Bob Santos might be the best trainer you’ve never heard of
Bob Santos is the guy you don’t usually see. He’s okay with that. He’s the one behind the scenes or on the periphery. He’s sometimes the unattached hand on a shoulder or the lonely raised arm cropped out on the border of a victory shot. The 51-year-old from San Jose, California, is okay with that, too, because he knows what he did to put his fighter in that position. He knows the countless hours, and fanatical attention to detail that he plunges into preparing each one of his guys.
He also notices, too, that more of him is appearing in post-fight pictures. That the disembodied hand or the free arm comes now with shoulders, a torso, and a head attached.
In 2022, boxing is getting a full view of Santos, a strong consideration for Trainer of the Year, after guiding Dominican junior lightweight southpaw Hector Luis Garcia, an unknown to casual fight fans, to unimaginable heights. After upset victories over Chris Colbert in February and Roger Gutierrez in August, Garcia now holds the WBA 130-pound title. Santos was also with 29-year-old Dominican southpaw Alberto Puello all the way to the WBA junior welterweight title and 28-year-old Carlos Adames en route to a WBA interim middleweight belt.
This Saturday, Santos will be working the corner with lead trainer Ronnie Shields for rising super middleweight star David Morrell (7-0, 6 knockouts) when the Cuban expatriate takes on Aidos Yerbossynuly (16-0, 11 KOs) in Showtime’s 12-round main event (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) at the Armory in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Working the Morrell fight is typical Santos, a selfless boxing lifer who has committed over three decades to the sport. He doesn’t need accolades or adulation. His humility prevents him from talking about himself or banging the drum of his own accomplishments.
“It’s indisputable that Bob Santos has risen to the top of the boxing game and he’s here to stay.”
– Joe Goossen
Others, however, have no trouble trumpeting it for him.
“The hardest thing to do in boxing is to have staying power, and Bob has managed to do that,” said renowned trainer Joe Goossen. “He can wear a lot of different hats, from training to being a conditioning coach, and he’s also turned himself into an expert dietician. That’s a lot of hats to wear. I can’t say that I’ve conquered all those disciplines. He’s ahead of me in two different departments, which is really saying something.
“You don’t learn those things through osmosis. There is a lot to learn about the body, about diet, and what you learn the least about is probably training. That comes through time and instinct and what you garner from being around other trainers. Like I learned from Eddie Futch, and my earliest mentor, Randy Shields, and mentorship is very important. Bob has done that. He’s then rolled his style and experiences into his own format. He’s put together a remarkable resume.
“It’s indisputable that Bob Santos has risen to the top of the boxing game and he’s here to stay.”
Santos’ connection to boxing came at an early age. He was always around the sport through his family, and especially through his maternal cousin, Luis Molina, the first U.S. Marine to represent the United States in boxing at the Olympics, competing as a lightweight in the 1956 games in Melbourne, Australia.
Santos got out of San Jose High School at 17, and like other kids his age, he had no real clear future course. He was entrenched in boxing through bouncing from Garden City Gym on 7th and Henning Street, to the PAL center over on Lucretia Avenue, to the North San Jose Boys City (now the Boys and Girls Club of San Jose) in North San Jose. His roots go all the way back to when he boxed for the Empire Dragons grade school team.
“Boxing was everywhere around me,” Santos recalled. “I was working odd jobs while in and out of high school, doing construction, because my father and family were in construction, and as kids, we would pick apricots in the fields during the summer. When I was in my early 20s, I can’t really say I had any career goals. Obviously, boxing was a passion and something that I wanted to be a part of. Boxing is a tough sport to get a foot in the door and make a living.
“I liked working with other kids and worked as a sparring partner for Carlos Cruz — you know, odd-end things. I was fortunate enough to go to the gym with my cousin Luis, and that opened some doors. Yeah, you can say I was a guy who hung around. Growing up, I was passionate about all sports. My father (Tony) got us involved in all sports. I got to go in with guys as an assistant. I would do whatever anyone else didn’t do, carrying and emptying spit buckets, taping gloves.”
Santos worked construction during the day and in the gyms at night. He transitioned to coaching with Hector Lizarraga, the former IBF featherweight titlist in the late 1990s, and learned from sage trainers like Joe Amato and Eddie Devine. Gradually, Santos began working with more fighters and more opportunities came.
He also learned at the feet of serious masters: Goossen for numerous years; the legendary Emanuel Steward while cornering for Jose Celaya, a welterweight and junior middleweight contender in the 1990s; Hall of Famer Freddie Roach at the Wild Card for a time; and the incomparable Shields, one of today’s most underrated trainers, with Erislandy Lara.
“Being able to be around some of the best trainers in the world and work with them helped me,” Santos said. “I learned a lot from them all, and probably more from Joe Goossen than any single person in boxing. I think my big break came when I teamed with Luis DeCubas Jr., with Joel Casamayor early on, and when Al Haymon started Premier Boxing Champions. Everything took off from there to a whole new level around 2008, 2009, around there.”
Santos began shifting from a familiar face everyone knew in boxing to someone established boxing people wanted to train their fighters. This year, he was handed Garcia, a late replacement and major 50-to-1 underdog, according to numerous books, against Colbert, who’d lost maybe four previous rounds. After winning a wide decision, Garcia did the same against Gutierrez for the title. Puello was picked by 70 percent of the betting lines to get stopped by Botirzhon Akhmedov for the vacant WBA junior welterweight in August; Puello won by split-decision. Adames, a slight favorite in October over Juan Macias Montiel (who went the distance with Jermall Charlo in September 2021), won by third-round knockout.
Under Santos, the trio was 4-0 in 2022.
He’s not just “a conditioning coach.”
He’s proven to be a little more than that.
Santos may be the best trainer no one has ever heard of. He’s had situations where he was discarded in favor of a “big-name coach.” But hardcore fight fans and boxing media are well aware of him.
“The main thing for me was being fortunate to see Joe Goossen go to work every day,” Santos said. “I was fortunate to be in camps with Emanuel Steward. I was fortunate to be in a lot of camps with Sugar Shane Mosley, and I was fortunate to see how Ronnie Shields deals with his fighters, and I was able to see James Toney in a lot of camps at Wild Card, with no shortcuts for 10 weeks away from my family.
“I probably don’t get the respect I deserve, but I understand it,” Santos said. “I’m never going to yell how great I am. I’m never going to be, ‘I did this, I did this.’ That’s not me. It wasn’t the way I was raised by my parents. I was always taught from the old school by my mother that you let your work speak for itself. I probably don’t get the respect I deserve, because I also understand the culture today. I’m not on Twitter or Instagram. I’m not out there doing a million podcasts. Unfortunately, I was raised on construction sites and picking fruit as a kid out in the fields, so I learned from that.
“You do your work. In pro sports, you have to promote yourself. Unfortunately, in this day and age, sometimes your work is not good enough.”
Santos has been involved with boxing for 31 years. The fruits of his labor are being noticed — finally. He’s very steadfast. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He keeps disciplined hours.
His straightforward approach includes telling many fighters things that they don’t want to hear. Many times, with Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero, one of Santos’ prized pupils, he would say, “Hey look, there are many times you won’t be very happy with me, but I will tell you the truth and they will be things you don’t want to hear. When your career is over and you’ve won world championships and been able to provide for your family, and you know this guy gave everything he had for me, I’ll know then I did my job.”
To this day, when Guerrero sees Santos, he thanks him and says, “I remember you telling me that, and there were a lot of times in camp I did not like hearing what you were telling me. But thank God I listened to you.”
“Robert got every ounce of everything he had in him, and it’s why I’ll always love Robert Guerrero and fighters like him,” Santos said. “Sure, there were fighters that had more ability, but they hardly used everything that they had in them like Robert.”
In a sport full of ego — fighters, trainers, managers and media alike — Santos’ selfless disposition enables him to chug along quietly.
Goossen calls him indispensable to his fighters.
“What’s important above and beyond with Bob is that the guys on the inside of boxing know who he is, and the guys who pay him know who he is,” Goossen said. “He may not get the widespread attention he deserves, but Bob Santos is very well known among fighters, other trainers and managers. To be a consistent earner in boxing, the odds are against you. He’s dedicated and loyal, and there aren’t many in boxing who are. I’ll tell you what, he may be anonymous to the general public that follow boxing, but not to the people who are cutting the checks.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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