Ernesto Dallas: 38 years old, New York, New York

Ernesto Dallas caught the fever for boxing as a child. He remembers the day when all the adults in his Spanish Harlem neighborhood dressed “to the nines” to attend a party to watch the first Duran-Leonard bout. The fever stayed with him as a fan when he attended Fordham University in the Bronx on a scholarship, before entering the U.S. Army as a commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the mid 1990’s. Dallas spent three years, mostly stationed in Killeen, Texas, in the service before leaving as a 1st Lieutenant in 1998.

He returned home to New York City, worked for Lucent, and bought a boxing gym with his brother, a NYPD detective in 2000. The gym, New York Boxing, in Yonkers, gave him an insiders’ feel for the game, especially for the fighters who trained there. He wasn’t that interested in the white-collar types who paid the gym’s rent, but the hard-scrabble kids who wandered in off the streets to escape their meager existence outside the gym’s doors.

After selling the gym and now working as an executive for Toys’ R’ US, he stumbled upon professional boxing in a Spanish Harlem barbershop. His brother, the detective, kept bugging him about his barber, a youngster newly arrived from Puerto Rico. Dallas, a New York Puerto Rican by blood (with a healthy dose of Greek heritage on his father’s side) discovered the barber (originally signed by Tito Trinidad’s management team) had quit boxing after two controversial losses had derailed the five win streak that began his professional career. The barber had never boxed in the amateurs in Puerto Rico, but Dallas felt the kid had the heart, the brains, and most importantly, the desire to leave it all in the ring.

His name was Edgar Santana and in the winter of 2003, Dallas took him out of the barbershop and put him back in the ring. Making his New York City debut later that year, Santana won 15 straight bouts and was offered network fights before being knocked out by a little known opponent, in what was labeled a tune-up bout in June 2007.

Thus, how does a manager regroup and re-focus his boxer to begin the road back to a network fight and a possible title shot? A fighter with a fervent New York Hispanic fan base, but relatively unknown west of Chicago. A fighter, as Dallas describes, represents one side of the yin-yang of the “Boricuca” boxer. The soft-spoken humbleness of an Edward Rosario, in contrast to the swaggering braggadocio of Hector Camacho. How do you recoup four years of hard work that might go out the window after a stunning, unexpected knockout to an “opponent?”

It’s the manager’s job to not only provide council but chart a career path. More than a few managers are wealthy men who can bankroll a stable of fighters as a source of personal entertainment and possible profit. It’s a roll of the dice for a wealthy cat. Many managers are the fathers of the boxers themselves, which historically causes conflicts if the fighter elevates himself out of the club circuit onto the national scene. The manager must also be on top of his fighter’s medical exams, legal affairs, and invent ways to supplement extra income via endorsements or sponsorships which in turn generate extra bang to any publicity campaigns. Unlike many managers who pay living expenses, Dallas supports Santana’s training costs and equipment needs. Nothing else, at least financially. Emotionally, he’s part of Dallas’s family.

Dallas’ mantra is simple: “training is everything, everything is training”, a dictum he learned as an officer in the Army. It’s not a tough love approach as Santana never strays off the straight and narrow. At 29, he recognizes he’s at the crossroads of his career. After the June, 2007 loss, boxer and manager took the summer off to clear their heads.

Lou DiBella, who calls Dallas “one of the top young managers in the game”, reminded manager and boxer that “a loss happens to most every boxer”. And as a “castrato” crooner in Vegas named Wayne Newton once remarked, “It's not how you get knocked down, but how you get up.” Dallas knew that his fighter wasn’t emotionally damaged. Santana just had a letdown, perhaps due in part to the two HBO dates that fell through (Dmitry Salita backed off of a guaranteed TV bout with him and Alfonso Gomez got the nod to fight Arturo Gatti).

Twelve months ago, Santana was sitting in enviable position: 15 straight wins, the two proposed HBO dates, a powerful promoter in his corner (DiBella), and increasing public exposure that was gearing him to a
crossover audience outside the East Coast: a Verizon commercial, ESPN’s use of his image as the boxer “logo” on its Friday Night Fights, a prominent position aboard a float in NYC’s Puerto Rican Day parade (NYC’s #1 ethnic parade, Rose Bowl parade East). Grassroots was on the verge to a crossover to the high wattage of HBO when the knockout set Team Santana, if not back to square one, down a few notches, especially in both the rankings and the TV executives’ eyes.

A VP-in waiting at Toys R’ US, Dallas has to micro-manage his time among his job, family (married with two kids), and Santana. Santana is his only fighter. Six months after his first defeat in five years, Santana returned to the ring to shake off the rust with a 3rd round TKO buried on the undercard of  a Versus televised event from the Bronx in December. Dallas wasn’t concerned that his fighter had gone from headliner (Santana has made more appearances on “Broadway Boxing”, DiBella’s nationally syndicated show on SNY, than anyone else ) to an off-network bout. He wanted his boxer to get a “W” to springboard him into 2008 with a positive spin.

Months before the comeback victory, Dallas returned to the grassroots approach to re-capture Santana’s momentum. “One punch”, Dallas explained, “could have derailed four years of a careful, day to day build-up that not only enhanced Edgar’s boxing skills, but his marketing opportunities”. Dallas also welcomed the strong backing from DiBella, who never wavered in his support of Santana.

The managerial “guerilla” re-marketing of Edgar Santana began where it had been launched: the old neighborhood, Spanish Harlem. Barbershops, bodegas, athletic gear stores, restaurants, and Spanish-language media. Santana was a proven commodity as a “ticket-seller”, and his relationship with his manager was a strong one, never built on a “house of cards.” The majority of the tickets sold for the eight-bout, December, 2007 card were to Santana’s supporters who rejoiced vocally in their fighter’s return.

The managerial chart laid out by Dallas for 2008 includes four bouts, beginning in March and ending the year primed for 2009 with a premium cable fight and title shot. “Santana needs to regain his equity position that he had a year ago,” his manager bluntly stated. A possible Telefutura fight looms, although DiBella has rarely entered into this market, dominated by Top Rank and Golden Boy. Once the bell rings, Edgar Santana’s career lies in Edgar Santana’s fists. Outside the ring, the guidance of his manager, Ernesto Dallas, is a casebook study of how a straight-arrow manager relates to a boxer he loves: “His best interests are our best interests.”