Tomoki Kameda didn't set out to be a boxing hero in Mexico. In fact, he very much was on his way to becoming boxing royalty in his home country of Japan.
Kameda was preceded in professional boxing by his older brothers Koki Kameda and Daiki Kameda, both former world champions. They are a passionate group when it comes to fighting. Sometimes, that led to trouble. Daiki has been suspended for fouling opponents, and their father, Shiro, was banned by the Japan Boxing Commission for threatening officials.
In 2007, seeking refuge from the controversy, 15-year-old Tomoki Kameda left his home in Osaka and moved to Mexico City to live and train. He launched a brief amateur career and then turned pro at 17.
"I wanted to get better and Mexico is one of the best boxing schools out there, so I packed up and left," said Kameda, through translator and advisor Luis DeCubas Jr. "I like everything about Mexico. I like the people, the culture, the food. I love the food. I love tacos, chicken or steak, it doesn't matter. I love them."
Kameda won the WBO bantamweight title in August of 2013, making the Kameda brothers the first trio of siblings to simultaneously hold world titles in boxing history. Tomoki, now 23, is 30-0 (19 KOs) and will defend his title Saturday night against Alejandro Hernandez in Chicago in a fight televised by Showtime.
"Since Tomoki went to Mexico before he had any amateur fights, his style was developed there," Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood said. "He said he went there so he could be different from his brothers."
In his Showtime debut earlier this year, Kameda knocked out Pungluang Sor Singyu with a left hook to the body. That tactic has long been a trait of great Mexican fighters, and Kameda developed it at the Pancho Rosales Gym, which was once the home of Canelo Alvarez.
"Kameda is an emerging star, he can box and punch, he has very fast hands, and he's confident," said Farhood. "He was asked to compare himself to his brothers and he said, 'I'm the best of the brothers.' It's not easy to become a star in America when you're as small as Kameda, but given his tie to Al Haymon and the TV exposure that goes with it, he has a good chance to shine."
DeCubas said Kameda is extremely popular in both Mexico and Japan. When he meets Hernandez on Saturday, the bout will pit a long-established Mexican contender against an adopted Mexican champion. But Kameda is confident his fans will stay loyal to him.
"At first no one in Mexico knew me or respected me," said Kameda. "But little by little, if you keep winning and winning, things change. Mexican fans love boxing and if you fight hard, they will respect you. I know who my fans are. But our main goal is to win on Saturday and put on a good show for the fans. I sparred with him [Hernandez] about six years ago, but we've both changed a lot since then. He's matured and I've matured. But the difference is that I'm the champion now."