This is just the type of big stage Giovani Santillan sought when he began boxing as a kid in San Diego.
The undefeated welterweight wants nothing more than to shine before his hometown fans in a high-stakes fight Friday night. If Santillan can overcome Mexico’s Angel Ruiz in their 10-round bout at Pechanga Arena, the southpaw hopes an impressive victory will lead to a world title shot in the welterweight division at some point in 2022.
“That’s what we’re looking forward to, hopefully after this fight,” Santillan stated during a press conference Wednesday. “Most importantly is this fight and to go out there and show the world that I’m here in the welterweight division and I’m ready to make some noise. But then the next step after that, hopefully get closer [to a title shot], you know.”
ESPN+ will stream the bout between San Diego’s Santillan (27-0, 15 KOs) and Tijuana’s Ruiz (17-1, 12 KOs) as the co-feature before a main event that’ll showcase Emanuel Navarrete, the WBO featherweight champion. Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs), of San Juan Zitlaltepec, Mexico, will make a mandated defense of his WBO 126-pound crown against Joet Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs), of Glendora, California, in a 12-rounder.
“This means a lot,” Santillan said. “You know, it’s what we’ve worked so hard for, you know, all my life. And my dad and I have always talked about, you know, having these big shows here in San Diego and representing, you know, our city.”
Santillan, 29, and Ruiz, 24, had a spirited sparring session that Santillan said occurred “three or four years ago.” Both boxers walked away from those five rounds of sparring with real respect for one another.
“This is a great fight,” Ruiz said. “I can’t lie. This is my opportunity.”
Ruiz, also a southpaw, bounced back from a second-round knockout defeat to Puerto Rico’s Javier Flores (15-3, 13 KOs, 1 NC) in October 2019 by upsetting previously unbeaten Kazakh prospect Bobirzhan Mominov (12-1, 8 KOs).
He beat Mominov by unanimous decision in an eight-rounder April 22 at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Ruiz dropped Mominov twice, once in the fifth and again during the seventh round, and he benefited from a point deduction for a low blow in the fifth round to win by scores of 76-73, 76-73 and 75-74.
“It’s very special, you know, for me to be fighting here in San Diego,” Santillan said. “I grew up really close by here. And to all my friends and family that are coming out, expect the best version of myself. I’m coming out with everything.”
The Navarrete-Gonzalez card is scheduled to start streaming on ESPN+ at 8:30 p.m. EDT.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.