Juan Carlos Payano has already accomplished the one goal that’s atop every professional boxer’s to-do list: become a world champion. Now Payano is determined to check off box No. 2 on that list: do it again.
Eight months after rebounding from his first professional defeat, former 118-pound champ Juan Carlos Payano (18-1, 9 KOs) returns to the ring Tuesday night when he takes on veteran Alexis Santiago (21-4-1, 8 KOs) at Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas (FS1, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). The 10-round bout headlines another Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays card that also features a 135-pound battle between 2012 U.S. Olympian Jamel Herring (16-1, 9 KOs) and Ladarius Miller (13-1, 4 KOs).
A two-time Olympian for his native Dominican Republic, Payano won his first world title in September 2014 when he defeated Anselmo Moreno by sixth-round technical decision. He successfully defended his crown nearly 11 months later in a hard-fought, foul-filled split decision over fellow southpaw Rau’shee Warren. However, when the two Olympians reconnected in July 2016, it was Warren who claimed the narrow nod from the judges—and Payano’s title—by majority decision.
Payano subsequently took the rest of 2016 off, but he returned in January with an impressive seventh-round TKO of Isao Gonzalo Carranza. That victory was the first step in what the 5-foot-5 Payano—an aggressive, come-forward fighter—believes is an inevitable journey back to the 118-pound mountaintop.
The second step comes Tuesday against Santiago.
“I am excited to be back in the ring and on the way back to the top,” said the 33-year-old Payano, who weighed in Monday at 120.6 pounds, while Santiago checked in at 120.4. “I don’t plan to allow anything to derail me from being champion again.”
“ I’m looking forward to once again reigning supreme in this division. I'm never in a boring fight, so you won't want to miss it. ” Former 118-pound world champion Juan Carlos Payano, on fighting Alexis Santiago
In Santiago, Payano will be facing a battle-tested opponent who is two inches taller and seven years younger, and has won 10 of his past 11 fights. However, that one defeat came in Santiago’s last fight in September, when he lost a close 10-round unanimous decision to Jose Cayetano and snapped a winning streak that dated to 2012.
Although Santiago has faced and defeated some accomplished boxers in his nearly eight-year pro career, the 26-year-old Phoenix resident has never previously faced a former world champion, nor someone with Payano’s skill set. Now he’s doing so after a career-long layoff of nearly a year, but he insists ring rust won’t be a factor.
“I’ve been staying steady with training camp, and everything has been really smooth,” said Santiago, who has never lost consecutive bouts. “After my last fight, I took a few months off to let my body heal and I feel much better going into this fight.
“My opponent is tough and aggressive. He’s a former world champion, but I feel that I have what it takes to win.”
If nothing else, Santiago will have the home-field advantage. Not only is Phoenix a quick trip for family and friends, but this will be his third consecutive fight—and eighth overall—in Las Vegas. Conversely, Payano, who now resides in Miami, will be making his debut in the fight capital of the world—and he’s confident it will be a memorable one.
“I’m ready to put on a great performance and get the big fights that I want,” Payano said. “I’m looking forward to once again reigning supreme in this division. I'm never in a boring fight, so you won't want to miss it.”
For complete coverage of Payano vs Santiago, visit our fight page.