For Sebastian and Gabriela Fundora, chasing boxing championships runs in the family

For the Fundoras, their California backyard is both training venue and family sanctuary. Alisha Jucevic for ESPN

Editor's note: This story was originally published in Oct. 2022. Sebastian Fundora attempts to win the WBO and WBC junior middleweight titles when he faces Tim Tszyu on March 30.

COACHELLA, Calif. -- Two flags fly atop a pole in front of a single-story home in the Coachella Valley. The Fundora family chose to live here, in the shadows of mountains encasing the horizon in every direction, because of the familiarity it offers and the peacefulness they can find. Those flags -- they signify so much.

The flag on top is an American flag. It's always there. The other, which comes and goes, is more personal. More familial. On the flag are silhouettes of fighters facing toward the front, to the left and to the right. What's written on the flag is part of the reason the Fundora family is in California, part of a patriarch's plan hatched almost a decade ago about the family's goal in a sport that has encompassed their lives.

Boxing Dynasty.

It is the belief they all carry and what Freddy Fundora has tried to manifest into creation. When the dynasty flag flies outside their sandstone-colored home, it means they are in training camp.

The Fundoras are consistently in camp. So much of the Fundoras' world centers around boxing. It's what bonded the family together when the kids were young, through long rides in Freddy's white 12-passenger van, nicknamed The Intimidator, that didn't have air conditioning but did have enough space for the four Fundoras who were fighting at that time to have their own row.

The two currently boxing as professionals have a chance to turn the slogan on the family flag into reality. Sebastian Fundora is one of the world's best junior middleweights, ranked No. 2 in the division by ESPN and possessor of the WBC interim world title. His younger sister, Gabriela, has been a pro for just over a year but has already fought nine times. She has eight wins -- half by knockout -- and the ninth bout was a no contest.

Sebastian and Gabriela have always been in each other's corners -- literally and figuratively, as they will often serve as the second or third set of eyes for Freddy, their trainer, on fight night. Saturday will be a bit different. Gabriela and Sebastian, for the first time, are fighting on the same card (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET). Sebastian will close the night in the main event against Carlos Ocampo. Gabriela will open the televised part of the show against Naomi Arellano Reyes -- and potentially corner her brother later that night. A win for Sebastian would keep him in line for a fight against undisputed champion Jermell Charlo. For Gabriela, a victory would continue her rapid ascent toward her own world title shot.

The siblings hope that, along with furthering their family history, this will be the first of many events like this.

"I wouldn't mind it," Sebastian said. "Of course, eventually she would probably like to fight on her own card. Right now, I'll give her whatever chance I can give her. I'll definitely give her the platform.

"There's so many people that want to [fight on my card], but I have my sister. I want to put my sister there."

Winning titles the same night? That's a dream. Main and co-main events on future cards? A potential reality. Sebastian even would fight on an undercard if it meant Gabriela was receiving a world title opportunity in the main event.

It's been a long journey here, one in which the family crisscrossed the United States for years, taking them from Florida to California, during which Sebastian and Gabriela considered runs at the Olympics before turning professional instead. It was a journey started by a father who loved boxing, and whose risky plan was sustained by a family's unwavering belief in Freddy Fundora to deliver on his dream.

CONSIDERING ALL OF the things in the Fundoras' backyard, it is actually somewhat small. Freddy and his wife, Monique, have made the most of their space. Wrapping around the left side of the house are a boxing ring for sparring, speed and heavy bags, cardio equipment and weights. A large print of one of Sebastian's promotional fight photos hovers just outside the ring.

A makeshift roof covers the black-canvassed ring and training area. This is the desert, so you do what you have to do to remain cool. Directly out back are a barbeque and a fake-grass lawn for their four dogs to play in. On the right is a small second dwelling with two bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen for Sebastian or Gabriela's sparring partners to stay if the Fundoras bring in competition traveling from a distance to the Coachella Valley. Just beyond that is another small green space -- the home for Gabriela's two "very spoiled" ducks, Daffy and Donald.

This is where the siblings' run at titles start, less than 100 feet from their kitchen, their bedroom windows overlooking the gym equipment. Most fighters find gym space away from home. Sometimes the Fundoras do, too, but this is sanctuary.

Freddy's vision included creating a boxing compound where everything can happen all in the same space. Eventually he wants a bigger one, but for now, this will do. It fits with how the family lives. Keep things simple and tight-knit. The only people you can really trust, in some ways, is your family -- that's a belief that Freddy instilled in his family. Not every family is like this, but the Fundoras are maximum family time all the time.

"I never thought my lifestyle was weird. I thought everybody else was weird for that, honestly," Sebastian said. "I thought that was really weird because you see the TV shows, and they are fake, but you see 'Full House' and that's how it's supposed to be. That's how I was raised.

"That's how we were all raised because we're family. That's the only people that can really understand you and that you can trust."

The Fundoras do everything together. Gabriela, age 20, doesn't have a driver's license. Her theory -- if she needs to go out, either 24-year-old Sebastian or one of her parents can drive her. Rare is the time Sebastian and Gabriela are not close by one another.

With both Fundoras fighting this weekend, sparring for these fights became an hours-long process. In addition to the backyard workouts, Freddy, Sebastian and Gabriela got into Freddy's white pick-up truck and drove about two hours from Coachella to South El Monte three times a week to get rounds in.

When Gabriela spars, Sebastian sits and watches. While Sebastian spars, Gabriela plays games on her phone -- she has a mild TikTok obsession -- and pulls out a snack from the cooler Monique packed for all three of them with enough lunch for days. Gabriela sits, right hand on her chin, and observes Sebastian when she's not engrossed by her phone.

Gabriela still learns from watching her brother spar, even though they have been in gyms together for years. It's part of their connection. They understand each other well enough that looks between them can sometimes become entire conversations. They know each other's mannerisms in the ring and in life.

"PEOPLE SAY WE'RE twins, almost," Gabriela said, stifling laughter.

It's their joke now, started because the siblings would be asked by people who didn't know them -- including media -- what it was like to watch their twin fight. At first, they corrected people. Now, they figure, if you haven't done your research, they aren't going to bother. Sebastian and Gabriela entertain themselves with it.

They are similar enough where it's not an unreasonable assumption. They are very polite to everyone, but if you get them in the right environment, ceaseless trash talk begins with each other and, if they feel the level of comfort is there, with whomever is visiting. Gabriela will tell Sebastian about her entire day -- no detail spared, because Gabriela is a talker -- and then Sebastian, who has heard everything, will glance up from his phone quizzically: "Oh, what did you say?"

On a recent trip to Marshalls, someone came up to Sebastian and asked why he was shopping at the discount store since he's famous. Two things: First, Sebastian Fundora likes a good bargain; second, Sebastian isn't at that level of fame yet. This gave Gabriela the opening she needed.

"Gabi was right there and was like, 'He's nothing special,'" Sebastian said. "Good little reminder."

The reality of that reminder might be fleeting. As Sebastian left a South El Monte sparring session with Gabriela and Freddy one Monday during this camp, four kids approached Sebastian. They asked for photos. He obliged. All the while, Gabriela and Freddy were waiting in the truck to make their drive back home.

All of this has always been part of the plan.

Yes, the family dynamic is strong -- Freddy also has a sarcastic streak, the same wry sense of comedic, observational timing his son and daughter have -- and keeping each other humble is all out of love.

But the attention. The renown. In some ways, this is what Freddy hoped for his children all along if they pursued boxing.

EVEN THOUGH FREDDY, who was born in Cuba and immigrated to California when he was age 5, spent the majority of his early life in Florida, his roots extended to California. As a child, his family bounced back and forth from California, including the Coachella Valley, to Florida until they settled in West Palm Beach.

Freddy doesn't remember exactly when he started boxing -- it's always been a part of his life. He fought as an amateur and as a pro. Got married. Had four kids with his first wife. They divorced. He gained full custody. Soon after, with work as a boxing coach not bringing in quite enough money to support him and his kids, Freddy started driving a cab in the West Palm Beach area to earn extra money.

One day he walked into a dentist's office to pick up a scheduled fare. He saw a woman in the waiting room and asked if she was waiting for a taxi. She said no. Always up for a conversation, Freddy, wearing a Hawaiian shirt he still has and khaki shorts, started talking while awaiting his fare.

"It was enough that he was quirky and his sense of humor came out," Monique said. "I was not quirky. I was feisty."

His fare, an elderly woman, finally came out to the waiting room. Freddy helped her outside, then asked her to wait a minute. Went back into the dentist's office. Asked Monique if she was married, single or divorced. Monique said, "None of the above." Freddy asked for her number. Monique obliged, giving him her Tampa-area number.

Monique had just finished her stint in the military -- she was in the United States Air Force Security Forces and did some overseas tours, including one in Kuwait. Her father had recently died, so she was staying in Wellington, Florida, with her mother.

Freddy thought she'd given him a fake number, since it was from outside the area. He called anyway, and asked for Monica. Monique, a no-nonsense woman, said, "The name is Monique." Rocky introduction aside, Freddy asked her to dinner. She had plans, but agreed to go with him for a drink.

They went to Wet Willie's and ordered a cheeseburger and onion rings. Then they went to a club where the owner knew Freddy -- Freddy was his boxing coach -- and ushered them in. Then another club, where Freddy knew the bartender from boxing. Monique was like, "Who is this guy?"

But they connected. A month later, sick of the transition from military life to living with her mom, Monique moved in with Freddy. That was two decades ago, and they've been together since. Monique is mom to Freddy's four children from his first marriage, and the two they've had on their own.

"My dad has got game," Gabriela said, listening to her parents tell the story of their meeting. Monique, who briefly boxed as a way to help Gabriela get into the sport and has been involved in boxing in various other ways since soon after she met Freddy, is a key part of the entire plan.

WHILE STILL LIVING in Florida, the Fundoras spent part of every summer in the Coachella Valley. These were the days when they took the van everywhere. Sebastian's first fight was in Florida. Gabriela's was in the Valley -- but the family was still living in Florida.

One summer, using only an atlas, they navigated back roads and interstates across the United States, traveling from boxing tournament to boxing tournament. Boxing became the family activity. At one point, all four of Freddy's oldest children were boxing. All four have had at least one professional bout. But Alberto -- the oldest -- and Freddy Jr., now in the military, no longer box competitively. Macho, the fifth sibling, trains in boxing but does not fight. The youngest, Fabi, began training and has expressed interest in fighting.

When the four older siblings all were active in boxing, Freddy conceived of a plan. He was running Rapid Fire Control Systems Inc., a fire protection company he started in 2005 in Florida. Monique was working -- still does -- in business management. Sebastian was a teenager considering a professional future in boxing. Gabriela had enough talent where that seemed possible for her, too. Freddy decided to focus only on boxing, even with a wife and six kids to support.

So Freddy closed his company in 2011 and moved the family to Coachella. The reason for the move was multifaceted. Freddy had spent part of his youth here, so he understood the place. It was a centralized location -- three hours from Los Angeles, two from Mexico, a little over four from Las Vegas. The talent pool in California for boxing was more active and larger. The possibilities for training were better -- both in conditioning and in sparring.

"I saw it very clear," Freddy said. "It's: You gotta have a vision and the vision's very clear. If you can doubt yourself, you're not gonna do it."

Freddy devoted everything to boxing, full-time, nonstop. He compares the family's devotion to the sport to being a person with a guitar moving from Nebraska to Hollywood, chasing a dream. He knew if the family was going to make it in boxing, if the plan was going to work, they had to pursue it in a place where they could succeed.

Be willing to go for it, Freddy believed, even if it puts everything in flux until it happens. Freddy cites the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, and the vision of the tennis stars' parents, Richard and Oracene. He knew he was taking a big chance, particularly with Gabriela since women's boxing back then was nowhere near where it is now. It could have been a failure. But Freddy and his family believed. Whatever the dream is, Freddy said, you have to have this type of plan. This type of goal.

Sebastian acknowledged that the family's plan could have put pressure on him, but it didn't.

"I didn't know all the finances and everything," Sebastian said. "But yeah, everybody knew there was a big risk of it. All of us knew that. But it worked out. And just believe, like I've been believing my dad already.

"I mean, without that, I wouldn't be where I'm at right now."

FREDDY SITS AT the island in the family's kitchen, thumbing through his phone. Sebastian is cooking bacon and eggs, Monique is brewing a cup of very strong coffee and Gabriela is messing with some avocados.

It's a Tuesday morning, a little under a month before their fights. Gabriela and Sebastian have already completed their first workout of the day -- a morning run. Half the time, the middle of the day is naptime, especially in the dead of summer in the desert. They'll work out again later in the day either at a local gym or in the backyard haven Freddy created.

But now, they are reminiscing. Gabriela talked so much in elementary school that her teacher called Monique to ask for help getting her to stop. After three more days of Gabriela interrupting teachers, Monique told her other children to tell her if they saw Gabriela talking at inappropriate moments in school, and they were watching Gabriela every moment they could. The lesson worked. Sort of, because Gabriela is still very much the talker.

"That's why we're telling you about this story," said Sebastian. "Because she talks. A lot."

Gabriela nodded her head and laughed. Almost all of the family's stories about her come with some sort of comedy and Gabriela's guffaw. She once made her entire family go to a parent-teacher conference because she thought she was getting good news and was going to be praised. She made it sound like she was winning an award.

The whole Fundora family sat in the room with the teacher, who started by talking about how social Gabriela was and how she had so many friends. Then the teacher mentioned that she was not doing well in English.

"They made me look super bad," Gabriela said. "Right in front of me."

Freddy and Monique actually wanted their children at these conferences. That way, the children could defend themselves, allowing both sides to be heard from. This is unsurprising to anyone who understands the Fundoras.

Almost everything they do is as a family. Post-fight karaoke, a Fundora family staple, is commonplace. Grabbing food -- they go together. Even when Monique doesn't attend fights to stay home with their two youngest children, Macho and Fabi, she gets a call from Freddy to let her know he's on the way home.

Monique offers a different perspective on the fights she watches on television. She lets Freddy, Sebastian and Gabriela know what the announcers have said and adds her own critiques. Her kids know she'll be honest with them, and she knows her kids and how they accept feedback.

When Freddy, Sebastian and Gabriela get home from a fight, she's prepared a feast of food before the singing gets underway in the living room. This is where the Fundoras are most comfortable. The living room is where Sebastian and Gabriela consistently watch "Rick and Morty," and where two years ago during the pandemic they spent months binging every episode of "Adventure Time." Where the children's accomplishments -- including Sebastian's and Gabriela's advanced placement school honors -- hang on the walls.

The home in Coachella is their training laboratory and their safe place. It's where their plan for a boxing dynasty has grown. The Fundoras know they are a closer-knit family than most. They are OK with that. Because when they look around, it's easy to feel comfort. Even if they one day move to a bigger place, this desert, this lifestyle, always will be home.