweight limit of 154 pounds. After Mosley camp objections, Mora returned to the scale one hour later and weighed 153.6 pounds.
Before the bout, mother and son will continue their ritual of Ines giving Sergio a prefight blessing as he kneels in the locker room.
It's a big change from the three years Ines Campos worked as a housekeeper's assistant for a family here. When she found another opportunity that paid more, she went to work in a furniture warehouse in Santa Fe Springs, ultimately finding the man she would marry, and they bought a residence together in East Los Angeles.
Ines and her husband, Vincent, raised Sergio and his three brothers. But when Sergio was 9, his father's unreliable behavior forced Ines to ask her husband to leave home.
"I brought money into the home to advance us in life, and he was squandering it. I had always dreamed of saving up to buy a house. I couldn't do it by myself, and he wasn't interested in responsibility. That was real difficult for me," Ines said.
Sergio hasn't spoken to his father since he left in 1989. Sergio said his mother would still like him to reconnect with his father, and family friends know where to find him in Mexico. "I'm stubborn about it," Sergio said. "I see her as my father figure."
In East L.A., Mora grew up with other kids without fathers. Within a four-block section, he said, he was among a group of 13 close friends.
"My mother was too busy maintaining our household to ever take a vacation, so I saw many places for the first time — the Grand Canyon, the beach, the mountains — with my friends and their families," Sergio said. "We had nice clothes, and good food to eat in my home. My mom made it work. She still calls herself the coupon lady, and just the other day went back to the store for 71 cents off a watermelon. She's used to doing it. She had to survive."
Ines became a U.S. citizen in 1995. "Life is about difficulties," she said. "As long as you don't give up on yourself, you'll be rewarded."
Sergio's rewards in boxing came slowly. He failed to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2000, and his pro career languished until he landed a shot on an NBC reality television show called "The Contender." In May 2005, he defeated Peter Manfredo Jr. by unanimous decision and collected a $1-million grand prize.
Sergio grasped the magnitude of his accomplishment when an NBC camera crew pressed him on the question, "What are you fighting for?" Sergio recalls: "I had no kids, wasn't married, but I knew this lady who had cared for me had it hard." His mother was working in a warehouse at the time.
"The day I won 'The Contender,' I told her, 'You're not going back to work tomorrow,'" Sergio said. "She didn't want to quit, but I had just won the damn show. I called her boss myself, and told him, 'She's done. Retired.'"
Then, in June 2008, Mora defeated Vernon Forrest to claim a world junior-middleweight belt. Mora gained 25 pounds after the fight, however, and had trouble making the weight limit for a quickly arranged rematch three month later. He lost the fight, and the title, to Forrest by a decision.
Mora has now united with a new manager and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, landing him the marquee bout against Mosley.
"Put me under the lights versus a veteran. I know how to handle adversity," Sergio said.
Mom taught him well.