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Las Vegan ready to make pro boxing debut

Rocco Santomauro didn’t know how to feel as he sat on stage at The Orleans piano bar Wednesday.

The youngest boxer on Crown Boxing’s Friday Night Fights card this weekend, the 21-year-old California native stared without emotion and occasionally broke into a smile.

Just two days before his first professional fight, should he feel nervous or anxious that a moment 10 years in the making has finally arrived?

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Santomauro said. “I don’t know if I was nervous or anxious but I’m definitely excited. It’s like a Band-Aid. You’re just ready to rip it off already.”

His career started as a 12-year-old in southern California, where he posted a 38-12 amateur record and began fighting against boxers whose experience dwarfed his.

“When I first started, I was fighting against guys with 80 amateur fights of experience and some of the top guys in my weight class,” he said. “Now, all of that is going to pay off.”

Santomauro will make his professional debut in the fourth bout of the night, a super featherweight matchup against Jose Fernandez of Tucson, Ariz.

The fight marks the first of Santomauro’s two-year, 10-fight deal with Crown Boxing.

Fernandez said Santomauro is “a young man that has great credentials in the amateur ranks. But I am going to go out there, try my best and hopefully it will turn out well.”

Santomauro now lives in Las Vegas and is training at Robert Chiodini’s International MMA Fight Club, under the tutelage of longtime trainer Pops Anderson.

“Everything I’ve done, all the practice and all the workouts, have prepared me for this,” Santomauro said.

The main event of Friday’s “Thanksgiving Thunder” fight card features Kentucky’s Patrick Liles and Minnesota’s Harley Kilfian, both of whom boast impressive knockout numbers — seven each.

“For me, as I get older, it’s not so much the wins and losses,” Liles said. “It’s about the time and the hard work and putting yourself in a position to win.”

“There’s always somebody that says you can’t do this or you can’t do that, but in boxing, the only people that can tell me I can’t box is the guy standing across from me,” he said. “And he’s got to whoop me to tell me that.”

In a cruiserweight matchup, Henderson’s Brandon Harris returns to the ring to fight Erick Vega, who was a finalist on ESPN’s reality boxing series, “The Contender.”

Harris is a seven-time Nevada amateur champion and on Friday, he will be fighting for more than just a victory. He is spearheading an effort to promote autism awareness in the boxing community.

“I’m so excited. I don’t even know what to do,” he said about getting back in the ring. “I had to work, work hard and fight to get back here.”

A portion of his winnings will be donated to the Autism Speaks foundation, and he believes his time away from boxing has driven him to the charity.

“When I was gone, I did a lot of time hanging out with my family, and we have a lot of kids,” he said. “I just can’t wait to have one of my own, and I feel I should do something to help. It’s time for boxing to give back some.”

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