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Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News

Reflecting On The Past, While Eying The Future; Santiago Revives His Boxing Career With Stumpf's Help

By Kevin Freeman

January 8, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Barry Stumpf reached to get a boxing book off the shelf at the East Side Athletic Club one day about a month ago.

When he opened the book, a card with Mario Santiago's name on it fell out.

Santiago had been one of Stumpf's prized amateur boxers in the late '90s. He won a state title, a Region II championship and was ranked No. 2 in the country at 119 pounds.

Soon after those accomplishments, Santiago, however, accompanied his family back to his native Puerto Rico, despite being on the cusp of a formidable amateur and possibly pro career.

Stumpf had kept in minimal contact with Santiago but finding the card in the book increased Stumpf's curiosity. He knew Santiago had a bright future in the fight game but knew that his window for success wasn't getting any wider.

After a long conversation between the two, Santiago, a featherweight, decided to come back to Lancaster to train with Stumpf. Stumpf promised Santiago a contract with a promoter and he recently signed a four-year deal with Gary Shaw, whose stable of fighters includes Lennox Lewis and Sugar Shane Mosley.

Santiago's decision to return to Lancaster was not an easy one. Since going back to Puerto Rico in 1998, he married, became a father and secured a good job as the automotive manager of the Wal-Mart in Ponce. So, he mulled the decision to return over several months.

He was clearly taking a chance by making this move.

Now, however, he'll never have to ask himself, "What if."

Santiago, 25, didn't let boxing lapse when he moved back to Puerto Rico. He excelled as an amateur, earning a silver medal at the Pan Am Games in 1999 and was a member of the Puerto Rican national team. He was trained by pro boxer Felix Trinidad's father and went to the Olympic Trials in 2000.

He became a pro, signing a contract with Don King Productions. He was successful, going 4-0 with three knockouts. But he sustained an injury while playing basketball and hasn't fought since March of 2002.

Stumpf convinced Santiago that if his pro career was to go anywhere, he would have to launch it from the U.S., where the opportunities were better than in Puerto Rico.

"My uncle in Puerto Rico told me that you have to make big sacrifices," Santiago said. "My wife (Carol) was sad when I left but now I think she wants to come here, too."

One of the things holding him back from coming back to Lancaster was that he didn't think he could get out of his contract with Don King.

Stumpf, however, took care of that. Then, with Lancaster residents Albert Solis and Jay Stout, owner of Donegal Springs Airport, providing the transportation expenses, Santiago flew to Lancaster.

Now, Santiago is ready to make a name for himself. His first bout under his new contract will be a four-rounder on Jan. 15 in Houston. He will be on the undercard of a main event, featuring two-time Olympian and undefeated welterweight Nurhan Suleyman against Diego Castillo, the Colombian national welterweight champion.

"I'm excited," said Santiago, who is staying with his uncle, Ramon Santiago, in Lancaster while he trains.

As many remember, Stumpf trained a pretty fair boxer named Fernando Rodriguez, who was ranked No. 3 among featherweights in his prime. Stumpf sees some of the same attributes in Santiago, a southpaw.

"I saw champion outside the ring and black, Roberto Duran eyes inside the ring," said a convinced Stumpf, talking about Santiago, whose father was also a boxing champion in Puerto Rico. "He's durable, smart and has knockout power."

Sid Brumbach, who calls himself "the mortar between Stumpf and Santiago," started his career as a cut man in Lancaster. That career blossomed at a speedy rate and he's been in the corner for 629 pro fights and 33 world title fights.

Brumbach said Santiago's mindset is just right.

"Mario wants to make it to have a better life for his children and his wife and that's a great motivator," Brumbach said. "I also think he's going to make it because he's smart. From a marketing standpoint, he's bi-lingual, well-spoken, polite and a promoter's dream."

Santiago's arrival in Lancaster also benefits the East Side Athletic Club. Stumpf is quick to say that the goal of the club continues to be giving the youth of Lancaster some direction through boxing. Santiago's presence enhances that.

"The streets are No. 1 for this club," Stumpf said. "Having Mario here is a bonus. I haven't had a boxer with the character he has in a while. He could be a bad guy if he chose to be but he chooses to be a good guy. An active athlete like Mario can do a great deal. We need that with these kids."

In the meantime, Santiago will hone in on his dream. He will train hard, fight hard and try to become one of the most successful featherweights in the world. He said he doesn't feel any pressure but he has to win. Three or four losses would end his contract with Shaw.

Now is his time. The window of opportunity is open. He's ready to punch his way through.

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