By Francisco Salazar
If there is a fighter that believes in second chances, Francisco Santana is that person.
On the night of Oct. 7, 2011, Francisco Santana lost an eight-round unanimous decision to Jermell Charlo. Not only did Santana lose a decision to a fighter who has become a contender, but Santana’s status as a decent prospect took a significant blow.
While many in his shoes fade into oblivion or become a gatekeeper of sorts in that division, Santana regrouped and pressed forward.
With a new trainer in tow, Santana has won his last 10 bouts in a row. He is eager to keep the momentum going in the biggest fight of his career on Saturday night.
Santana will fight Sadam Ali in a 10 round welterweight bout at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bout will precede Wladimir Klitschko’s linear heavyweight title defense against unbeaten Bryant Jennings.
Both bouts will be televised live on HBO, beginning at 10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT.
What began as a trickle of momentum Santana had win winning a few fights in a row after the loss to Charlo has turned into a gushing river with the quality of wins in his last couple of fights.
In his last bout on Jan. 9, Santana scored a highlight-reel first round knockout over Kendal Mena. The knockout was replayed repeatedly on the sports network’s recap shows and has thousands of views of YouTube.
Seven months earlier, Santana scored his most significant win to date: a convincing 10 round unanimous decision win over Eddie Gomez, who entered the fight unbeaten.
Santana (22-3-1, 11 KOs) will fight Ali in the ‘Mecca of Boxing’ that is Madison Square Garden in New York City, far away from the numerous fights he had in the small ballroom at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, not far from his hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif.
No worries, said Santana. While he has taken in the sights and sounds of being part of fight week during the last couple of days, he is looking forward to the challenge Ali presents on Saturday night.
“It’s every fighter’s dream to fight in Madison Square Garden and on HBO,” Santana told BoxingScene.com in a phone interview on Wednesday evening. “I’m just soaking it in to be a part of the history at Madison Square Garden. Fighting underneath the big heavyweight bout. My mission is just beginning. I’ll be ready Saturday night and to prove to the world that I’m an elite fighter.
“Sadam Ali is an excellent boxer. He has good footwork and hand speed. I’m just going to go in there and do my best. I know I’m in tough for 10 rounds, but I’m going to show what I’m made of. I’m going in there to beat him up and I’ll do that by imposing my game-plan.”
That could be a tall order considering the pedigree Ali possesses. A former amateur standout, Ali is unbeaten and is coming off an impressive and one-sided technical knockout win over hard-hitting Luis Carlos Abregu.
Ali will be the favorite on Saturday night, but that does not mean Santana does not have a fighting chance. The challenges that Santana has faced in the past has made him into the fighter he is today.
While not one likes to lose, and it was hard to stomach those losses to Charlo and to Karim Mayfield, those fights may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Santana.
“I honestly felt in my heart God was keeping my dream alive,” said Santana, who trains out of the Knuckleheadz Gym in Ventura. “I feel that I belong at this level. I had those early setbacks in my career and I was bummed out about them. Those setbacks made me a mature fighter who is in control of himself. I believe if I did not have those setbacks, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I am now.
“Those setbacks have helped me focus more. I’ve been able to persevere and press forward with my career.”
As if Santana has not found enough motivation and confidence within the last couple of years, he fights with a greater purpose today. He supports his wife Claudia and a young daughter on the purses he earns in the ring.
He has had to be more responsible outside of the ring due to supporting his family.
“(Having a baby) changes everything. The truth is that it made me a man. It made me grow up. It made me more mature. That little life depends on me. She motivates me.”
Santana believes in second chances. If he didn’t, a fight against Sadam Ali would not be taking place. A loss on Saturday night could severely thwart any further progress of becoming a world champion - the first ever from the city of Santa Barbara.
But Santana is not thinking about a loss. The deck may be stacked against him, but he is ready to shock the boxing world and prove he is destined for greatness.
“Santa Barbara is known for surfing and not boxing. Becoming the first world champion from that city would be huge. Sometimes I wonder where my life would be at if I didn’t have those setbacks. But those setbacks helped me though.
“Things do happen for a reason. Nothing ever happens by mistake.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. Email: [email protected] / Twitter: @FSalazarBoxing