The Harder They Fall: Rocco Santomauro, Chad Dawson, Nonito Donaire and much More!
By Sunset Thomas, Doghouse Boxing (Nov 3, 2009)  
Some months ago Frankie Gambino and I paid a visit to Chad Dawson at the International MMA Fight Club here in Las Vegas.

At the time Chad was preparing for a rematch with Antonio Tarver under the watchful eye of conditioning Guru Robert “Bobby” Chiodini. While we were there we had the pleasure of meeting another of Chiodini’s protégés’—one Rocco Santomauro.

Santomauro was an amateur then but as Frankie noted, “See the way the Rocco kid studies Dawson in the ring? He’s got the bug. He wants to turn pro. It won’t be long, believe me sweetheart, the next time you see that little Italian Stallion, he’ll be training for his pro debut!”

I don’t know if ghosts have the edge in the ESP department, but alas, here Frankie and I were. Back at the MMA gym, meeting with Chiodini as he prepped the youngster for his first pro foray (he’ll be fighting at the Orleans on November 20th).

Rocco has model good looks and at 130 pounds he’s a chiseled Michelangelo sculpture come to life.

He comes from a proud pedigree of pugs. His brother Jason Ingwaldson was the 1997 USA Boxer of the Year (sadly, injuries cut his bro’s budding career short). Rocco’s amateur career was nothing to scoff at either. He won the State Golden Gloves title in 2009, he was the Nevada State Champ and fought his heart out in the USA Nationals (a fight he feels was taken from him).

In fact, the amateurs put a bad taste in the young ‘en’s mouth. He lost a few controversial fights—and frankly, couldn’t wait to turn pro—where boxing isn’t just about collecting points but has more to do with late-round heart, the stamina that goes with it and the opportunity to wear down an opponent—a style that suits this two-fisted fire-brand just fine.
Frankie kept mumbling “Kismet!”

Hey, not only was he right about the kid turning pro, but Rocco’s trainer—the man in his corner—is none other than the venerable Pops Anderson. Now Pops and I go way back. See, he’s the trainer for Sam Peter and it was with Sam in Reno that I first met Frankie Gambino.

Furthermore, Rocco’s promoter is Frank Luca and Mr. Luca and I also have a history. I was ringside at the Orleans when Layla McCarter won her title by knocking out Domingo Olivio—In fact, I presented the furious femme with the belt—and so, needless to say, the whole Cannolli smacked of the Twilight Zone!

Frankie, of course, is partisan to Paisans. The fact that Rocco is Italian, and so is Chiodini and Luca too—heck, I thought Mister Gambino was going to break out the biscotti right on the spot. And when the kid started talking about Rocky Marciano being his idol, why I thought Frankie had died and gone to heaven (and then I remembered that he actually had—some time ago!)

While Frankie cornered the kid, Chiodini and I ambled about the spacious gym, heavy bags hanging—ominous rows, gallows—the thudding, smacking sounds of fist and feet making contact.

Bobby was excited. He said in the 2-years he’s worked with Rocco, that the kid had never missed a day of training. Bobby was bubbling with enthusiasm—and not just for his 130 pound project but because some of his other fighters are gearing up to do battle real soon too.

Michael Grant, for instance, is fighting in December in Rochester, New York. Ishe Smith (ranked the number one contender by the WBC, WBO and WBA) has an upcoming bout in Germany, while Damien “Bolo” Wills is prepping for combat in Cleveland. In other words, the little gym with the big heart is making its mark on the boxing landscape!

Meanwhile Frankie had cornered the kid and the conversation was animated. Rocco said he loves to mix it up. In response, Frankie queried the kid about how he was going to keep his good looks—fighting as a pro?

Frankie continued to tease the lad, commenting that the first time they’d met Rocco was supporting a hickey on his neck—obviously not a battle scar—unless, Frankie added, he’d been mixing it up with me! That Frankie Gambino never misses a chance to take a jab at the Princess of Porn.

The kid laughed and said he was focusing solely on his upcoming fight. “Broads and boxing don’t mix,” Frankie said, issuing a finger-wagging warning. The kid grinned sheepishly and nodded.

When it was time for our photo op, Rocco slipped into his boxing trunks—the ones he’ll wear fight night. They’d just arrived and this was the first time he’d worn them!

The black satin trunks with the white trim read “So Cal Kid.” And that got Frankie shaking his head.

“So Cal Kid?” he spit. “It sounds like a dietary supplement, for Chrissakes!”

Frankie loves to bust balls.

“Hey, I’m from Southern Cali,” the kid defended himself.

“You’re from Duarte,” piped in Chiodini…

“You need something Italian,” added Frankie.

To loyal readers of Dog House Boxing, I hope you’ll all go to and search for Anatomy of an Adult Film, that’s my book—it’s doing well. Anatomy of an Adult Film is a fast-paced read and a sexy romp—I’m sure you’ll love it!
There truly is something exciting about being on the ground-floor of a fledgling career—especially when it comes to the fight game.

I remember when my associates from Reno Ring LLC put on that Showtime bout at the Events Center in Reno (Sam Peter vs. Taurus Sykes). On the undercard was a kid by the name of Nonito Donaire.

Of all the fighters on that card, I loved him best, because he was so shy and humble—eager to embrace and answer questions. He was, of course, a fighting machine even back then and he showed that evening all the qualities that would make him the eventual Super Flyweight Champion of the world.

I remember running into Nonito at the aforementioned McCarter bout at the Orleans and he was still just as humble and gentle as he’d been when we’d first met—I get that same vibe from Rocco.

Of course, as is the case with any young fighter, you don’t want to get in over your head to fast. And Pops Anderson certainly knows the ropes of the fight game as well as anyone. In fact, what’s kind of wonderful about Rocco’s journey is that as a result of his superior training regiment (he works year-round with Chiodini), Pops is allowing the young buck to live a life of normalcy—because of his conditioning, Rocco doesn’t have to starve himself to make weight. Heck Rocco can put away a plate of pasta right up ‘til weigh in!

I’m hopeful and confidant that this team will bring great things to boxing and especially Las Vegas. Frank Luca guided Earnie Shavers and as Rocco’s promoter I don’t doubt he’ll provide us Sin City citizens with plenty of bang-up battles as Rocco climbs the ladder to the top of his class!

Editor's notes: To find out more on Frankie Gambino - Please click the link: The Harder They Fall: How I meet Frankie Gambino.

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