Alexis Santiago is now more than six years into a professional career that, save for one brief lull, has continued on a steady ascent. Yet as the 118-pound fighter gets ready to pursue his 10th win a row, a world title opportunity still seems well off on the horizon.
If his coach has his way, though, Alexis Santiago (20-3-1, 8 KOs) will close the distance on that desired title shot with a lights-out performance Tuesday night against Erik Ruiz (15-4, 6 KOs) in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays card at Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“It’s taken some time, but [Santiago is] an improved counterpuncher, and he’s more grounded fundamentally,” says Ismael Salas, the legendary Cuban trainer who is in his second fight with Santiago. “I like the direction he’s going in.
“The better he performs, the closer we’ll be to a title shot.”
Santiago put on a championship-caliber performance in his first fight with Salas on October 14. Competing close to his Phoenix home in Glendale, Arizona, the 25-year-old dominated veteran Gustavo Molina over eight rounds, winning a convincing unanimous decision.
For this bout against Ruiz, Santiago returns to the city where he enjoyed significant early-career success. After making his pro debut in Phoenix in October 2009, “The Beaver” fought five consecutive times in Las Vegas, going 4-0-1.
Santiago has fond memories of those contests, and says he’s excited about getting the chance to display his skills once again in the Boxing Capital of the World.
“Returning to Vegas has been a goal of mine,” says Santiago, who prepped for this fight in Salas’ Las Vegas-based gym. “I’ve been in main-event fights plenty of times back at home in Arizona, but this will be my first time fighting in a main event there. My trainer says we have to do a really good job and look impressive to get closer to a world title. I’m pretty hyped about it.”
Prior to his current nine-fight winning streak that began in late 2012, Santiago endured a yearlong roller-coaster ride in which he split six fights from July 2011 to July 2012. Two of the defeats—to then-unbeaten opponents Randy Caballero and Roman Morales—were excusable, but the loss in between those was a controversial majority-decision setback to journeyman Evaristo Primero.
At the time, Santiago was 10-1-1, while Primero was 14-14-1, including 0-9-1 in his previous 10 outings.
“I still don’t know how they gave that win to him. I felt that I won pretty much all of the rounds easily,” Santiago says of the February 2012 bout, which was scored 77-75 twice for Primero and 76-76. “I think we were both shocked when they gave him that decision. If anything, he won maybe two rounds. I don’t even consider that fight a loss.”
At least the result didn’t have much effect on Santiago, who is 10-0-1 since. But in taking on Ruiz, Santiago will be facing one of his toughest challenges.
While Ruiz has just two victories in his last five fights, the 24-year-old Oxnard, California, resident went the distance in all five, which included three bouts against undefeated opponents. In fact, Ruiz, who most recently defeated Roy Tapia (then 11-0-2) in an eight-round split decision in November, has never been stopped in his career.
Salas says Ruiz “has a style that will complement” his fighter. For his part, Santiago plans to approach this fight like a chameleon, ready to adapt to whatever comes his way.
“I can box, I can punch or do a little bit of both in there with this guy,” Santiago says. “If I have to stay and brawl, I don’t mind going toe-to-toe with him. Whatever it takes, we’re prepared to go 10 rounds.”
For complete coverage of Santiago vs Ruiz, check out our fight page.