Welterweight Francisco Santana, selected as an alternate for the eight-man Jose Sulaiman World Invitational, has been pressed into service and will compete in the single-elimination tournament being put on by Evander Holyfield's Real Boxing in conjunction with the WBC.
On Wednesday, Real Deal Boxing announced that Santana would replace No. 8 seed Derrieck Cuevas (16-0-1, 13 KOs), of Puerto Rico, who bowed out following the death of his grandmother.
Now it will be Santana (26-6-1, 12 KOs), of Santa Barbara, California, who will face top-seeded Felix Diaz (19-2-0, 9 KOs), of the Dominican Republic, in one of the 10-round quarterfinal bouts on April 27 at the KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
"I know I'm the dark horse in the race, so I guess it makes sense the tournament is taking place in the home of the Kentucky Derby," Santana said. "In all seriousness though, I've come up the hard way. I've caught a lot of bad breaks in the sport. After my last fight when I was robbed on the cards again, I thought maybe it was time to hang it up, but I listened to my team and my family that an opportunity would come along as long I stayed focused and kept training.
"Now it has with this tournament, and I intend to make the most of it. My dream has always been to be the WBC welterweight champion of the world, and this is the next step towards that goal."
Santana, who has lost two 10-round decisions in a row, faces a daunting task against Diaz, a former junior welterweight world title challenger and a 2008 Olympic gold medalist.
"It doesn't matter who it is. There are no easy fights or fighters in this tournament," Santana said. "In terms of the quality of matchups, hard-core boxing fans know this is the top to bottom card of the year so far. The best fighting the best -- that's what the Real Deal Boxing is all about and that's what I'm about. I know I'm the tournament underdog but that only fuels my fire. I am a man on a mission. I am going to make a statement on April 27. Train. Fight. Win."
Said Holyfield, the former four-time heavyweight world titleholder: "It's an unfortunate situation with Derrieck Cuevas having to drop out, but the recent death of his grandmother had greatly impacted his ability to train. However, we're very excited to have Francisco Santana step in to face Felix Diaz. Francisco has fought two current world champions [Sadam Ali and Jermell Charlo] and with the additional wealth of experience he has, we expect a very competitive first-round fight."
Santana was awarded his slot as an alternate thanks to receiving the most fan votes for an alternate in the balloting before the announcement of the tournament draw.
The other quarterfinals are also scheduled 10-round fights and will also take place on the April 27 card:
No. 2 Chris van Heerden (25-2-1, 12 KOs), of South Africa, will meet No. 7 Timo Schwarzkopf (18-1, 10 KOs), of Germany.
No. 3 Fredrick Lawson (26-1, 21 KOs), of Ghana, will meet No. 6 Baishanbo Nasiywula (13-1-1, 6 KOs), of China.
No. 4 Radzhab Butaev (8-0-0, 6 KO's), of Russia, will fight No. 5 Brad Solomon (27-1, 9 KOs), of Douglasville, Georgia.
Paddy Gallagher (13-3, 8 KOs), of Northern Ireland, is the other alternate.