Brian Marino “La Bala” Mendoza improved his pro ring record to 19-1 Saturday afternoon after outlasting Thomas LaManna (28-4-1) at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and aired on Fox Sports 1.

The 2012 Cleveland High School graduate, now living and training in Las Vegas, Nev., claimed a unanimous decision — after losing for the first time on a split decision in his previous fight.

Prior to the fight, La Bala (the bullet) was shown in the locker room, wearing glitzy purple trunks (He’s superstitious, he says) and sporting a T-shirt that read, “New Mexico vs. Everybody.”

And the 26-year-old pugilist was identified as being from Albuquerque, not Rio Rancho, and viewers soon learned he shares the same birthday as the late Johnny Tapia (Feb. 13).

Mendoza came out of his corner on offense, although later the two pugilists took turns backing the other into the ropes, and Mendoza clearly had more stamina in the latter rounds; LaManna was obviously tiring late.

Because of the pandemic, there weren’t any fans at the venue, which Mendoza said was “really weird, but it is what it is. Once the bell sounded, I focused on that.”

Because of there being no crowd, Mendoza said he could clearly hear his trainer’s advice, but he could also hear what LaManna’s corner was barking out. “We made it work.”

Because Mendoza knew the fight was pretty close, he knew he didn’t need a knockout to rally from a large deficit on the judges’ scorecards.

“It’s difficult, but you have an idea of how close it is. You have s sense; I knew it was close. My trainer said, ‘You’re winning, but don’t let up.’ He lit a fire in me.”

La Bala’s game plan went well for almost half the bout, he said.

“The first couple rounds, I felt pretty good. We did have to make some (changes),” he said. “My trainer told me to move around ring in a different direction.”

Mendoza stumbled after taking a shot from LaManna in the third round.

“I just remember being thankful I did all that training and conditioning,” he said. “Those are the shots that hurt you. My left hand was down, but I had the leg strength (not to fall). Your legs are like a force, moving. I had to keep my hands up, bobbing and weaving — I was able to get a punch through. (But sometimes) it’s hard to find your footing.”

The trio of judges scored the bout 98-92, 96-94 and 98-92; boxing writer Rick Wright of the Albuquerque Journal scored it 97-93 for Mendoza, and this writer had it 98-91 for La Bala.

Statistics displayed on the telecast had LaManna throwing considerably more punches (702-538) and landing a few more (189-171).

Mendoza said he believed he’d won, but was surprised that either fighter was given eight of the 10 rounds by the judges.

Wright said he saw Mendoza, while not quite dominant, as the more aggressive and effective fighter in rounds seven through 10. The Observer had Mendoza winning the final five rounds of the 10-rounder, surviving an earlier stumble and an open cut over an eye.

“I’m just glad (the judges) got it right this time,” Mendoza said. “I felt I had to use my power to edge it out, because he was touching me and I was trying to put pressure.

“There was no way I was gonna get a loss back to back. … So I just poured my heart out, and I just knew.”

He told the Fox ringside commentator following the fight, “Everything felt great. We’re gonna keep on improving.”

Mendoza said he was comfortable as a super-welterweight, after 19 fights as a welterweight.

“If you saw my last fight, you could see the difference in energy. This fight, that’s the reason I won — the last rounds, my heart, my conditioning, took over.”

“We’re back in the win column!!,” Mendoza said on his Facebook page Tuesday. “Dug deep and fought through some adversity to come out on top (of) my heart and all the hard work I put in this training camp is what allowed me to close the fight strong and it feels amazing to know all that work made the difference! I’ve gotten an insane amount of support thank you to everybody for the love! Time to rest up and then get back to work for the next one!”

Although he knows “the next one” won’t be for a championship belt, Mendoza said, “After four or five more fights, I can be fighting for a world title. … I will be back (in the ring) before the year’s out, but my trainer wants me to take a little time off. I had about 120 rounds of sparring (before Saturday’s fight).”

He said he misses New Mexico, especially the food, but living in Las Vegas, in light of COVID-19, he said, “doesn’t feel like I’m living anywhere. I’m in my house 24/7, but it’s a real nice place to live. There’s more to do out here, but No. 1, I’m chasing opportunities — putting myself in the right place at the right time. The focus is on taking the advantage of fighting.

“I don’t worry about anything else.”

(Rick Wright of the Albuquerque Journal contributed to this story.)

Brian ‘La Bala’ Mendoza graduated from Cleveland High School in 2012.