Before he proclaimed himself to be “Kendo Tremendo” and “The Tremendous Goon,” Kendo Castaneda tailed his big brother around. The lil squirt wanted to be like Felipe, who wanted to be like their mom’s dad, Nalo Mendez, a pro in the 1960s who scrapped on the Mexican circuit.
“I was bullied in the fourth grade,” the 18-5 brawler/boxer told ProBox News as he counts down to an Aug. 5 Last Chance tournament semifinal clash with Florida-based over-achiever Joseph Fernandez. “I’d take the bus with my brother to the gym, just tag along, and I started training.”
Kendo, now 28, started at the Calderon Boys and Girls Club, on the west side. He then paid dues at the San Fernando Boxing Gym, and had his first amateur fight at age 10. This hard and fast immersion didn’t surprise family, Kendo’s mom’s brother Manolo Mendez fought professionally in Mexico and the US, and acted as a sparring partner for San Antonio boxing royal Jesse James Leija.
The boxing bug often runs in families, and Kendo’s older brother Jairo still gloves up, while Felipe hung up the mitts and occasionally does battle with barking dogs as a mailman.
Lil bro, though, is the one who has the opportunity to get a career kick-start, should he get past the 15-4-3 Fernandez. The 30 year old grinder has been getting sparring work with ex welterweight tilts Keith Thurman in Florida, and insists he can nick the W in the tourney finale.
The prospect of a juicy payoff after decades of expending time and toil isn’t the main motivator for Castaneda, though. Kendo stole the show May 20 in Plant City, Florida when he landed a round one-hitter quitter Taser shot on Sonny Fredrickson in the tourney opener. And that’s what keeps him on this winding and thorny path. Lord knows it’s not even a hint of fun working to keep his 5-10 frame in the junior welterweight class for this event, not for someone who doesn’t pretend he doesn’t love pizza and beer.
“Does doing this for so long make it harder, or easier to keep at it? It makes it easier,” Castaneda says, after a cryotherapy session. “It’s hard for me now, getting older my body, making the weight, that’s the only effing thing. Fighting is all I know. My mom (Imelda Mendez) would say, ‘What you know best you don’t forget,” so I stick to to what I know, every single day, that’s boxing.”
Kendo had a solid run as an amateur, he won the Ringside Nationals in 2011 and back-to-back Texas State Golden Gloves in 2011, at 123 pounds and then in 2012, at 132. He considered the 2012 Olympic Trials, but let’s be honest, this is person better suited for the pro style. His run off the starting block got him increasing hype, he went to 17-0, but then encountered a slide which might have sent someone with less love for combat to pick a straight job. Like, say, at FedEx. “I load boxes every morning from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m.,” he told Ring Magazine a couple years ago. “I’m ‘Cinderella Man’ today in boxing. I’m always ready because I live the ‘Tremendous Box Life’: Box, box, box from 3 a.m. till dusk.”
And he still works that a shift, though he has extra time off to get ready for Fernandez. No, Kendo isn’t seeing the tournament as a springboard to snag that title crack at 140, or 147, though of course that would be a sweet development. “Us San Antonio guys, we’ve grown up together, we’re all dogs, man,” says the throwback type who epitomizes a good bit of the ProBox ethos.“It’s not even about the riches and fame, we love this sh-t. We do this, we like to fight!”