ATLANTIC CITY — Two years ago, Vineland middleweight Ismael Garcia and Wildwood Crest junior-welterweight Josh Mercado were considered promising pros-pects.
Then, for various reasons, they stopped fighting.
Both boxers will resume their careers tonight, trying to regain their status as top young local competitors in separate four-round bouts at Resorts Casino Hotel.
“I’m really anxious to get back in the ring,” Garcia said. “It’s been too long.”
Garcia (3-0, 0 KOs) will face Kenneth Moody (2-3-2, 1 KO), of Virginia Beach, Va. Mercado (5-1, 2 KOs) will take on Philadelphia native Korey Sloane (2-4-1).
Both fights are on the undercard of an ESPN2 show featuring Philadelphia lightweight Henry Lundy (22-1-1, 11 KOs) against Phoenix resident Raymundo Beltran (25-6, 17 KOs) for the NABF title.
Garcia, a 25-year-old native of Springfield, Mass., moved to Vineland about three years ago in hopes of developing his boxing career. He got off to a good start with three decisions in 2010 in which he won every round of every fight.
His career began with a convincing, unanimous decision over Mercado.
But since beating Joe Yerdon at Bally’s Atlantic City on Dec. 4, 2010, he has seen his career come to a frustrating halt.
“It’s not like I stopped fighting,” Garcia said. “I’ve been training the whole time, but I’ve had a lot of fights fall apart on me.
“I can think of four or five times when I’d go through training camp and then something would happen. I had one opponent back out the day before a fight and another one a week before.
“I came to Vineland in the first place because of boxing. I’ve been working construction for the last few years to make ends meet, but I really want to be a fighter.”
Mercado, 26, gave up the sport after beating Kwame Hill via decision on July 9, 2010. The Lower Cape May Regional High School and Lock Haven University graduate decided to focus on a career as a teacher and coach.
He just completed his first year as a history teacher at Cape May Tech High School, where he also coaches basketball and baseball. He also coaches football at Wildwood High School.
About six months ago, he got the urge to fight again and contacted his trainer, Wildwood resident Conn McMullen.
“Initially, I wasn’t very encouraging, to be honest,” McMullen said. “He badgered me about it and I wasn’t really receptive until I was convinced that he was serious about this. It’s awfully hard to come back to this after a two-year layoff.”
Mercado has been training at a makeshift gym in Cape May. Among his sparring partners was Atlantic City welterweight Anthony Young (5-0, 2 KOs), who is fighting on the card tonight in a four-rounder against Richard Andrews (3-1-3, 1 KO), of Stuarts Draft, Va.
Getting into fight shape again was difficult. Mercado had to drop from 156 pounds to the junior-welterweight limit of 140.
But the mental training was even more daunting.
“Getting into the mindset to fight again was a little bit of a challenge,” Mercado said. “There were times when I was questioning myself if I still have what it takes and if I really wanted to do this again.
“We’ll find out in this fight. What happens in the ring (tonight) will determine what happens next. Just winning won’t be enough. I have to give a good performance if I want to keep going.”
Punchlines: Three other local fighters — Atlantic City super-middleweight Antowyan Aikens (5-0, 1 KO), Millville junior-middleweight Thomas LaManna (8-0, 5 KOs) and Atlantic City super-middleweight Isiah Seldon (6-0, 3 KOs) — were also supposed to be on the card, but their fights fell through.
ESPN2’s coverage also will include a 10-round bout between Philadelphia super-middleweight contender Farah Ennis (19-1, 12 KOs) and Paterson native Richard Pierson (11-2, 8 KOs).
Contact David Weinberg:
Where: Superstar Theatre, Resorts Casino Hotel.
TV: 10 p.m., ESPN 2
First bout: 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $40 to $125, available through pressofatlanticcity.com/tickets