By Francisco Salazar
Overcoming obstacles demonstrate character.
If that is the case, Francisco Santana is already a winner.
Just when it seems Santana has been down and out in his career, he reappears to prove doubters wrong.
Santana has little to lose and everything to gain should he come out victorious Saturday night, when he faces unbeaten Jose Benavidez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev.
The 10 round bout will be part of the four-bout HBO Pay Per View broadcast (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT), which will be headlined by the unification bout between unbeaten junior welterweights Terence Crawford and Viktor Postol.
Santana (24-4-1, 12 KOs) looked as though he would become a young gatekeeper about five years ago when he was coming off an eight round decision loss to Jermell Charlo. Santana had won only once in four fights and there was a point where Santana pondered the future of his career.
That is when the Santa Barbara, Calif. resident began working trainer Joseph ‘Hoss’ Janik, who has worked with Victor Ortiz and Maureen Shea.
“God put (him) in my life for a reason,” Santana told Boxingscene.com last Saturday. “I still remember meeting Coach Hoss many, many years ago when I was a kid. Never in a million years did I think I was going to be training with him. You never know how life is going to turn out.”
That move panned out as Santana put together a 10-fight winning streak, earning him a bout with then-unbeaten Sadam Ali. Santana held his own, but lost a 10 round decision.
The 30-year-old Santana has won his last two bouts and was signed to a promotional contract with Top Rank.
He faces Benavidez, who is unbeaten and will likely be the house fighter come Saturday night. He has not fought since December 12.
Despite being the underdog, Santana is confident in his abilities to defeat Benavidez.
“He's had close calls that have worked in his favor, especially in Las Vegas,” said Santana, who is managed by Frank Espinoza. “I don't put that pressure on myself. I just go in there and do my job. I have 10 rounds to execute the game-plan. If the knockout comes, it comes. If it doesn't, my goal is to work and chop the tree down. That's my game-plan. I'm going to go in there and do my job.”
“I have a long reach as well. Overall, it's persistence and timing. Being able to work that distance. A great example of someone who applies that is Canelo (Alvarez). He's not the fastest, but he's very persistent. He's got great timing and he's got good spacing with his feet. He's a great example I look up to. I'm going to try and do the same.”
Saturday will be Santana’s biggest fight of his pro career. The amount of sparring he receives at Knuckleheadz Gym in Ventura, where he has sparred the likes of Victor Ortiz, Willie Monroe, and Sergey Lipinets, has prepared him for the more-technical Benavidez.
“Sparring is a place to learn. It's like school. You take pop quizzes before the big exam. I feel all the sparring (I have done) are all my quizzes so that I'm prepared to ace the exams on fight night. When I'm in there, I listen to Coach. I try and practice new things, (correct) my weaknesses. My strengths will always be with me. It's second nature. So I work on my weakness, so I make that second-nature to me.”
Santana is one of the good guys in boxing and it is hard not to root for a fighter like him. He has overcome numerous obstacles to arrive at his biggest fight of his career.
A win could open the door for many more lucrative fights and to continue on that path towards a world title belt.
“I know what I'm made of. I know what I'm supposed to do. I feel that God planted that seed in my head for a purpose and that is to become a world champion. I have no quit in me. I'm a guy that keeps pressing forward. I've always done that no matter how much resistance keeps coming at me.”
“Eventually, I'll create my own holes and walk right through them. That's exactly what I've done (throughout my career). I've taken the small fights, the pay-cuts, all of the above to be where I'm at now. I'm very blessed and thankful and it's time to execute.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing