By Fiona Manning
They stopped 15 rounds for professional boxers some years ago for humane reasons.
Now championship rounds go to 12.
For former junior welterweight world title challenger Ahmed Santos, round 13 is where his post-fight career has really begun.
In a business when most fighters don’t know when to quit, Santos took the most of his opportunities and is now a prominent fixture at all the big fights as a “color commentator” for Spanish-language Telefutura and Univision TV.
Eyes firmly locked on the action, a smile ever-present when the constant parade of boxing celebrities and fans come calling, Santos has become one of the most prized TV commentators in the US due to perfect English and of course, perfect Spanish.
Santos, who retired from active boxing in 2001, is 30. He is young by boxing industry standards.
Considering the fact his all-time idol Julio Cesar Chavez is training for yet another comeback and George Foreman wants to go on record as the world’s oldest heavyweight, Santos would be forgiven for considering a return to the ring.
He fought like a tiger, most memorably dismantling Billy “The Kid” Irwin in a big upset. With a record of 26-5-4, with 14 KOs, Santos doesn’t look like he took punches for a living.
The camera loves Santos who looks more of a matinee idol than a ring mauler.
“I miss boxing, especially when I am at a big fight. If it’s a really good fight, I think I’d love to be back in the ring, but I’ll never go back,” he said from his home in Phoenix, Arizona.
“I thought about retiring for a year before I made the decision and now when I find myself missing it, I look for a gym and I go train. That takes away the desire to fight.”
It also helped when his TV employers encouraged him to step away from the action inside the ring to call the blow-by-blows from the apron.
Santos is a thoughtful, insightful observer of the sport he still finds so sweet.
He wanted to retire young a promise to his mother but has managed to find the perfect niche for himself as a boxing commentator.
“I lived in Los Mochis, Mexico all of my career until I started doing television work. I always liked TV and I was a little nervous at first, but now I feel very comfortable doing it.
“After a while, the TV companies said it was too expensive to keep flying me from Mexico, so I moved to Phoenix.”
It’s a close drive over the border to Mexico for Santos who remains close to his mother, two sisters and two brothers who still live in Los Mochis.
“It’s a beautiful place, I love it. It’s a medium sized town twenty minutes from the beach. I get back there all the time and stay with my family.”
Although he might be considered a superstar in his part of the world, he isn’t treated like one.
“People know me from the newspapers but apart from the fact my first seven professional fights were in Los Mochis, most of my fights were in the US.”
Named Ahmed by his father (who lives in Cabo San Lucas) who loved the Arabian name he found in a book; the son has found that being named Ahmed has presented spelling problems in his own country.
Like the name however, Ahmed Santos stands out in a crowd.
He considers his post-fight career Round 13.
It is the name of both his business company and a newspaper column he writes for La Voz (The Voice) and would like to see syndicated world-wide.
He feels he could have gone that far with Kostya Tszyu in one of the biggest fights of his career. He wasn’t supposed to be beat Billy Irwin, so the experts were intrigued when the formidable Santos agreed to face Kostya Tszyu for the WBC light welterweight title.
“Kostya Tszyu is a good fighter. Very smart, very strong. He’s also the dirtiest fighter I ever fought,” Santos said. “He head-butted me nine times. I tried to tell the ref Frank Cappuccino but he never said anything to Kostya.
“Other fighters who have fought him have told me the same thing. Zab Judah, everybody says the same thing, how dirty he is.
“He kept hitting me in the back of the head. By the sixth round I was fighting on instinct. When the ref stopped the fight in the eighth, okay, Tszyu was winning, but I felt I could keep going.
“I asked the ref why he stopped it and he said, ‘Son you’re getting hurt’ but I told him I was getting hurt because Tszyu was hitting me in the back of the head.”
Tszyu acknowledged at the post-fight press conference that he had hit Santos in the back of the head.
“He told everybody he was going to come and apologize to me and he did. I was in my dressing room, crying.
“I was very upset about the way the fight went. He came and apologized and said it was important to him that we could be friends. I said, ‘Okay, we can be friends.’ So he’s a very dirty guy, but a classy guy too.”
Santos said that the Tszyu Crew were dirty from the outset.
“They played games with me from the minute I arrived at the Mohegan Sun Casino, [in Uncasville, Connecticut]. Everything from the food coupons and the driver. Oh, the driver. He got lost and what should have been a half hour drive became 90 minutes.
“I started to learn the directions though and we’d tell him right and he’d make a left.”
Santos said these games are typical in boxing. “When Junior Jones went down to Tijuana, Mexico to fight Erik Morales, what should have been a two and a half hour drive ended up being five hours for him. I know the story is true because it was Morales’ own people who told it to me!”
As much as Santos might be a veteran of the games fight people play, he says the worst moment for him came on the day of the weigh-in for the Tszyu fight.
“I tried to weigh myself an hour before the official weigh-in but the security guard wouldn’t let me in the room.
“Normally I am very calm, but I got mad. They let Kostya weigh in before the weigh-in, but not me. Luckily I weighed in at 139, otherwise I would have been really mad.”
Australians have had a habit of fighting dirty with Santos. A 1997 bout with Justin Rowsell ended in a technical decision draw when Santos was cut over the eye after two rounds.
“Guess who was sitting ringside?” Santos said. “Kostya Tszyu. They were sparring partners at the time. It’s a small world.”
The boxing world certainly is. Santos finds himself giving advice on food and training to fighters all the time. Although he thinks about perhaps moving into managing a fighter, his TV work assignments are happily taking up more and more time.
“If it becomes full time that I am working on television, I honestly won’t have the time to manage a fighter right now, but I care about the fighters and it’s something I think about for the future.”
Santos thought about wrapping up his own career after repeated trouble with a leg injury. He was impressed when he sat ringside for the recent Erik Morales vs Jesus Chavez fight.
“I never thought Chavez had a fight like that in him, but to fight with a shoulder injury like that, with one arm, he deserves respect.”
Respect. It’s something he feels very deeply for his sport and its participants.
“I never thought about boxing as a career. When I was a kid in Los Mochis, all I thought about was soccer. I wanted to be a professional soccer player.
“There were these three brothers who lived next door to me at the time and every morning, I would see them go to the gym. Every day for three months I watched them go and finally, I asked if I could go and watch them train one day.
“I went to the gym with them and they asked me if I wanted to try it and I fell in love with boxing that very first day.”
As a local amateur, he racked up an 8-6 career. His idols in his newly-found sport were Julio Cesar Chavez and Mike Tyson. Especially Cha-vez. Santos says “I idolized him. He is the only fighter I ever idolized. I wanted to become a world champion just like him.”
People around him convinced him to turn pro, but Santos wanted to go to college and continue fighting as an amateur.
“I didn’t want to become a bum,” he said. “I was very reluctant to turn pro but I was influenced by my desire to be just like Julio Cesar Chavez.
“When I was in 11th grade, there was this girl who was my best friend. Her name was Zenia. I loved her but I never told her I loved her because I was not very good about expressing my feelings.
“I just said to her, ‘If I become world champion one day, will you marry me?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’”
Santos won the IBA junior lightweight title (which he lost to Antonio Diaz). He wanted to marry Zenia but she was engaged to somebody else and was surprised when Santos confessed his feelings.
“I really wanted to marry her, but she married somebody else. Now she’s getting divorced, so maybe there’s a chance for me at last.”
In the mean time, there’s always a fight coming up, tantalizing matches of a different sort to consider.
“My favorite fighters to watch are Oscar de la Hoya. I would like to see him beat Bernard Hopkins, but I am not sure that he can,” he said.
“I also like Juan Manuel Marquez very much. He is going to beat Manny Pacquiao. I think his brother Rafael Marquez is very talented too.
“Antonio Margarito is very good and very strong and of course, I like Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera too.”
He describes himself as a Barrera fan but in fact tipped Pacquiao to beat him.
“I told everybody, that if he comes in to box and not brawl, it’s not going to work with Pacquiao. I knew if he tried boxing Pacquaio, Pacquaio would keep on top of him and Barrera would lose by decision or by knockout and I was right.”
“The biggest fight they could make though is already happening. That’s the Marquez/Pacquaio fight. That’s a dream fight right there. Like I said, Marquez will win that fight.”
He feels other big bouts out in the ether: fantasy matches include “Kostya Tszyu vs Miguel Cotto, or Cotto against Hatton. Jorge Arce vs Ros-endo Alvarez is another fight I’d like to see.”
There is of course, one more match on his mind: Ahmed vs Zenia. Santos has no idea about the outcome of that one, but like all good fights, the results should be worth the wait.