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"When does a boy become a man? When a man is needed."

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, my once bright future in boxing was brought to a unimaginable holt as sickness hit and opened up a reality to this carefree teenager where keeping my family alive became the biggest challenge of all...

Picking up the boxing gloves at age 11, I was quickly recognized as a young star by many of my family and friends, as well as the boxing community. My quick on his feet, fast hands, and slick boxing style made for an entertaining, fun fighter. Sweeping away my competition on local shows and tournaments, I was well on my way to a promising career in the sport.

My mother was initially terrified of me boxing, but eventually became my biggest fan and critic. My stepfather, once a minor league baseball player, knew the meaning of hard work and applied the bitter discipline by dedicating his time and effort into shaping me into the fighter I was destined to become. With help along the way by coach Carlton Mcgrue who started and developed my slick boxing style and later taken over and perfected by the famous coach, John Bray (trained almost a dozen professional top contenders) there was nothing stopping this family from bulldozing their way right to the top.

But in 2001, my 37 year old step father with 3 growing boys (Me age 12, Vince four years old and Sammy just having his first birthday) George Santillano was diagnosed with a rare genetic auto-immune disease.

In the years before his diagnosis, George was experiencing loss of strength, speed and mobility. Even tasks like standing up out of a chair became difficult. We all knew George moved slow but we just thought he was getting old and out of shape. No one knew it was because of something like this!

Inclusion-bio-myo-cidic is a slow acting disease in which the immune system starts eating away at healthy muscle tissue like it’s a foreign intruder and because of its rarity, it's incurable as well as untreatable. But even with this tragic news, our family would continue stay on course and stick with boxing.

In 2004, I won silver in the U.S. National Golden Gloves and later placed 3rd in the Frans Jones U.S. National Championships. But due to my stepfather’s drop in strength, the discipline in my training became inconsistent by missing of training day because of doctor appointments and attempted medical treatments. These and other factors led to me missing the mark at Nationals.

George went on full disability when he fell at work and broke his knee. My mother picked up the extra financial load, working nearly 60 hours a week. This forced George to be placed in a nursing home to receive necessary care.

Because of the increasing speed in the nature of his disease, he remained there for 2 years. My mother had no other choice but to look to her oldest son to help out the family where it was needed most, at home to help raise my 2 younger brothers as she worked twice as hard to financially provide. The dream of becoming the best fighter in the world now seemed like a child's dream. The fast track to rising stardom was gone...

I graduated high school and started working 40 hour a week jobs but still managed keep boxing in my life by teaching at a local gym for many years. In 2007, I received a call from an old friend and boxing coach, Carlton Mcgrue. He began telling me it was a shame to let my talent go to waste and how he wanted me to go back into training with him, to really go for it again.

For the next couple of years, I blew Carlton off, blew up to over 206lbs, and continued helping out my family and teaching on the side. But throughout that time, the itch to fight was getting stronger and stronger. Even though I gave up on fighting years back I always said to myself, I’m still young. I can still do it. One day but not now. And I put it off never fully committing to make my way back in that ring.

When I was 23, I was invited out to the Nokia Theater to see a live professional boxing card. One of the fighters fighting that night was a kid that I used to fight with in the amateurs. I saw him up there in that ring, with all those people watching and all those cameras on him do it. Boxing as a professional and making it his career! I then look at myself and quickly became embarrassed on how fat I was and how little I had accomplished since those days. It was downright depressing. I later went home and told my stepdad, who is permanently bedridden and basically paralyzed from his disease, how I felt. How that could have been me in the ring. He said “it’s not too late, Neil. You can still do it. I know you can and you have Carlton to help you get there.”

I later started looking at my life again and seeing if it’s even possible with my family being in the position they’re in. But my mother quit her job and worked for the state to take care of George at home fulltime and my brothers no longer needed my direct help. So for the first time since I was a child, I fully committed on going back to the ring and do everything I had to to not give up.

I dropped over 50lbs and made my return to the ring in 2011 and turned pro in 2012. I am now recognized by some of the great trainers in the world, Robert Garcia and Freddie Roach as a fighter to look out for. I have sparred and gained the respect from top contenders like Brandon Rios, Kelly Pavlik, Ricardo Guerrero, and Paulie Malignaggi, to name a few. I am currently an undefeated professional boxer at 2-0. I love being back in mainstream of boxing and am quickly on my way to the top!

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