ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Wil Santiago hasn’t fought since 2019. The Jackson and Wink Academy trained MMA fighter and boxer will change that when he tries bare knuckle fighting for the first time in his life at the age of 39.

When asked if that sounds like a crazy story Santiago said, “It would sound crazy, but this is my element though. I’ve been doing this all of my life. This is what got me into fighting actually, was actually fighting on the street and from the street we turned it into the gym and then so forth and so forth. We’re here now.” Santiago is on the BKFC card at the Rio Rancho Events Center Saturday. He comes from a family of fighters. In fact, his mother, who he refers to as ‘Moma Dukes,’ was once a golden glove boxing champion. His mother recently passed away. Santiago said her death was one of many he endured in a two year period. He said seven people close to him died in that time span. It put Santiago in a dark place, as he was overwhelmed with grief. He took time off from fighting and try to work on his mental health. His former Jackson and Wink teammate Louis Palomino came to the rescue and even encouraged him to try bare knuckle fighting.

Palomino, who is a lightweight champion in the promotion, decided to try it at a time when he was considering retiring from combat sports. “I call him big bro,” said Santiago. “So, I just go on and follow his steps. With his hard work and dedication he took me out of a pretty dark hole that I was in. Gave me a motivation, just with his consistency of hard work, getting up, going out there, getting it.” Santiago will fight David Lopez in the 175 pound division Saturday. He doesn’t know much about his opponent, but he knows he does have to show up strong to honor the memory of ‘Moma Dukes.’ “Mom’s is a legend,” said Santiago. “She’s a legend and where we’re from obviously, in our home town of Puerto Rico where we’re from and our family, that was our backbone. I feel like now what we have to do is honor her and keep her name alive and do he best to represent her.” The BKFC fight card in Rio Rancho has a 7 pm start time Saturday.