by B.A. Cass
The former champion Juan Carlos Payano made his Las Vegas debut last night against Alexis Santiago at Sam’s Town Live. Payano looked the stronger, more determined fighter from the start. He let his hands go immediately. He used his pawing jab to distract the younger, less experienced Santiago before throwing combinations that came from all angles. And although he managed to slip many of Santiago’s counters, Payano got caught by a straight right in the third round that snapped his head back and caused some bleeding above his right eye. His corner managed to control the damage, and Payano started the fourth round by getting in close to Santiago. But the frequency of Payano’s punches decreased, and he was no longer coming at Santiago from different angles. By the end of Round 5, it looked like the fight was starting to even out.
Photos Andy Samuelson/Pbc
German Caicedo, Payano’s trainer, understood what was happening and what Payano needed to do. Speaking of his work in the corner before the fight, Caicedo said, “I make it simple. I don’t say, ‘Give me a double jab, hook, left uppercut, step back and cross.’ No, no. If what he did worked, I’ll make it very simple. ‘Just like that. Repeat that round. Do what you did but be careful because he’s loading up an overhand right for you.’” Payano made the adjustment he needed, once again becoming the busier, more aggressive fighter. Payano’s team had expected a good boxer— perhaps even a better one than Juan Carlos, Caicedo conceded. And the taller Santiago had a clear reach advantage over Payano. If there was any hope for Santiago, it was to stay long and try to outbox Payano. Instead, he tried to crowd Payano, a strategy that didn’t work.
In the lower weight classes, many fighters don’t have the power to put their opponents’ lights out, and though he is a talented, aggressive fighter, Payano has never been a one-punch knockout artist. Casual observers tend to want to see that one devastating blow. But as Caicedo says, “Those aren’t the ones that do the damage.” By the end of the Round 6, Santiago was visibly bruised. And at one point during Round 7 , Santiago had to step back to take a deep breath—a brief, but startling moment that proved he was being outclassed.
“This fight is still yours to take,” Santiago’s trainer told him before the ninth round commenced, trying to motivate his fighter to at least even out the scorecards. He urged his fighter to give everything he had, but barring a clean right cross in the ninth, Santiago wasn’t able to land any damaging shots.
Santiago deserves some credit for being tough, for simply remaining in the ring for all ten rounds. “I don’t care who you are,” Caicedo said. “You keep someone off for ten or twelve rounds, whatever the fight ends up being, and punching over 150 a round because that’s Payano’s output. He doesn’t punch less than that. 95-100 punches per round. That’s tough to keep off.” But Payano was the superior fighter, and he won by unanimous decision.
What’s next for Juan Carlos Payano? For a while, his team was contemplating fighting Roman Gonzales, but then Gonzalez lost to Wisaksil Wangek. Gonzales and Wisaksil face off again in September, and if Gonzales wins, perhaps a fight with Payano could happen. There’s also the possibility of a third fight with Rau’shee Warren, but Warren recently went down to 115 and would need to come back up to 118. Caicedo thinks that Warren, Gonzalez, and Payano are the best fighters at 118 presently, but he also wonders about the possibility of a fight with Luis Nery, the kid who just beat the great Shinsuke Yamanaka. But until the next big fight is arranged, Caicedo just wants to keep Payano busy. “I wish we could be fighting three, four times a year. I make that very vocal to everyone at the Haimon ‘Institute.’ I let them know that this is a guy who needs to fight. And it’s not even that it has to be for huge money and big opportunity. Just keep him busy until that opportunity arises.”
Caicedo might be getting his complaints answered. There are rumors that Haimon will be putting Payano back in the ring as early as November. That would be good news for Payano because he’s pissed and wants his titles back. And after dominating Santiago on Tuesday night, he’s one step closer to making that happen.
Follow B.A. Cass on Twitter @WiththePunch