San Diego boxer Giovani Santillan relishes sound of big-stage success
The last time boxer Giovani Santillan fought in his hometown of San Diego, he was welcomed to the ring with a unique and eardrum-bruising soundtrack.
A Harley-Davidson dealership on Morena Boulevard provided the site … and the unforgettable sounds.
“As I was walking out, they were revving up the bikes,” said Santillan, recalling the moment seven years ago. “It was pretty cool.”
That was an early-20s kid, clawing to find his grip on boxing’s grueling ladder, where each resume-building victory comes through hundreds of hours of sweat. No matter the commitment and punching power, few rise to the level or real money and status.
The decibels are about to increase Oct. 15, when Santillan trades jabs in San Diego again during a 10-round welterweight matchup with Angel Ruiz.
The stakes have far eclipsed motorcycle showrooms. The fight will be held at Pechanga Arena and streamed live on ESPN+ as the lead-in for a WBO featherweight title fight between Emanuel Navarrete and Joet Gonzalez.
When the fight card carries the name of promotional giant Top Rank, it also provides one of boxing’s seals of approval and arrival.
“It was always my dream, my dad’s dream to bring those bigger shows to San Diego,” said Santillan, 29, who attended Mira Mesa High School. “You’ve got the sports arena, Top Rank, ESPN. It’s finally starting to happen. That’s a big step for me.
“There’s no telling where else I can go. The sky’s the limit.”
Twenty-seven times, Santillan has stood for the opening bell. And 27 times, he’s left the ring a winner. In the tangled world of boxing rankings, matchup wants and TV whims, there’s no telling how far Santillan is from a world-title fight.
Two wins? Three?
Whatever the answer, it’s no longer a faint speck on the horizon.
“You don’t just want to win or just barely glide through that win,” Santillan said. “You want to get in there and dominate and have total control throughout the fight. If I show what I can do and look good doing it, I think I’ll get that shot.”
Santillan has won North American boxing titles. The alphabet soup he’s aiming for now begins with a W, as in WBO. Focus becomes as important as footwork for aspiring champions.
“You can’t take any fight lightly and I think that’s what has helped me stay undefeated,” he said.
Along his long boxing road, Santillan refined skills through sparring tune ups with world champions Timothy Bradley and Floyd Mayweather. In June 2020, he held off former lightweight champ Antonio DeMarco at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Nearly four months ago, he added another Las Vegas win.
He’s put in the time. He’s faced stiffer and stiffer tests. He keeps winning.
“In my mind, it’s still not done,” Santillan said. “There’s more to do.”
What’s it take to be in Santillan’s position? He works nearly four hours a day, six days a week. There’s sparring, mitt work and shadow boxing. There’s conditioning, include sprint work at the track. In the evenings, he routinely goes on 3- to 5-mile runs.
Sugar hardly exists in his world. Fish, chicken and portion control rule his day and diet.
That still leaves a key muscle to strengthen, the one that gets you through the eighth round when you’re pinned on the ropes.
“I meet a psychologist once or twice a week,” Santillan said. “We talk about where my mind’s at, in terms of training. We met at the gym and he offered to meet up. I thought, I’ll do anything that can help. It’s been a good piece to add to everything else.
“I’m working my body, but the mind is just as important if not more important.”
To Santillan’s thinking, the more strenuous the test the better.
“I’ve gotten a lot more experience, a lot more mature in the ring,” he said. “I’m able to show more patience and adjust more quickly throughout the rounds. The past few fights I had went the distance. I gained a lot from those two fights.”
Santillan trains at The BXNG Club in East Village, grinding away with his father and co-trainer Guillermo.
Ears reveal the difference between amateurs and pros. Santillan’s gloves thunder as he pounds away at mitts steadied by his dad. The punches are short, compact, unrelenting.
Santillan’s been doing this since he was 8, with nearly 80 amateur fights sandwiched in between.
It’s his time. And he loves the sound of that.