By Jake Donovan
Sadam Ali and Francisco Santana are presented the task of getting the crowd hype ahead of tonight’s heavyweight championship between long-reigning Wladimir Klitschko and unbeaten contender Bryant Jennings. More important to their own career, however, is the challenge Ali and Santana present to each other in their HBO-televised bout Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The show begins at 10:00pm ET.
If ever there was an ideal opportunity to live up to his full potential, it was when Ali (21-0, 13KOs) made his HBO debut last November. Since his pro debut, Ali has been little more than just another member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic boxing team that continues to underachieve in the pro ranks.
That changed in an instant for the 26-year old Brooklyn boxer, who was brilliant in a nine-round destruction of murderous punching Luis Carlos Abregu. The feat took place last November in Atlantic City, on the undercard of Sergey Kovalev’s tour-de-force performance over Bernard Hopkins in their three-belt light heavyweight title fight.
For the second time in as many fights, Ali plays chief support to a major event, where more eyes than usual will be on him.
It goes without saying that Saturday’s bout is by far the biggest stage on which Santana (22-3-1, 11KOs) has performed. The once-promising prospect from California hit a very rough patch in his career, going 4-3-1 over a 3 ½ year stretch and suddenly on the verge of opponent status.
A silver lining in his past setbacks is that the lone draw on his record came against Julian Williams, a 6-0 prospect at the time who has since emerged as a junior middleweight to watch. Still, the stalemate and subsequent loss to Jermell Charlo was enough to convince Santana that the welterweight division is perhaps a better fit.
Ten straight wins have followed, including a major upset over previously unbeaten Eddie Gomez last June. His most recent bout was another win over an undefeated fighter, scoring a 1st round knockout of Kendall Luna in front of a live audience on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
Read on to see how the staff at BoxingScene.com believes tonight’s welterweight crossroads bout plays out.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: SADAM ALI vs. FRANCISCO SANTANA
Ryan Burton (Santana late TKO): Santana has upset plenty of fighters and think I pulls off another one with a late stoppage of the heavily favored Ali.
Jake Donovan (Santana SD): Chia has turned a corner in recent years. It's easy to get excited over Ali given his stellar showing versus Abregu, but my Spider Man senses tell me an upset is in the making here.
John MacDonald (Ali UD): Sadam Ali will look to build on his win over Abregu against Santana - who has upset unbeaten prospects in the past. Ali's hand speed should be the difference.
Takahiro Onaga (Santana SD): I feel an upset is due here. Santana is not a bad fighter and is very easy to overlook.
Cliff Rold (Ali Dec.): I like the progress Ali is making and he should pass his latest test here.
Reynaldo Sanchez (Ali KO4): Sadam Ali by easy KO
Victor Salazar (Ali MD): This is the best fight on paper on the schedule. Santana can punch and has some solid names on his resume. Ali is more of the boxer and surprised many when he defeated Luis Carlos Abregu last November. We should see some very good entertaining rounds with the boxer beating the puncher in a close decision.
Alexey Sukachev (Ali UD): Several months ago I would have picked Santana in there but Ali impressed me much versus Abregu. A well-rounded, total fighter with possibly a championship potential. Santana is only a contender, and it will be felt.
Ali - 5
Santana - 3
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox