IN 2009, Ray Serrano was a 20-year-old kid in the ring with arguably the best fighter on the planet.
The North Philadelphia native, after traveling to Hollywood on his own dime, was chosen to spar with Manny Pacquiao in preparation for Pacquiao's fight with Ricky Hatton. Prior to the trip, Serrano had no assurances, but he and his trainer headed west anyway for a shot to work with the best.
He inevitably won the approval of legendary trainer Freddie Roach, and with that Serrano entered the ring for a 2-month stint with Pacquiao.
"I definitely learned a lot - it was a great experience," Serrano said. "More than anything, it gave me the confidence, because you're in there with the number one pound-for-pounder in the world."
Serrano, now 22, is undefeated (18-0, 8 KO's) headed into Friday's NABO junior welterweight title bout against 31-year-old Karim Mayfield (15-0-1) on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights,'' from Albany, N.Y.
Serrano estimates that he had more than 100 fights as an amateur, offsetting any potential maturity advantage for the older Mayfield. Serrano was a 2005 Junior Olympic silver medalist and the 2006 Pennsylvania Golden Gloves champion before turning pro in 2007. The World Boxing Association currently ranks Serrano as the No. 9 light welterweight in the world.
"I think that I have the same experience that [Mayfield] does," Serrano said. "If anything, I feel like I will be stronger because I have the youth and I have been fighting consistently. My will is strong and I am going there for the win."
Serrano's skills in the ring grew from his Puerto Rican boxing roots in North Philly. His father, also Raymond, was an amateur fighter. His uncle, Ben Serrano, fought professionally in the '80s and eventually raised former champion - and nephew - Kermit Cintron.
Serrano credits much of his development to his boxing bloodlines as well as the local competition he faced growing up.
"My dad got me into the gym when I was young," he said. "We started training when I was about 8 years old. At first, I didn't really like it, but then when I started getting more fights and learning, I just fell in love with it.
"When I was an amateur, there were a lot of good Philly fighters in the group I came up with. All of the fights we had were wars."
With regard to that, Serrano specifically mentioned fellow Puerto Rican-American and current WBC light welterweight champion Danny Garcia.
"The city alone is a tough city, and no one wants to back down from a challenge, so we all fought each other hard and that is how we keep it down to this day," he said.
Serrano calls himself "a boxer slash puncher" who prefers to adjust his style depending on how his opponent comes at him. A boxer's biggest fight is almost always his next one, and Serrano says that Friday night is no different.
"I have fought on ESPN before, but this is my first main event," he said. "It means a lot more - both undefeated fighters with a title on the line. Winning this fight would step me up to another level in terms of opportunities - a fight on HBO or Showtime or something like that."
Serrano emanates a confident vibe. Although he seems to be without the artificial bravado typical of most boxers, he couldn't help himself when asked about Friday night.