LAS VEGAS – Alexandro Santiago fulfilled his own bantamweight championship dream Saturday night.
The 27-year-old Mexican came back from some troublesome moments early against legendary five-division champion Nonito Donaire, won a unanimous decision and left the ring with the previously unclaimed WBC bantamweight title. Tijuana’s Santiago cried after Showtime’s Jimmy Lennon Jr. announced that judges Max De Luca (115-113), Chris Migliore (116-112) and Steve Weisfeld (116-112) scored their 12-round, 118-pound title fight for him on the Showtime Pay-Per-View portion of the Errol Spence Jr.-Terence Crawford undercard at T-Mobile Arena.
Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) denied Donaire (42-8, 28 KOs) in the 40-year-old contender’s bid to become a three-time bantamweight champion in his first fight in the 13 months since his devastating second-round knockout loss to Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue. Nineteen months after his controversial majority-decision defeat to Gary Antonio Russell at nearby Park MGM, Santiago won a WBC belt Inoue relinquished to move up to the 122-pound division for his eighth-round knockout of previously unbeaten WBC/WBO champ Stephen Fulton on Tuesday night in Tokyo.
Donaire rocked Santiago with a left hook in the third round, but Santiago otherwise took Donaire’s power well. He also continually landed his right hand, particularly during their second half of their fight.
Santiago and Donaire had their moments during their final three minutes of action, but Santiago jumped up on the ropes after the final bell sounded, as if he was certain he won. Donaire’s left hook connected in an exchange with just over 50 seconds remaining in their 12th round.
Santiago’s jab snapped back Donaire’s head with about 30 seconds to go in a back-and-forth 11th round. Donaire nailed Santiago with a left hook about 55 seconds into the 11th round, but he couldn’t capitalize on that brief momentum.
Santiago’s right hand landed flush with just over 30 seconds to go in the 10th round, but Donaire took it well. A determined Santiago continued to build momentum in that round, though, and kept the contest competitive.
Santiago rallied toward the end of the ninth round, when he landed a right uppercut and several other power punches before the bell sounded.
Two left hooks by Donaire made Santiago step away from him with just over 1:40 remaining in the ninth round. Donaire stung Santiago with a right hand that got his attention a little less than 30 seconds into the ninth round.
A right hand by Santiago backed up Donaire barely 50 seconds into the eighth round. Santiago continued to land right hands until the eighth round ended.
Santiago landed three right hands to the side of Donaire’s head in about a 15-second sequence in the opening minute of the seventh round. That was Santiago’s most successful stretch of the fight to that point, but about 10 seconds later, an accidental clash of heads caused a cut around Santiago’s left eye.
Ruiz called for a brief break to look at Santiago’s cut.
Santiago landed a left hook that temporarily backed up Donaire with just over 40 seconds remaining in the fifth round. A short, left hook by Donaire landed a little less than 45 seconds into the fifth round.
Donaire and Santiago both landed left hooks during an exchange with about five seconds to go in the fourth round.
Santiago came forward, but Donaire’s left hook buckled his legs with just over 1:40 on the clock in the third round. Santiago steadied himself quickly and made the remainder of the round competitive.
Donaire landed a right hand that backed up Santiago 1:10 into the second round. Donaire also slipped or blocked many of Santiago’s punches in the second round.
Santiago seemed wary of Donaire’s power during the first round, when he mostly remained out of Donaire’s punching range.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.