Rebuilding his career was the easy part for Alexandro Santiago. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
Now comes the part where he repairs the damage he overcame to reach the title stage—and works twice as hard to remain at this level.
The 27-year-old Tijuana native soundly outclassed legendary four-division titlist Nonito Donaire to win the WBC bantamweight title on July 29 in Las Vegas. The landslide win saw Santiago sufficiently rewarded for training while his wife gave birth to their son and bearing a two-week delay that was learned only days ahead of their originally scheduled July 15 date, and avoiding disaster when his house caught fire a month before his eventual title win.
“It was an accident,” Santiago said of a June 30 fire that burned down the top level of his family duplex which also housed his relatives. “I live with my parents right now and, thankfully, the firefighters were able to stop the fire before it got to the first floor.
“The fire started close to 1:00 a.m. The next day I was supposed to go to San Diego to spar, but we had to cancel so I could help with the recovery of the salvageable part of the house and to make our part livable again. But, I was so focused, I didn’t allow myself to be affected because I wanted to win the title and nothing would stop me. I’ve always been on the B side and that’s why I am always so hungry and prepared to the best of my ability no matter what happens. It makes no difference to me.”
Santiago won by scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 116-112 to claim the vacant WBC 118-pound title on the July 29 Terence Crawford-Errol Spence undercard at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The win extended his current four-fight win streak and for now represents the pinnacle of a record that once stood at an unflattering 8-2-1 mark. Santiago (28-3-5, 14KOs) has suffered just one defeat in his past 25 starts—a November 2021, narrow majority decision to then-unbeaten Gary Antonio Russell.
Santiago’s career-best victory over Donaire came nearly five years after he had to settle for a September 2018 split decision draw versus then-IBF junior bantamweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas. His team—which includes co-promoters Sampson Lewkowicz and Paco Damian–never stopped believing in him and continued to work towards leaving him in a place where he could thrive in a second-chance opportunity.
“Alex is one of the most dedicated fighters I’ve ever worked with,” said Damian. “He has an amazing ability to stay focused, no matter what happens.
“He gets a bad decision in a fight he won? He works harder. His house burns down during training camp? He works harder. Nothing stops Alex from reaching his goals and that’s what makes him special.”
Added Lewkowicz: “He deserves to be champion for all the things he’s conquered to get here. Imagine training for a world-title fight while your house is half-burned. That’s why he is where he is and that’s why he’ll be at the top for a long time to come.”
That is the next in-ring task at hand for Santiago, one of four newly crowned bantamweight titlists in the post-Naoya Inoue era. Though not before literally providing a better way of life for his family.
“My priority right now is to help my dad rebuild the portion that burned down and stay focused and humble and work hard to maintain this title,” said Santiago. “In the future, I have enough to buy a house for my wife and son. Now that I’ve been able to achieve my dream and win the title, I will work even harder to be able to keep it.
“I always want to be champion. I know I must work even harder now to make that happen.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox