Stepping into the ring against Juan Carlos Payano is the equivalent of taking an open-book math exam … while also holding the answer key … and yet somehow still flunking the test. On Tuesday night, Alexis Santiago became the latest student who failed to make the grade.
Implementing the aggressive, rough-and-tumble, high-volume punching style that has defined his seven-year pro career, former 118-pound champion Juan Carlos Payano (19-1, 9 KOs) outworked and outclassed tough veteran Alexis Santiago (21-5-1, 8 KOs) to win a 10-round unanimous decision at Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas.
In securing his second consecutive victory since losing his world title in a rematch with Rau’shee Warren in June 2016, Payano nearly pitched a shutout, prevailing by scores of 100-90 and 99-91 twice.
“The strategy was to wear [Santiago] down and then really try to walk him down and take him out,” said Payano, a 33-year-old native of the Dominican Republic now residing in Miami. “Santiago was a little too tough for his own good, so we kept some distance at times and controlled the fight.”
As is always the case when he fights, Payano might as well have had his game plan written on his chest for Santiago—and all the world—to see: come forward like a bull; mix it up in close; throw punches from every conceivable angle; answer every one of your opponent’s punches with about 10 of your own; lather, rinse, repeat.
Despite having the answers ahead of the test, though, Santiago—like many before him—struggled to solve the equation.
As expected, Payano established control in the opening two rounds, aggressively attacking Santiago while landing an array of shots and absorbing little in the way of return fire. In fact, Santiago, who was coming off a career-long layoff of nearly a year, started tentatively as he clearly struggled to figure out the many complex angles from which Payano’s punches were coming at him.
“I felt the long layoff when I got in there,” said Santiago, who brought many supporters from his hometown of Phoenix. “I was a little tight and loaded up too much instead of using my speed.”
By Round 3, however, Santiago began to have more success timing the onrushing Payano, at one point landing a sweeping right cross to the forehead that snapped the former champ’s head back. The blow didn’t hurt Payano, but it did open a cut above the southpaw’s left eye.
The cut reopened early in the fourth round, which featured solid two-way action. At that point, Santiago was very much in the fight. But after a somewhat lackluster fifth round, any possibility of a significant upset quickly evaporated in the hot, dry Vegas air.
“ I want my title back. I don’t care who is holding which titles at 118 and 122 pounds. I’ll fight anyone and show I’m still a champion. ” Former 118-pound world champion Juan Carlos Payano, after beating Alexis Santiago
Perhaps taking advantage of a second wind, Payano dialed up the punch volume starting in Round 6, stalking Santiago across the ring and unleashing one blinding combination after another. Not all of Payano’s blows hit pay dirt, but those that did began to leave noticeable welts and bruises on Santiago’s face. They also appeared to sap the 26-year-old’s energy and crush his will.
Save for a couple of decent flurries in the final two rounds, Santiago offered little resistance to Payano’s relentless attack. And even though Payano had the fight well in hand down the stretch, he never took his foot off the gas, even exchanging with Santiago in the waning seconds of the bout.
When it was over, it was clear whose hand would be raised, as Santiago won just a single round on two of the judges’ cards.
“I thought the fight was a little closer. He did more work than me, but I thought I had moments,” said Santiago, who has followed up a 10-fight winning streak by losing consecutive bouts for the first time in his nearly eight-year career. “I wanted to box him a little more, but I couldn’t find my range so I just tried to close down the gaps.”
Said Payano: “I felt like I was winning every single round. There were small moments on the inside that I gave away, but I think I did the better work each round.”
Now that he’s disposed of Santiago, which follows a stoppage victory over Isao Gonzalo Carranza in January, Payano is eyeing bigger and better things—namely, a chance to regain his 118-pound title. Or challenge for a crown at 122.
“I want my title back,” said Payano, who became a 118-pound champion in September 2014 and successfully defended his hardware once. “I don’t care who is holding which titles at 118 and 122 pounds. I’ll fight anyone and show I’m still a champion.”
Miller earns unanimous decision over Herring in 135-pound clash
For most of the fight, the 24-year-old Miller was the aggressor and landed the cleaner shots as he picked up his fifth straight victory while handing Herring, 31, his second loss in his last three bouts.
For complete coverage of Payano vs Santiago, bounce over to our fight page.