PUNTA GORDA — Miguel Santana had a habit of getting into fights as a kid. When he was 7-years-old, the Tampa native’s mother got him into boxing to keep him off the streets and to channel that energy into something productive.
Ten years later, Santana, 17, is one of the top youth boxers around and that was on display Sunday at the Sugar Bert Boxing Tournament held at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center.
The ring was lined with friends, family and boxing enthusiasts who came to take in the next generation of boxers. It was a sight more fitting of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas than Punta Gorda.
Fans were yelling, cheering and chanting for and against the up-and-comer. It was by far the most electric crowd of the youth fights.
Each sound from the crowd fueled Santana’s fire.
“It was exciting, it was a good fight,” Santana said. “I feed off (the crowd). I get real excited. I get excited and that makes me grind even harder.”
Santana was up against Puerto Rico’s Yancy Pacheco in the 123-pound Youth Male division.
Both boxers unleashed blows and went on flurries of combinations. Pacheco hung in the fight for much of the three rounds, but Santana proved too skilled. After withstanding a few strong blows late in the bout, Santana prevailed, winning by unanimous decision.
“It was a back and forth, but that’s what I like. I like brawling with people,” Santana said.
With the shine gleaming off his belt, which he proudly draped over his shoulder, Santana humbly walked away from the ring taking pats on the shoulder from supporters and stopping for a few pictures.
Santana is a nine-time national champion so competitions like Sunday’s aren’t new to him. Earning his celebrity-esque treatment on Sunday was difficult, but he has enjoyed the payoff. His goal is to become an Olympian.
“It feels real good,” Santana said. “All that work pays off.”
Santana was one of hundreds of young boxers competing in championship Sunday at the Sugar Bert Boxing National Qualifier. Some came in with a bevy of experience, some were making their boxing debuts.
One of those was 13-year-old Jody Maynard, who won his first career fight by unanimous decision on Sunday.
“I think I did good,” Maynard said. “I wasn’t nervous.”
Maynard has been training since he was 10 years old, but it took a few years for his age group and weight class to match up.
He squared off against Alabama’s Justin Hyder in the 154-pound intermediate class. Bringing power and quickness, Maynard cruised to victory.
“This was his first time out and he beat him real good,” trainer Corey McCree said. “The strategy is for him to stay behind his jab and stay high with the right hand and go to the body. He got him his first win and a belt so it’s to the top from here.”
Much like Santana, McRee agrees on the importance of the sport and events like Sugar Bert. It helps to give kids an outlet to grow and succeed.
“It’s good to see the kids active and not out on the streets,” he said. “It’s good to see them active and doing something.”