While Lorain’s Wilkins Santiago has traded in Ohio’s weather, Lake Erie and the Midwest scene for California’s sunshine, the San Francisco Bay and West Coast living, he knows things don’t change much inside the boxing ring.
Santiago moved to California a month ago to train with some of the sport’s biggest names — including two-time welterweight champion Andre Berto, former champion Karim Mayfield, 2004 silver medalist Levan Ghvamichava and superstar Stan Martyniouk — and now he’s hoping to add his name to the list of winners in the Golden State.
Santiago (10-0-1) will fight Luis Alfredo Lugo (13-20-1) tonight at the Alameda County Fairgrounds exhibition hall in Pleasanton, Calif.
“(Moving to California) has always been on my mind,” Santiago said during a phone interview earlier this week. “The West Coast is where everyone is at. The biggest names are out here as far as boxing goes.”
Santiago said it was only a matter of time before he packed up and headed west. After a couple of unsatisfying finishes, he decided it was time to pull the trigger on the move.
“My last two fights were a draw and a no contest,” he said. “That had me thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’
“It seems we did all we could do on the East Coast. It was time to shift over to the West Coast.”
The move appears to be paying off.
Santiago has been training daily — grinding out sparring sessions, working hard in the weight room and running countless miles along the California beaches.
Santiago believes his abilities have been magnified and his arsenal has increased … not that he didn’t already come in with an impressive array of skills.
“I love sparring with these guys. I came in here and they were like, ‘Who the hell is this kid from Ohio giving us some problems?” Santiago said. “But just being around these world-class athletes … it’s a different experience.”
It hasn’t been all fun and games.
The decision to move thousands of miles from home was one of the toughest Santiago has had to make, especially since it meant leaving longtime trainer Freddie Barriero, fiancee Megan Chronister and his children behind.
“It was really hard. My fiancee, my kids … that’s tough,” Santiago said. “It was especially tough leaving Freddie because I came to him way back in 1988 … that’s over 25 years ago.”
Santiago ultimately made the decision to leave in an attempt to better his life for his family and to continue the foundation that Barriero had helped him establish.
“I needed to show that I could get in the ring with the big boys,” Santiago said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life. Boxing … this keeps me going.”
Santiago is looking to get back on the winning track against Lugo, who he believes is a much tougher fighter than his losing record shows.
“He’s been in this game for a long time,” Santiago said of his opponent. “He’s only 26, but he’s already fought six world champions and he went the distance with four of them.
“He’s seen it all. He’s someone that I think is going to help me a lot in my career.”
While Santiago will be without his usual rowdy Ohio fanbase, he said the Hispanic community in Califonia — his boxing nickname is “The Hispanic Hurricane” — has embraced him and will be at tonight’s fight.
“I think it’s going to be a good fight,” he said. “I’m pumped … I’m ready to go. I believe in myself, I believe in my corner and I believe in my team. Most of all, I believe in that man upstairs.”