The sound of gloved fists pounding the heavy bag mixed with the sweet rhythms of feet jumping and leather rope skipping the ground at a torrid pace plays in the air like a symphony of destruction. The Undisputed Gym in downtown San Diego on the corner of 16th and K Street is a hard gym, an inner city gym that houses the hopes and dreams of young fighters. The exterior of Undisputed is that of an old warehouse that sits like a beacon of hope against a backdrop of the homeless walking and sleeping on the corner underneath the I-5 interstate freeway.
Sitting on the edge of the ring with a fresh set of hand wraps is Giovanni Santillan, an undefeated welterweight prospect who fights under the Thompson Boxing banner. Santillan stands tall to shake my hand with a firm grip even through the hand wrap that commands my attention and respect. Born and raised in the Logan Heights area of San Diego, an area notorious for its gang violence and often called Barrio Logan; Santillan was able to avoid the lessons of the street and stick to the lessons in the classroom. “I was just an average student I did well in school, but I liked it and was always into boxing.”
“I was eight years old when I started boxing”, “I remember we had some good times when I was a younger amateur we’d have pillow fights at the hotels and play jokes on each other.” Santillan describes his childhood in boxing with a smile on his face the entire time, it’s the sign of a fighter that enjoys everything about the fight game: the travel, the gym, the camaraderie of the fight team, and the respect for the acts of violence boxing requires for success.
“My family life has always kind of like, revolved around my boxing, especially with my dad since he’s been with me 100 percent because he’s my coach.” “I didn’t get to spend as much time at home with my brother and sister because me and my dad were always at the gym.” The boxing gym has been the workshop that hones the father and son relationship like tempered steel into a force of unyielding violence that only breathes a sigh of relief when a wrapped hand is raised in the glory of victory.
The publicized success of high profile fighters motivates Santillan to follow in the footsteps of boxing’s elite. “My favorite fighters are guys like Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather because of not only their success in the ring but out of it as well.” “I respect these fighters because they are able to manage their success and they’re staying there because they know how to manage it.” Hunger is a beast that gnaws from the inside. Born of a life with less, hunger festers and feeds on the fighter and only goes away when it’s fed success. For some, the hunger is so powerful that it’s appetite for excellence is never met resulting in lifetime of prosperity and a career marked by greatness.
Santillan prepares for his fight on October 24th in Ontario California on Thompson Boxing’s “New Blood” fight card against Mexican Luis Solis 14-4 12KO’s. “He’s a tall fighter that throws a lot of punches and likes to fight, so we’ve been working on controlling our distances and getting on the inside”. Santillan talks the sweet science like a student of the game raised for boxing. “I just want everyone to know that I’m a humble fighter that wants to give the fight fans good fights and work hard to be the best.”
Boxing, the pugilistic combat of man versus man pits hunger and desire against a fighters inner most fears and physical limitations. Many battles in history are fought with weapons and words to achieve everlasting victory and glory, but for the fighter the weapon of choice lays under the hand wraps.