25 years ago, Roberto Duran won the WBC Welterweight Championship against Sugar Ray Leonard. What would be more fitting to celebrate and honor such an event and a legend than a little dinner and a night of boxing. On June 24, at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hometown favorite Matt Vanda (33-1) takes on Yory Boy Campas (86-7) for the IBA Americas Junior Middleweight Title. Other Team Freedom fighters on the card include Richard Gutierrez (18-0) and Santiago Samaniego (36-5) who'll fight against Troy Lowry(24-5) in what Samaniego considers just a step towards regaining his championship status. I recently met up with Samaniego at Warrior's Boxing Gym in Hollywood Florida where he took time out after his work out for a chat.
31 year old Samaniego walked into a gym for the first time in Panama at 11 years old. Possibly inspired by two cousins who were fighters...more probable when one of them was Roberto Duran. After a five year amateur run with 45 fights, he turned Pro at 21. Still in Panama, Duran spoke to Team Freedom, known for creating a way out of you Cuba for many Olympiads and talented prospects, about his young cousin.
Samaniego stayed with Team Freddom for most of his career. He did leave for a three year contract with Don King, but was disappointed when he only recieved 3 fights total during that time period despite the fact that he was promised 3 fights a year for 3 years. Now he's back with Team Freedom. His manager is confident that his next fight will be BIG, so Samaniego is aware of the urgency to win this next 'tune up' fight on June 24. Samaniego is hoping to face Fernando Vargas soon. The two were supposed to fight in 2002, but DKP could not finalize the deal. If it's not Vargas, however, Samaniego will likely face Mitchell or Campas next.
"If it was up to me, I want Alejandro Garcia," stated Samaniego. Garcia beat Samaniego back in 2003. "And he has my WBA title!" Samaniego won the WBA title after beating Mamadou Thiam in France in 2002, a fight which he describes as his toughest and best.
Samaniego's last fight was in September against Rhoshi Wells (who recently lost to Alejandro Garcia). Wells won a technical decision, but he and his camp feel believe the decision should have gone the other way.
Although he enjoys going home to Chorrillo to visit with his old friends, Samaniego has made South Florida his home, where he now trains full time.
So what sort of pressure is there being associated with one of the greatest fighters in the world? "We are family, so people always compare. But I get tired of busting my ass and with all my accomplishments, all the credit goes to Duran. He IS and was always my role model more so than Leonard, than anyone. And not because he's family. It's a Panamanian thing."