Alexis Santiago's nickname came from a childhood joke. On Tuesday night, his fists continued to silence any laughs.
With the crowd chanting his sobriquet until onlookers felt like they were transported to Oregon State’s Reser Stadium on a college football Saturday, Alexis “Beaver” Santiago (21-3-1, 8 KOs) pulled out a hard-fought, 10-round unanimous decision over Erik Ruiz (15-4, 6 KOs) at Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas.
The judges accurately—if somewhat generously—scored it 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92 in favor of Santiago, who earned his 10th straight victory.
Sure, branding oneself after one of the world’s largest rodents may seem a tad peculiar for a prizefighter. But beavers are hardly vicious beasts that rapidly rip apart their prey, and Santiago proved himself to be similarly stalwart, methodically felling his opponent in place of a redwood.
More than anything, this was a brawl from sweaty start to chest-heaving finish. Neither fighter displayed much head movement or any real interest in working the ring.
Instead, they preferred to lean into one another and bang, their punches snapping like a string of lit firecrackers, ensuring that the tagline for the latest edition of Fox Sports 1’s Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays was far more than a marketing gimmick.
From the opening bell, Santiago was an especially energized, in-your-face presence, blitzing Ruiz with combinations, working the body with rib-abrading force and landing uppercuts at will.
For all of Santiago’s come-forward chutzpah, however, Ruiz was just as eager to trade. He pumped his jab in Santiago’s grill and made nearly every round a back-and-forth battle, most of them indistinguishable from one another in the sense that the action remained the one constant.
Through it all Ruiz gamely walking into the line of fire fearlessly.
“We kind of knew he was a fighter who was going to keep coming forward and forward,” a beaming Santiago said in his dressing room afterward, flanked by 140-pound champ Rances Barthelemy, who also works with Santiago’s Las Vegas-based trainer, Ismael Salas. “That’s all I saw of him—that he was a fighter who was going to come forward regardless of anything. And that’s pretty much what he did all night.”
Still, Santiago’s quicker hands and tireless work rate—the Phoenix native threw more than 900 punches—were too much for Ruiz to overcome. Santiago just kept grinding his opponent down, pulling away for a wide decision victory in a fight that was more competitive—or fun to watch, at least—than the scorecards might have suggested.
That fun-to-watch component wasn’t lost on the victor.
“That was exactly what I wanted,” Santiago said. “I wanted to please everybody. We wanted to make a statement: that we could fight. And I think we did a decent job of that.”
This was Santiago’s second bout with Salas in his corner, and the 25-year-old feels like the tutelage from his decorated Cuban coach is paying dividends.
“He’s been having me sit down on my punches and throw while I’m moving,” Santiago said. “I think we did a good job, but we could have done better. … I just feel like it’s going to keep getting better and better from here on.”
OK, but before Santiago starts pursuing his 11th straight win, one final question: What about that nickname? Santiago says he got it the very first day he walked into a boxing gym as a youngster, when some other kids goofed on the size of his teeth.
Chomper cracks aside, the “Beaver” continues to demonstrate that, all these years later, he still possesses plenty of bite.
For full coverage of Santiago vs Ruiz, jump over to our fight page.
Paul Parker, Lanell Bellows score victories
In the co-main event, Paul Parker (8-1, 4 KOs) eked out a close split decision against Lionell Thompson (16-4, 10 KOs) in a battle between 175-pound Rust Belt opponents.
The longer Parker, a native of Toledo, Ohio, controlled the action early behind his jab, scoring a knockdown in Round 3 when Thompson’s glove grazed the canvas after Parker belted him. But Thompson, a lifelong resident of Buffalo, New York, stepped on the gas in the second half of the eight-round scrap, coming forward, firing his jab and scoring with well-placed right hands.
It wasn’t enough, though, as Parker did just enough to earn the split decision (76-75, 75-76, 76-75).
In the show opener, Lanell Bellows (15-1-1, 8 KOs) knocked out Antowyan Aikens (10-1-1, 1 KO) in a 168-pound clash that was as one-sided as an argument with your wife.
Bellows used his jab to set up sweat-spraying right hands as Aikens was mostly on his heels the entire fight, moving backward in the face of his hard-charging opponent. In Round 5, Bellows blasted Aikens, following a heavy right hand with a bracing left that sent his opponent to canvas.
Aikens was unable to beat the count, resulting in Bellows’ first stoppage win in his last five contests.