Alexandro Santiago intends to build on his breakthrough victory over Nonito Donaire

Was Alexandro Santiago’s title-winning victory over Nonito Donaire in July his coming out as an elite fighter? Or did the Mexican simply catch the then-40-year-old future Hall of Famer at the right time?

We’re going to find out on Saturday, when he defends his 118-pound belt against unbeaten southpaw Junto Nakatani in Tokyo (ESPN+).

Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) is one of the top smaller fighters in the world, a fearsome boxer-puncher with major titles in two divisions and a series of impressive victories, including a brutal knockout of Andrew Moloney. He’s also listed at 5 feet, 7½ inches, five inches taller than Santiago.

That’s why the Japanese fighter is around a 6-1 favorite (average of multiple outlets) even though he’s the challenger against Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs).

“What I know about him is he’s a young, hungry, great fighter,” Santiago told “He has very good attributes. He’s tall, lean and a southpaw. In the past I’ve fought southpaws, and I was the shorter man.

“He’s been champion twice and I love this type of challenge because I know beating a fighter like this with a tremendous resume, I’m going to a bigger level and better fights.”

Santiago didn’t come out of nowhere to beat Donaire, against whom he won the vacant WBC title.

The 28-year-old resident of Tijuana made a strong impression in defeat against slick Gary Antonio Russell in 2021. Santiago lost a close majority decision that some believe went to the wrong fighter.

He defeated his next three opponents to earn a shot at Donaire and his first major belt. His victory in that fight was a significant break through.

“Beating a guy like Donaire, who is a superstar, soon probably a Hall of Famer, to conquer my dream of becoming a world champion was an incredible experience, something I dreamed about of since I was a young fighter,” he said.

“I celebrated with the people that I love, which is my family, my team, the Quiriarte family. It was very challenging and difficult but I do believe the challenge starts now, a lot more difficult fights like the one I have in Japan but I am very well prepared.

“I’m enjoying it, I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’m looking forward to it. I wish it was tomorrow.”

He insists he’s prepared for what appears to be the biggest challenge of his career on Saturday.

“I’m going to his backyard in Japan and I’ve been working extremely hard,” he said. “One of my belief’s is you win fights in the gym, mainly preparing yourself very well, the time, work ethic, the effort.

“That way the day of the fight everything will conclude, all the hard work usually is almost done. I have dedicated myself, I had good, tough sparring. We feel ready for this fight.”

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