ON October 15th, San Diego’s Pechanga Arena unanimously rose to its feet, with cheers ringing out, beers spilling, as one of the city’s own returned to the ring. For undefeated welterweight campaigner Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15KOs), it was special. Fighting in familiar territory and supported by friends and family that have watched his nine-year professional career unfold mostly from afar, it was important that he took a moment to let it all sink in.
“I knew there was no way that I’d let somebody come to my city and beat me,” Santillan told Boxing Social, “I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got if you’re in my city. As I was walking into the ring, the focus was just to stay focused on the fight and not to worry about all of the people there. But it definitely motivated me in the lead up to the fight, it got me to work that bit harder. I was really excited as soon as I heard that the fight would be back at home in San Diego; I was excited to tell my family about it, and my close friends, and that kinda motivated me to work even harder. I had a lot more people show up to this fight, for sure.”
The fight itself, the proud San Diegan’s 28th professional bout (and consecutive victory), ended with a unanimous decision victory over the game-but-overmatched Angel Ruiz, who himself had lost just once in his 18 preceding contests. It was another small step in the right direction for Split T Management’s Santillan, but his focus now is on breaking into world title contention. One man that continues helping him navigate boxing’s rocky road is his father, and Santillan explained the pair have come a long way, remaining open to new ideas and outside influence.
“My dad’s been working with me [for a long time]. I originally started with other trainers; my dad was a fan of boxing, but he didn’t do it. He didn’t grow up involved in boxing, so he learned as I learned. When I was around 13, 14, that’s when he started taking over my training, but he always thought it was best to have more than just his eyes on me; he thought it would be smart to work with another trainer, so, along the way in the amateurs, I always had other people helping me out as well,” explains the proud son, perhaps unaware of how refreshing his father’s approach is in a sport often blinded with paranoia.
“Now, this last fight was my second fight training with Robert Garcia. And that was my dad’s idea earlier this year around March. He was like, ‘You know what, we need to make a switch; we need to work with people who are more experienced so that we can improve.’ He thought that would be the best move for me, and that’s been paying off. He’s been learning more as well. That’s been the thing with my dad, he’s told me since I was young, ‘This isn’t for me, it’s for you. I want you to be the best version of yourself, I don’t want to be famous. I want you to be up there.’ That was always his mindset, and that was his mindset making that switch and training with Robert Garcia.”
The elder Santillan moved to the United States from Mexico in his late twenties, meeting his wife who’d moved to San Diego in her teens from Tijuana, just over the border. And it’s in San Diego that the fighter, aged 29, sees both his immediate, and longer-term future, admitting, “I don’t know if I see myself moving out. I love this place and we have great weather; we’re a little bit spoiled and if there’s a cloudy day you can hear everybody complaining. But those are so few and far between. It’s pretty and I love it, but there can be distractions out there…”
“Boxing has helped me – and helped my dad – just focus on my life and my career, you know. Growing up, with school, it was never really a number one priority for me, just because ever since I started doing this [boxing], I fell in love with it. I always knew this is what I wanted to do. But I made sure I kept my good grades and graduated high school, for sure. But after high school, my mind was set. Even other sports, my dad wouldn’t let me play other sports for fear of me getting injured. Back then, I’d complain, but he was right.”
Boxing has helped the pair and it has given them purpose. But, as it often does, it has thrown up its share of complications. When asked about the length of his unbeaten tenure and his lack of real breakthrough thus far, Santillan explained that contractual issues had hindered him for almost two years – without wasting time digging into any detail on a difficult and disappointing period of his life. With Split T, a monster of boxing management, pushing him, he firmly believes that 2022 will be a huge year and he feels suitably prepared to tackle some of the top contenders in the welterweight division.
“I had myself ranked number 4 in the WBO for a certain time, who knows where I would have been if that [layoff] didn’t happen, but I always believe that these things happen for a reason. I’m here, I came back and had that hard fight with Antonio DeMarco in 2020. We edged out a close, split decision but that was a real learning experience for me. I had to go through that tough time, and then come back to the tough fights. But I think this year, I’ve shown the growth that I’ve gained from that. In my last two performances, I’ve been getting better, and I know that next year will be a big year, and we’re gonna get one step closer. Who knows, at the end of the year, maybe we get that world title shot? I really hope so.”
Santillan speaks with wisdom beyond his 29 years, reviewing his fight with DeMarco and discussing the importance of patience in professional boxing as an industry. He also talks openly about seeing a sports psychologist, somebody he was introduced to while working at the local gym. He isn’t a fighter building himself back up after a devastating, shock defeat, but in fact a valued asset and genuine contender – it’s just as important to keep his mind sharp, to avoid that first, big slip-up, and to stay calm in the face of incoming fights with some of the best boxers on the planet.
The work of his sports psychologist, teaming up with Robert Garcia, and his ever-strengthening bond with his father have positioned him perfectly for what’s to come. It’s just when it comes that remains unknown.
“We’re gonna see what direction we’re gonna take, but I feel like we’ll have to fight somebody who’s in the same space that I’m in when looking for a world title shot, someone that’s close [to a shot] as well, and we’ll have to beat them. It might be one guy, it might be two, who knows? But that could happen next year. I think that being patient is one of the biggest qualities I’ve had to develop. It’s very, very important. You never know how long it’s gonna take you to get to where you want, so all you have to focus on is continuing to train hard, trying to improve yourself, staying happy and being patient. That’s it.”
“I have a five-year old son, so, giving him time [is the only thing I do outside of boxing], and I’ll probably be taking him to Disneyland at some point this month. When I’m training for a fight or I’m away in camp, my mind is on that. He might not say it, but maybe he feels that I’m more distant, so right now, I gotta give him as much of myself as I possibly can. My ultimate goal is to be a world champ. It’s taken me some time; a nine-year career and I don’t know when I’ll get that title shot. But I wanna be remembered as one of the great champs, one of the best, always went out there and gave everything I got, fought with all my heart. That’s what really matters to me.”