LAS VEGAS – Gary Antonio Russell’s confidence never wavered Saturday night, but Alexandro Santiago tested the undefeated southpaw and made him work throughout their 10-round bantamweight bout.
Russell recorded a majority-decision win, as judges Steve Morrow and Benoit Roussel scored Russell a 96-94 winner. Judge Lisa Giampa scored their action-packed, competitive contest a draw, 95-95.
The rugged Santiago pressed the action almost exclusively, but two of the judges favored the faster, stronger Russell’s counter-punching and more obvious power shots at Park MGM’s Dolby Live. Santiago dug at Russell’s body consistently and the determined Mexican made Russell fight off his back foot for much of their fight.
Russell, a 2016 U.S. Olympian from Capitol Heights, Maryland, improved to 19-0 (12 KOs). Tijuana’s Santiago (24-3-5, 13 KOs) had his eight-fight winning streak snapped.
Showtime aired Russell’s narrow win as the opener of Showtime’s three-bout broadcast, which will feature undefeated 122-pound champions Brandon Figueroa and Stephen Fulton in the main event.
Russell’s previous fight ended in a no-contest because an accidental clash of heads caused a nasty gash on Emmanuel Rodriguez’s forehead. That cut prevented Puerto Rico’s Rodriguez from continuing in the first round of their scheduled 12-rounder August 14 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
Russell cracked Santiago with a counter right hand that made Santiago hold him with just over 30 seconds remaining in their fight. Sensing his opponent was vulnerable, Russell went on the offensive, yet he couldn’t put the resilient Santiago down.
Russell’s right hook clipped Santiago less than 30 seconds into the ninth round. The faster, sharper Russell countered Santiago well during that ninth round.
Santiago kept pressuring Russell and landed several thudding body shots during the eighth round. Russell responded with power shots at times, yet Santiago made him work throughout that round.
A straight left by Russell backed up Santiago 50 seconds into the seventh round. Santiago landed several body shots before hitting Russell with an obvious low blow – a right hand square to Russell’s groin – that caused a brief break in the action with 1:34 to go in the seventh round.
Huggins warned Santiago for another low blow about 50 seconds later. That infraction didn’t require Russell to take time to recover.
Santiago hammered Russell with a right and then a left to his body barely a minute into the sixth round. A straight left by Russell briefly stopped Santiago from moving forward with about 35 seconds to go in the sixth round.
A right hook by Russell connected just after the midway mark of the fifth round. Santiago quickly came back with a left to Russell’s body.
Russell and Santiago connected with flush punches during an entertaining exchange with just under 30 seconds remaining in the fifth round.
Russell landed two left hands in a successful sequence late in the middle minute of the fourth round. Santiago caught Russell with a right hand in exchange with just under 30 seconds on the clock in the fourth round.
Santiago’s pressure made it difficult for Russell to get off effective punches for much of the third round. Though aggressive, Santiago mostly smothered himself when he got into Russell’s chest.
Santiago did land a right hand when he moved Russell into the ropes with just over 10 seconds to go in the third round. Russell fired back and landed a right hook and a left hand just before the third round ended.
Russell fell to the canvas with about 1:45 to go in the second round, but Huggins rightly ruled it a slip. Santiago pressured him throughout the rest of that second round, but Russell cracked him with a counter left hook at one point after Santiago backed him into the ropes.
Santiago landed a straight right hand barely 1:15 into the first round. Russell didn’t land many clean punches in what amounted to a feel-out opening round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.