The ongoing comeback story of Edgar Santana, a Puerto Rican boxing icon from Spanish Harlem.
What you’re seeing here is footage from an ongoing documentary being shot about Edgar Santana’s “interrupted” boxing life. That interruption became an exile that chewed up the prime years of his boxing career. No two ways about that. Took him from Showtime Boxing, to Rikers, pushed him out of New York to fight on obscure undercards in Delaware. He dropped off boxing’s radar, but anyone that knows Edgar knows it never took him out.
As I write this, it’s July, 2014 and Golden Boy just announced that Santana will fight Lamont Peterson for the IBF Junior Welterweight championship in New York in August. It’s been a long time coming for a hard luck guy that’s never given up on himself. Six years since the wheels came off, the exile is over. Santana is back in New York, back in the thick of the boxing world.
It’s been about five years since I ran into Edgar Santana in the elevator of the old Mendez Boxing gym. I had heard that Edgar was locked up for his part in some drug smuggling bullshit. Details were sketchy, but the gist was that Edgar wasn’t coming back. “He went way” one of the trainers said, and that was that.
That news hurt, because I liked Edgar and thought he could have been a world champion. Even worse, the arrest came on the eve of his ESPN showcase, which was supposed to be a primer for a world championship opportunity.
I asked him what happened; he just said with a smile, “they let me out. They didn’t have nothing on me.”
“You gonna fight again?”
He shrugged as if to say, I want to fight a lotta motherfuckers right now! “My promoter dropped me.”
At the time, I was training for Golden Gloves alongside Edgar at Mendez. We didn’t train together, but I got to know him a little bit as man and a fighter. He had a little Je Ne Sais Quoi--always sharply dressed, handsome, quiet--, and ridiculous power for a junior welterweight. His trainer told me that, skills aside, Edgar was the hardest hitting dude at 140 anywhere. The rap on Edgar was that he was raw, technically unsound without much amateur experience, but he was a flatout nightmare of an opponent. All out aggression, brutal puncher and vicious finisher.
One day me and Edgar were in the locker room, shooting the shit after training. Talking about life and boxing, about getting his life and career back on track. There were many moving parts and fascinating characters in and out of the gym. It was a melting pot with top pro and amateurs, celebrities, thugs, bankers, models; there were Mexicans, Algerian fighters come to hit paydirt; former world champion Joey Gamache ran his business there and trained his kid.
Anyway, like Edgar said, Dibella cut him off after the bust. He found a new trainer, Leon “Cat” Taylor, a Brooklyn boxing legend that had gotten eaten up by the streets himself. Turned out Santana owned a barber shop in Spanish Harlem called “Santana’s Cut Men;” he was expecting a son with a beautiful Japanese fashion designer. He rolled with a progressive Puerto Rican street artist named de la Vega..
The events unfolding around me felt cinematic--it was a comeback story, redemption tale, New York City boxing portrait. It was contemporary boxing journalism of a prospect hustling for his shot at glory. The late Johnny Bos, probably the most famous boxing matchmaker of or our time, once told me:
“Don’t kid yourself: that fuckin’ Santana can crack. There are two reasons you promote a fighter. The first is he can sell tickets. The second is that he can be a world champion. Santana can do both.”
So yeah, I wanted to capture these experiences, and even though I was a writer, I wasn’t an immersion writer. I felt a documentary would best serve the medium. I had become good friends with a documentary filmmaker, Eric. He had just made a feature that was showing at festivals in Toronto and Tel Aviv. Something about a cult in Washington. Gritty, real, a no bullshit kind of doc by a no bullshit filmmaker. I threw out the concept of a documentary to Edgar and he was open to it.
We talked it through over the next couple of weeks. One day he asked, “How do we work? I pay you? You pay me?”
“No, no...god no. No money between us. It’ll be a work of art. These next 6 months or three or five years of your life are going to be something special one way or another. Let’s put a lens on it.”
We came to some terms and expectations. We were in it for the long haul. This wasn’t going to be a commercial, we’d keep the camera rolling through the highs and the lows. We wouldn’t fuck anyone over. In order to make a real movie, we all gotta be on the up and up. That’s pretty much how it’s gone since.
I remember telling people that Edgar would get a big shot before it was all over. Because he’s good, determined, and he’s a Puerto Rican/New York fighter that can draw a crowd. I imagined he might get picked as a safe opponent against a slick champion. And that when that night came, Edgar would have a textbook punchers chance against pretty much anyone not named Floyd or Manny.
It’s not everyday you think highly of someone and they prove you right. I’m proud of Santana for keeping the faith in himself, for staying in the gym when things were bleak. I don’t know if Peterson will have an easy night like the boxing world says, like Al Haymon must have thought when they chose Santana. One thing I do know that Edgar can put any man to sleep with one punch. I don’t mean any Jr. Welterweight, I mean any man. Fuck the rankings--I know I wouldn’t want my brother to be in the ring on August 9th against Edgar Santana. Not in Brooklyn, not with a world championship on the line; not after what he’s been through.close