Santiago Packs House…Sugarhouse, That Is

By J.R. Jowett reporting from ringside: Casino boxing hit Philadelphia on Friday when Hard Hitting Promotions presented the first card at Sugarhouse Casino, right off Center City on the Delaware River. And didn’t they ever! Manny Rivera and matchmaker Will Ruiz drew an overflow house to the circa 1100 seat ballroom to see rising star Milton “El Santo” Santiago. A colossal ten bouts raged into the wee hours with hardly anyone leaving, as nearly all the contests were competitive to varying degrees while producing three upsets. Patrick Michael Fattore provided the ring announcing and Kurt Wolfheimer was publicist.

Local superstar Milton Santiago, 140 ½, Phila., 15-0 (3), sold a huge number of tickets and didn’t disappoint his fans with a hard earned unanimous decision over rugged trialhorse Ken Alvarez, 141 ½, Manatí, PR, 7-5-2 (3) in a bruising, brawling eight. The smooth Santiago took the first two routinely, outboxing the crude underdog. But in round three, the fight broke wide open! Alvarez evidently came to the conclusion that he could beat the local hero and launched a kamikaze fight plan of attack, muscle, and brawl. Fans got behind the action and fortunately for them so did Milton. For the remaining six rounds it was ugly but earnest. Alvarez did his best to make it a street fight, shoving Milton around like a mugging victim but landing few clean blows.

To a rising star every fight should be a learning experience, and to his credit, Santiago met the challenge. After a couple of hectic rounds, he began stepping inside of Alvarez’ vigorous, looping shots to smother his opponent’s attack while regularly popping him with short, clean blows that dominated the scoring. But it wasn’t pretty. There was a lot of vigorous wrestling and careening around the ring that kept referee Shawn Clark busy. Fans loved it. The bout closed in a wild round, with Santiago jolting Alvarez on the ropes with a right and Ken laughing it off to the howling crowd. Adam Friscia scored 79-73, Allen Rubenstein and Lindsey Page 78-74.

The semi six was an interesting match on paper between Luis “Popeye” Lebron, 126, San Juan, 6-0-1 (3), and Tyrone Luckey, 127 ½, Neptune, NJ, 127 ½, 8-6-4 (5). In actuality, it wasn’t one for the blood-&-guts fan, but for the tactical purist, it was a challenge. Luckey retreated cautiously behind tentative but clean scoring blows. Lebron didn’t attack openly but edged forward and “made” the fight. No round produced sustained action, but there was enough to keep it interesting. No one held an advantage for long and in the end, the scoring reflected it. George Hill evidently went with the aggressor, 59-55. Rubenstein favored the boxer, 60-54. And Page spilt it down the middle at 57-57, making it a mild upset draw.

It was a featured bout but opened the show with an upset, no less, as Lamont Capers, 210, Hawley, PA, 7-8-2, battered Pedro Martinez, 270, Phila., 7-10 (3), for a unanimous win in a bruising, punishing six. The tank-like local favorite tried to bulldoze a win by throwing his bulk onto Capers, but tended to lean in and flail instead of keeping his feet under him and breaking Lamont down. The rangy Capers owned the outside action and more than held his own with uppercuts and smothering defense when Pedro got inside. Hill, Page and Friscia evidently Scappoosed round two to Martinez after Capers surprisingly dominated the first, and all had 59-55.

John Joe Nevin, 130, Mullingar, Ireland, 8-0 (4), won a unanimous shutout from Jesus Lule, 131 ½, Ft. Myers, FL, 8-19-1 (1), in a nonetheless brisk and action-packed six. The underdog is a popular undercard opponent in the Philly area, as he always comes to fight and remains undaunted, lacking power but a threat to win by pestering the favorite into a bad night. Against the much bigger Nevin, Jesus was never able to establish that attack. As always, he never gave up. But Nevin circled and picked his shots in the second, scoring before Lule could get set, then settled down and began punishing his man in the third.

Jesus tried harder but was paid back with even more jolting shots in a punishing fourth. By the final round, Nevin was able to coast, as the durable underdog again stayed upright to the finish.

Ricky Lopez, 130, Colorado Springs, 17-4 (6), had to pull out the stops to win a fine contest over menacing Josue Bendana, 125 ¼, Managua, Nicaragua, 10-7-4 (6), six. Lopez circled with nifty boxing to easily take the first two. In round three, the contest changed from a gym session to a war. Bendana came out aggressive and worked Ricky over on the ropes, rocking him and chasing him for the rest of the round. But in the fourth, a determined Lopez took it back with a big, all-action effort. Instead of running on his toes, Ricky stopped and settled just long enough to fire off lead rights and combos on the advancing Bendana, jolting him repeatedly. A determined underdog willed himself back into the fight in a fiery fifth, but Lopez removed all doubt with a stellar display of sharp combinations to nail down the final round. Page and Rubenstein scored 58-56, Friscia 59-55.

In a mild upset, popular ring announcer Alex Barbosa, 124 ½, Phila., 5-3-1 (1), stepped to the other side of the mic and engaged Edgar Cortez, 123 ½, Vineland, 3-3, in a bristling four. The all-southpaw battle was conducted at mid-range, with surprising dominance by the underdog. Cortez stepped smartly just within range and repeatedly beat Barbosa’s long punches with short, straight, precise shots. Alex remained scrappy throughout, but his stylish curls flying at every jolt didn’t help with the scoring, a unanimous shutout.

Fabled amateur and local sensation Christian Carto, 117 ¼, Phila., 3-0 (3), didn’t have much in front of him in hopeless Jonathan Hernandez, 118 ¾, parts unknown, PR, 0-3, in a scheduled four. The southpaw opponent threw wild, looping punches as in a playground fight. The sharp favorite could score almost at will, whenever he could pin down the opponent’s herky-jerk movement. Hernandez was in trouble in the first but made it into round two, where he lunged into a splatting left hook and was battered along the ropes into his own corner. When referee Clark broke a clinch, Hernandez rested both arms on the top rope and gazed away as if finished. Clark obliged him, ruling a TKO at 1:02.

It was short but an explosive crowd pleaser as David Murray, 174, Phila., 5-1 (4), belted out hapless Maurice Amaro, 169, Phila., 2-10 (1), at 2:35 of the first of a scheduled four. Both wasted no time on niceties but went for the KO, simultaneously bailing out. The rangy Murray buried Amaro with a right over the top and an inside left hook, feet flying out from under him as he crashed spectacularly to the canvas. Maurice got up and gamely tried to gut it out, but a long right to the ear immediately had him in trouble and when three solid shots landed in a row, referee Blair Talmadge stopped it.

Popular Angel Pizarro, 121 ¾, Phila., debuted with a brutal shellacking of never-say-die Marquis Pierce, 121 ½, Newark, 1-10, in a lively and punishing four. The crude but willing underdog came out with a swarming attack. But the much bigger favorite soon drove him back by digging crushing body shots underneath and then going up to the head. Pizarro finished strong in round two, hurting Pierce with short hooks. Marquis was hanging in through the third until Pizarro opened up late. An inside left hook had Marquis hopping like a pogo stick and close to going down. But he gritted it out gamely and finished the fight, losing a unanimous shutout.

As usual, the women put on a good fight in a battle of debutees. It was not a homer but a good decision as Laurie Schiavo, 110, Phila., scored a split decision win over Mary O’Leary, 107 ½, a Filipina fighting out of Springfield, MA, in four two-minute rounds. After giving up the first to Schiavo’s sharpshooting, O’Leary turned aggressor in a heated second. Schiavo was back in control in round three, but three solid rights by O’Leary late in the round cast some doubt. The local favorite had a strong fourth to nail down a 39-37 from Rubenstein, while Hill saw it a shutout for Laurie. Friscia scored for O’Leary 39-37.

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