Every Fighter Has a Story
By Victor Garcia (July 23, 2004) 
Every fighter has a story and Luis Miguel Santos is no different in that respect. He was an amateur training out of Canoga Park when he walked into the West Valley PALs youth center in 1998. His father, a short man, walked in first. The man was stocky with a menacing look on his brown face, and he was wearing a poor excuse for a mustache. Following him was a short, thin woman who was quietly scolding two children, a young boy and girl. Finally, the fighter walked in. A tall 15-year-old with broad shoulders and a quick smile. The father did all the talking. They were looking for a new trainer who could stop the kid from lunging and get him balanced. The entire family came to the gym regularly after that first day. They never interfered, just watched from a distance, out of the way.

Luis had wanted to fight for as long as he could remember. He was born in Mexico and his English was limited but his eyes said it all when boxing was mentioned. He used his broken English hesitantly when the gym was full of kids. However, he turned his English on when someone knew no Spanish but wanted to chat about boxing. Apparently, his older brother was trained as an amateur in Mexico. Hearing him speak about his brother was not unlike some scribe reminiscing about how great Salvador Sanchez could have been. It was obvious that his enthusiasm for the sport was initiated by his brother. He idolized his brother and wanted a secure future for his family. His plan was to become a professional fighter, then fulfill his championship aspirations.

When he entered the youth centre he was a rough and raw amateur who had managed to eke out four victories using pure punch output with very little finesse. His style seemed better suited for the professional ranks. In sparring, he stalked his opponents and brawled. His defense was virtually non-existent, but he had heart. He would take it upon himself to do extra rounds on the bag, extra rounds in the ring, and extra laps at the track.

The gym was his church, boxing his religion. He watched old boxing films of Salvador Sanchez in his spare time and idolized Ricardo 'Finito' Lopez. Several amateur trainers worked to instill in him the Olympic style of boxing but none were truly successful. Luis Miguel Santos wanted to fight, he wanted to brawl. In the end, everyone decided to work with what skills Santos possessed and forget about the Olympic-style stance. The fighter pressed on. He attended amateur shows with anyone who could drive him to the location. He was most impressed with the National Blue and Gold Tournament and the Golden Gloves tournaments held in Lincoln Park, California. He once commented at a tournament that he liked Steve Luevano’s style and Mike Anchondo’s power. He loved boxing and he was having the time of his life.

Several months into his training at his new gym, he sparred with an older, heavier amateur from Oakland named Louie. Louie handled Santos with efficiency. The larger Louie was a natural southpaw who fought from an orthodox stance. Everyone in the gym was sure that Santos would be down on himself after the session. Instead, he came out of the ring having been beaten for four rounds with a smile. He made it clear that he thought Louie was the best fighter he had ever sparred with and wanted to continue working with him. Santos wanted to improve.

Months after that encounter, Santos was taken to a local amateur show and pitted against a taller opponent. Santos was all over the kid in the first round, cornering him and cutting off the ring. Santos was landing stinging body shots. He clearly won the opening frame. The second round proved to be different. His opponent or his corner had figured out how to box Santos. The taller kid started using his jab and side stepping instead of walking in reverse. Straight punches down the middle were getting in and scoring before the wider, yet harder, shots of Santos. The final round had both fighters making adjustments. Santos began using his jab more effectively and tried baby-stepping backward in order to lure his opponent in. This proved to be a mistake. His opponent used his superior speed to counter the slower jab. This last round saw Santos revert to throwing hooks to the body, while his foe fought it going in and out. Santos was heartbroken after this, his first amateur loss. Some kid had outboxed him, using speed and defense to counter the body shots from the Mexican bomber. It was his weakness as an amateur. He could be hit by fast hands. He wanted to hurt his opponents, while his opponents only wanted to score.

Fast forward to the year 2001 and we still see a dedicated fighter who Americanized his name in order to sell himself better in the States. Luis Miguel Santos was now Michael Santos. He fought his first fight as a professional at the Forum in Inglewood, California. By all accounts he was impressive, showing a decent defense, a strong work ethic, and power in both hands. His opponent, Raul Torres, was floored in the encounter and Santos won a unanimous decision. Under the tutelage of Amilcar Brussa, who trained Carlos Monzon to championship form, Santos was on the right track. He managed to follow up his first win with a string of four victories by knockout before suffering his first defeat, a six round decision loss to Alfonso Gomez, who was 4-1-1 at the time.

After his first loss, he went 3-2. His current record is deceiving. He has eight wins with seven coming by way of knockout. He also has three defeats at this early stage of his career. For many, such a record is indicative of a fighter they would rather not watch. Some focus on the knockout ratio and may find him appealing. For him, it indicates that he is a man who is willing to fight when called upon. Be it Inglewood, California, Las Vegas, Nevada, or Moscow, Russia, Santos gave it his all and fought with courage and pride every time out. There is no indication that he will not continue to do so. He boxes with the full support of his family and friends. He also continues to be a huge fan of the sport, attending fights, watching old fight tapes, and following his favorite fighters. He is a boxing enthusiast, as well as a fighter.

A loss on a boxing record does not, by any means, signify the end of a career. Several losses early on, sometimes does. Early losses sometimes suggest bad managerial decisions. On the other hand, some boxers manage to build a following after a brave or exciting loss. Remember, Micky Ward ended his career with 13 losses and Arturo Gatti carries six blemishes on his resume. These are respected men in the fight game. They have always entered the ring willing to fight, and have left a piece of themselves in it almost every time.

Still, the reality of the sport is that many dream of making it to the world class level. Few do. Boxing is much like other sports in that only a small percentage of participants ever become champions or achieve success as professionals. Very few boxers attain the exposure of having represented their country in the Olympics. Fewer, still, are those who can boast medals. And not every amateur-turned-professional is a Floyd Mayweather with a boxing pedigree or dynasty. Some fighters have dreams of making it big and begin the journey by starting at the bottom. They have no luxuries. They fight in others’ back yards. They make little money for their efforts. They sometimes suffer through bad or hometown decisions. However, there should be no reason to dismiss them because they are not ranked or highly regarded.

Unfortunately, this is not the always the thinking in boxing supporter circles. All too often, casual fight fans and more determined followers alike, tend to focus their attention on fighters with a strong promotional team backing them. We have a propensity to value and support undefeated and well marketed fighters at the world class level, yet, ignore or fail to attend local boxing shows. Prospects with hype machines and newcomers who have garnered some media exposure tend to sell tickets, and when they fall off with losses, their support tends to waver unless they’ve made it to a championship level before this happens. In the case of Michael Santos, what the 8-3 (7) record does not tell is the story of the man. There is no indication of his passion for boxing, his love of the sport, his passion for life, his love of his family. There is little indication of the effort he exerts for our entertainment and pleasure. Boxing is his life. He is truly an exciting fighter to watch. We should make it a point to support the Michael Santos’ of the boxing world.
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