Manuel Flores entered his first career main event and ten-rounder to the soothing sounds of a mariachi band while fighting in his hometown.
The fiesta was brought to a crashing halt by Phoenix’s Walter Santiabanes, who not only pulled off the upset but dominated Coachella’s Flores over ten rounds. Judges Eddie Hernandez (100-90), Fernando Villareal (99-91) and Sergio Caiz (99-91) had the visiting Santibanes winning by a landslide over the local favorite in their DAZN-headlining bantamweight clash Thursday evening from Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California.
Flores began the fight well-intended, cognizant of the tough outing he endured in his February 23 Golden Boy Fight Night on DAZN appearance. A split decision victory over hard-hitting Franklin Gonzalez was followed by the relentless pressure of Santibanes, who sensed early that the unbeaten local favorite did not have anything that would have to keep him at bay.
Santibanes took firm control of the fight in round two. Flores was pinned along the ropes where he absorbed a right hook to the body. Santibanes later followed with a right uppercut and a left hand upstairs, before a flurry of power shots forced Flores to cover up in hopes of riding out the storm.
That trend continued throughout rounds three and four. Flores’ corner called for body work to slow down Santibanes, but it was the visiting Phoenix native who put in work downstairs. Flores struggled to keep Santibanes at bay or let his hands go, to the point where referee Jack Reiss expressed concern through four rounds.
Flores managed to subtly pick up the pace in the fifth. It came at a point when Santibanes all but took off the round, perhaps as means to recharge for the second half. Flores was jab heavy in the round but also occasionally landed a straight left hand.
Santibanes went back to work in round six, frequently switching between southpaw and orthodox stance. Flores poked with the jab and later through a straight left upstairs and right hook to the body. Santibanes responded with an uppercut and caught Flores with a flush right hand to the midsection.
Flores tried in vain to stand his ground and trade with Santibanes in round seven. It produced mixed results as Flores briefly backed up Santibanes, but not before having to defend against a swarm of right hooks, wide lefts and uppercuts from long range.
The end of the seventh round was followed by a lecture by head trainer Antonio Diaz, who bluntly asked Flores if he wanted his trainer or the referee to stop the fight. Flores insisted he could turn around the fight, but Santibanes wasn’t having any of it.
Flores managed to duck or block the majority of a flurry from Santibanes early in round eight but walked directly into a right hook. Santibanes continued with the attack through round nine, though Flores enjoyed brief success with a right uppercut. It was lost in the steady attack put forth by Santibanes, who continued to land his right uppercut from long range and forced Flores to fight behind an earmuff defense.
One final lecture and pep talk from the Flores corner wasn’t enough to light a fire in the tenth and final round. Santibanes bounced on his toes and toyed with his younger foe. Flores sought an opening for a left hook but never came close to landing the type of game-changing shot that would help erase a massive scorecard deficit.
The win is by far the biggest to date for Santibanes, who improved to 12-2 (2KOs) and extended his eleven-fight unbeaten streak. He is 4-0 with one No-Contest since returning to the ring last August following a six-year prison stint.
It’s all the way back to the drawing board for Flores, who fell to 15-1 (11KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox