Francisco Santana has had success in the role of ‘opponent’
NEW YORK – Francisco Santana’s career changed when he received a call from friend Victor Ortiz in 2010.
“Victor asked if I wanted to do [sparring] work for his fight with Lamont Peterson,” said Santana, who fights Sadam Ali on the Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings card Saturday at Madison Square Garden on HBO. “I told him, ‘Sure, why not?’ ÔÇª I helped him out, went to camp with him. I knew coach Hoss (Ortiz’s trainer Joe Janik) growing up. I turned to him. ‘How would you like to train me?’ He said, ‘yeah.'”
Santana (22-3-1, 11 KOs) lost a decision Charlo at 154 pounds three months after that, when trainer and fighter were still getting accustomed to one another and before Santana trimmed down to a more more natural 147. He has won 10 in a row, with five knockouts, since then.
Santana, from Santa Barbara, California, said he was one of those kids who was picked on when he was growing up. He took up boxing to defend himself. One thing led to another and he became a professional boxer. Santana said he was largely self-trained, though. He never had a coach who could take him to the next level — until Janik.
“I asked Victor and (another friend) David Rodela, ‘How is this kid,'” Janik said. “They told me he’s really tough but he didn’t have power, this and that. When he came to the gym, I saw some really simple things he was doing incorrectly. We fixed those.
“Then he did a round of mitts with one of Victor’s coaches. The guy said, ‘Holy sÔÇöt! He hit’s like a mule!’ A few things hadn’t been pointed out to him. And he continues to grow. He’s only going to get better.”
Santana’s biggest victory might be his decision over Eddie Gomez, a Golden Boy Promotions fighter who was unbeaten and on track for big things when Santana spoiled his plans.
Ali also is promoted by Golden Boy.
“Golden Boy brought him in as an ‘opponent’ for Gomez, someone to build his record,” said Gary Shaw, Santana’s promoter. “Guess what? He didn’t win. Truthfully I think they’re bringing [Santana] in as another opponent.
“To me they’re making two mistakes.”
Ali was inspired by Naseem Hamed. Now he hopes to follow the path of the entertaining “Prince.”
Hamed, who shares a Yemeni background with Ali, will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, in June. Ali, a New York resident, said he plans to be on hand to honor his hero.
“I grew up watching him,” said Ali, who fights Francisco Santana on the Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings card Saturday at Madison Square Garden on HBO. “He was very exciting. He made it look fun just during his walkout. And, in the ring, he didn’t make it look like he was punching people in the face. He made it look like he was just having fun.
“That always inspired me.”
Of course, Ali (21-0, 13 knockouts) has a long way to go before he reaches the Hall. The 2008 U.S. Olympian is only 26 and has yet to fight for a major world title. And, after turn pro in 2009, his professional career progressed slowly. For years, Ali, whose talent was obvious, was known more for his promise than his accomplishments.
That changed on Nov. 8, 2014, when the quick-handed boxer-puncher dismantled highly regarded Luis Abregu en route to a ninth-round knockout in Atlantic City in his debut on HBO.
Suddenly Ali looked like the star many expected him to become. He is now ranked in the Top 10 of three of the four major sanctioning bodies and a serious player in the deep welterweight division.
That first title shot isn’t far away, assuming he beats Santana.
“A lot of people didn’t think I could do that,” said Ali, referring to the Abregu fight. “A lot of people thought I’d get crushed. I don’t blame them; they didn’t know who Sadam Ali was. It was up to me to prove myself. And that’s what I did. Now I just have to continue doing it.”
Santana is no pushover. Ali will have extra motivation, though: He’ll be fighting for the first time at Madison Square Garden, not far from his home borough of Brooklyn.
“Fighting at Madison Square Garden has always been a dream to me,” said Ali, who has fought in Brooklyn five times. “And it’s happening. I’m excited, ready to go. ÔÇª Fighting in my hometown definitely brings some pressure too but I like pressure. It brings the best out of me.
“I want to perform to the best of my ability. That’s what brings it out ÔÇª fighting in my hometown, in New York, at Madison Square Garden, on HBO.”