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From Rikers to Barclays, Embattled East Harlem Boxer Gets Title Shot

By Gustavo Solis | August 8, 2014 12:33pm
 'The Pride of Spanish Harlem' will fight in a championship match at Barclays Center Saturday.
Edgar Santana
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EAST HARLEM — A Google search for Edgar Santana turns up pictures of both a fierce boxer — and a man in handcuffs being escorted by DEA agents.

Santana, once a young and promising boxer known as "The Pride of Spanish Harlem," has endured multiple setbacks during his 15-year pro boxing career.

But he hasn’t quit.

“With everything that happened — and everybody knows what happened — he fell, he got back up,” his father, Ramon Santana, 59, said in Spanish.

“That’s why everybody in El Barrio has always supported him.”

What happened was an arrest for playing a role in a drug trafficking ring in 2008, just two weeks before a scheduled nationally televised fight. Santana served four months at Rikers Island and turned from the ring to a new venture after being released.

After spending time helping at barbershops while growing up, he opened Santana's Cut Men on 106th Street and Second Avenue, largely staying out of the spotlight for a few years.

But he slowly traded in the clippers for boxing gloves and began training again, landing another big fight televised on ESPN in 2012. While he managed to stay out of trouble, things didn't go according to plan.

“That fight on ESPN was my second fight out of prison and I broke my hands,” Edgar Santana, 35, said of the injuries he sustained during the bout. “It was depressing.”

He still refused to give up, and on Saturday will fight in a nationally televised bout at the Barclays Center for the IBF Junior Welterweight Title.

“I am excited and nervous at the same time,” said Ramon Santana, who has gone to all but two of his son’s fights.

“People watch boxing because it’s a spectacle. They don’t know the sacrifice one goes through. They don’t see him at Mendez [boxing gym] or getting up at 5 a.m. to go running.”

Ramon Santana moved to East Harlem from Puerto Rico in 1986, when his son was 7.  He had practiced taekwondo for 15 years and encouraged his son to do the same, quickly seeing his natural ability.

When he was a teenager, Edgar Santana took up boxing and never turned back. Even though he was a lightweight, he became known for his strength. Four of his first five fights ended in a knockout.

The newfound fame was both a blessing and a curse, his father said. It brought a lot of new people into his life, and not all of them had his best interest at heart.

Throughout the years, Santana has had agents drop him, trainers disappear on him and friends deceive him, the boxer said.

“I don’t really trust anybody — that’s sad to say,” said Edgar Santana, who is now a father himself.

“But your family will always be there. People come in and out of your life. Your family will always be there, my son will always be there.”

Santana’s father will watch the fight at the Barclays Center with a group of 25 family members. There are posters for the bout taped on storefronts and light poles throughout East Harlem.

“You will see El Barrio’s support at the fight,” Ramon Santana said.