Life has changed for Sergio Mora, the winner of last year’s Contender, including an escape from stifling poverty and anonymity, before discovering a permanent place to train.

Another thing that will finally change comes when Mora faces Eric Regan (26-2, 17 KOs) for the IBA Continental middleweight title in a 12-round fight on Friday in Sacramento. The East L.A. boxer has never gone 12. The fight will be televised on ESPN.

“That’s a good question,” says trainer Dean Campos when asked about Mora’s stamina. “Sergio has always had good stamina but never had a chance to prove it.”

The speedy Mora, 25, who has sparred with some of the best prizefighters in the world, has never fought more than eight rounds. Those four extra rounds are what separate a world champion from the rest of the boxing world.

“I’m ready for it,” says Mora (18-0, 4 KOs) who still lives in East L.A. “We’re expecting a tough fight from Eric Regan.”

Last year Mora vaulted from the shadows to the forefront by surprising the other Contender fighters with his blend of speed and unique style. It was a blinding combination that served him well en route to winning the $1 million payday. The Latin Snake, as he’s known, won by using a sneak attack offense that befuddled opponents.

“Basically everyone overlooked him,” Campos said. “From now on he’s a target.”

With his cobra-like crouch he springs to action and stuns opponents who see the lack of KOs on his record and invite him to exchange.

Bad idea.

In Mora’s last fight against heavy-handed Archak Ter-Meliksetian, the East L.A. prizefighter ran into a shocking left hand that dropped him to his knees. It was the first time Mora had been decked. He got up quickly.

Ter-Meliksetian decided to finish Mora and increased the pressure. But the knockdown aroused another engine in the Contender champion and suddenly the fight had changed from 60 miles-an-hour to a 95 miles-an-hour fight. Ter-Meliksetian didn’t have the horsepower to match Mora’s speed.

“You learn from every fight,” said Mora, as he wrapped his hands to prepare for another day of training. “That’s what I love about the sport, you never stop learning.”

Mora proceeded to attack Ter-Meliksetian with punches that seemed to come from six different arms. The knockout puncher’s head snapped back so many times it almost looked like a cartoonish bobble head. In the seventh round the referee stopped the fight and Mora had broken a three-year knockout drought.

“It’s alright if people think I don’t have power,” Mora says.

Now he faces a 6-4 tall Regan, 30, who moved from the world of martial arts to boxing and has continued to knockout opponents. His height and reach are his main assets, along with bone-crunching power.

“I’m always concerned about fighting a guy in his home turf,” said Mora, whose opponent Regan lives in Roseville near Sacramento. “I’m sure he’s popular in his area.”

More changes

Before Mora entered the Contender tournament he had been troubled with constant infections. A friend advised him to see a doctor and it was revealed he had an infected tooth that flared up whenever he began intense training.

“His body resistance was low and he’d get sick,” said John Montelongo, long-time advisor and cornerman for Mora. “He kept getting sick right before a fight.”

A few scheduled fights were canceled and promoters began to label Mora a quitter.

“Once we figured out the problem he stopped getting sick before a fight,” Montelongo said.

Then came the Contender and with it, various nutrition experts and physical training regimens.

“I learned so much during that show,” said Mora. “Now I can even get down as low as 147.”

Recently Team Mora hired nutrition expert Robert Ferguson who helped two-time world champion Fernando Vargas prepare for his bouts against Shane Mosley.

“He’s eating properly now,” Montelongo said. “It makes a big difference.”

During his workouts Mora works on speed, speed and more speed. With sparring partners like the long-armed Eddie Sanchez, the heavy-handed Roger Vargas (younger brother of Fernando Vargas) and slick Larry Mosley, the East L.A. prizefighter hungrily seeks challenges from each fighter.

“If someone makes him look bad it makes him hungrier the next day,” Campos said. “He likes being pushed.”

Though he stubbornly refuses to overlook Regan, Mora plans on proving that the Contender fighters like himself, Peter Manfredo Jr. Ishe Smith, and Alfonso Gomez are not make-believe contenders.

“Look what guys like Peter Manfredo and Ishe Smith have done,” said Mora. “We’re no joke.”