ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - Wilfredo Santiago knows that life can be sweet and sour. Right now he is enjoying the sweet part. Santiago will headline an MMA card on national television in November.
Life wasn't always so grand. You could say MMA saved Wifredo's life.
"Not only did it save me," said Wilfredo. "It gave me a better perspective on life."
Wilfredo knows what it is like to be in a tough situation. He is the youngest of eight boys, 12 siblings in all.
The Boston native started out in life headed in the wrong direction.
"I was involved in a crime where someone lost their life. I am not proud of it but, it is something I deal with every day," said Wilfredo.
Crime was not something that was new to Wilfredo.
"I come from a broken home both my parents, mom and dad, went to prison including most of my brothers," said Wilfredo. "Those were my role models growing up. I wanted to be like them, if not, overcome what they have done."
After spending his life in prison from 15 to 26, Wilfredo has overcome.
He has made his life productive and started to do so while he was incarcerated. Hearing the sounds of other inmates played a part in his transformation.
"The majority of the kids on the block were my age or not much older than me and a lot of them were doing life, were doing 40 years, 50 years," said Wilfredo. "At night, I kid you not, I couldn't sleep because of the crying I heard echoing through the walls."
Wilfredo left prison determined to set his life right and began to think of his childhood dream of boxing. Already past his mid 20's he decided maybe MMA was the way to go.
He tried it and fell in love. Now Wilfredo is not only deeply involved in the sport but, training at one of the best gyms in the world, Jackson and Wink MMA Academy. Trainer Mike Winkeljohn was glad to see Santiago come through the door.
"Oh yeah, it gives me goose bumps," said Winkeljohn. " You see him succeed at it. You see him go back and talk to those families and become a role model for the people that were going the wrong way a little bit. I think that helps."
Wilfredo was inspired to fight by an uncle who was one of the first cruiser weight boxing champs out of Puerto Rico. Just like his uncle, Wilfredo is a champion. He is the Cage Titans 170 pound champion.
Wilfredo will fight UFC and Bellator veteran Chuck O'Neil as the main event in CES 39 in Rhode Island November 4. The fight will be nationally televised by AXS TV.
"When I found out about it, it was unreal," said Wilfredo. "I still can't believe it. I knew where I was at a couple of years to go to where I am at now. I am like what....really."