Omar Figueroa, who has stopped four of his last five opponents in the first round, wants to keep his KO streak going when he faces Nihito Arakawa in the opening bout of Showtime’s “Knockout Kings II” telecast on Saturday. However, the humble-but-formidable lightweight prospect says he can do a lot more than punch.
Omar Figueroa stopped fellow unbeaten lightweight prospect Abner Cotto in the first round of their undercard bout to the Canelo Alvarez-Austin Trout junior middleweight championship at Alamodome on April 20 in San Antonio, Texas
On Mexican Independence day last year both Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions took each other on with dueling cards in Las Vegas. Golden Boy had an interesting niche on their Showtime-televised card, which they dubbed “Knockout Kings:” the fighter who scored the best knockout of the night would win a $100,000 bounty. The innovative idea was well liked and a second edition takes place this Saturday in San Antonio on Showtime.
One of the participants is Texas native Omar Figueroa, a 23 year old from Weslaco, who has so far in a five-year pro career compiled 21-0-1 record with 17 stoppage wins. The developing boxer-puncher has stopped four of his last five opponents in the opening round.
So far "Panterita" has collected a cache of minor trinkets but now steps up to fight battle hardened Japanese southpaw Nihito Arakawa for the WBC’s “interim” lightweight title. Interestingly, Arakawa will be the first southpaw Figueroa has faced as a pro. The last left-hander he met was 2012 Olympian Errol Spence in the amateurs back in 2007.
In his most recent bout, Figueroa dropped then-unbeaten Abner Cotto twice, forcing the stoppage late in the opening round on the Canelo Alvarez-Austin Trout undercard in San Antonio on April 20. While he’s not seen much of Arakawa he respects his opponent, saying “I know the Japanese fighters are very much like Mexican fighters, they fight with a lot of pride, a lot of heart so there’s no give in him.”
The Texas native humbly acknowledges the opportunity to fight on cards like this Saturday’s, adding “I see all these things as blessings because I honestly don’t see a special person, I just see myself as a normal kid who had a great opportunity.”
The card also features the return of Andre Berto verses always-in-a-good-fight Jesus Soto Karass, as well as heavy handed Keith Thurman who meets unheralded Argentine Diego Chaves, both welterweight outings. The action on Showtime starts at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Anson Wainwright: You take on Nihito Arakawa for the vacant WBC interim lightweight title on Saturday. What are your thoughts on Arakawa?
Omar Figueroa: I haven’t really seen him fight but I know the Japanese fighters are very much like Mexican fighters, they fight with a lot of pride, a lot of heart so there’s no give in him. They’re tough fighters. I’ve trained for a good hard fight.
AW: The fight is part of “Knockout Kings II.” It’s also takes place in your home state. What are your thoughts on each of those things?
OM: Well, first off I’m blessed to even be part of the show. We started by ourselves. We didn’t have a very big amateur background. When it came to boxing and sponsorship, a lot of the time my parents would sacrifice a lot of things as a family so I could go out and compete. So for me it’s just a blessing and a reward for all the hard work we’ve done to even be part of Golden Boy’s stable and be considered as one of the fighters to be in Knock Out Kings; even more so cause it’s in my home state Texas, so I know a lot of my family and friends are going to be there. It’s just a big thing for me and my family.
AW: With it being Knockout Kings, there’s a bonus for the best knock out. Is that an added incentive or do you not really think of that too much and your job is just to get the ‘W’ and if the knock out comes so be it?
OM: Well, it could go either way. It could work in a positive way and it could work in a negative way. We’re definitely trying to take it in a positive way, trying to please the fans. They’re the ones that rule the sport. If they’re not happy, it won’t do anything. It’s about pleasing the fans. I’m just going to go out there and give them a good fight. I’m going to give the best of me and if the knock out comes, great, if not we go 12 rounds I just hope it’s 12 hard-fought rounds. I just hope it’s a war.
AW: The full WBC champion is Adrien Broner. Is that a fight, if all goes well, you’d like or do you believe he’ll vacate?
OM: I don’t really look into that. I don’t care much about what happens out of the gym. I let my dad and team handle that. I just get ready for the fight. The rest is not my deal.
I wouldn’t mind it (a fight with Adrien Broner), as long as I can get in the ring and fight, that’s what I love most in this world. That’s what I love doing. That’s what I’m really passionate about, going in there going toe to toe with the guy and proving who the best is. I guess it’s because my dad taught me if I’m going to do something I’m going to do it 100 percent and be the best at it. So everything I’ve done whether it was school, whether it was drawing, whether it was baseball, basketball, I joined a team with the sole purpose of being the best so I don’t mind the challenge. To me the harder the fight, the better opponent, the better I’m going to perform ‘cause I’ve always done that. I’ve always been one to rise to the challenge of whatever’s in front of me. I honestly don’t care who I get in the ring with, whoever wants to get in the ring with me, if that’s what my team thinks is best for me, let’s go. I don’t care.
AW: In your previous fight you impressively stopped Miguel Cotto’s cousin Abner in a single round. It was part of the Canelo-Trout card. Could you tell us about the fight and also the occasion?
OM: Oh man, like I say, I see all these things as blessings because I honestly don’t see a special person. I just see myself as a normal kid who had a special opportunity. I have two arms, two legs, I have two parents the same as most kids. I just see myself as someone who got the right opportunity, who was blessed. There’s not many people with these opportunities. I’m sure there are a lot of better fighters out there than I am, but unfortunately for one reason or another, they don’t have the opportunity or something aside from boxing derails their path. I’m glad boxing is such a difficult sport because you know in the end you do fight the best but a lot of better fighters don’t make it for one reason or another. Either they can’t handle the discipline or they can’t just focus on boxing, so I think I’m just blessed with a great family. My support system has always been great, my dad is still behind me 150 percent; my whole family is. They’ve always been supportive and I think that’s one of the biggest contributors to me my success. I’ve had such a great support system and they’ve been behind me no matter what.
We knew it was going to end early (the Cotto fight), just looking at him based on styles my trainer kept telling me it was going to end early, but of course, we don’t like rely on that. We don’t like to rely on my power. We like to make sure we’re ready for 12 rounds. I’ve had problems with my hands before to the point I’ve hurt both my hands where I can’t hit with power so I have to outbox, I have to outpoint and I have to carry the fight on to the end. That’s a thing I always have in the back of my mind. I know I’m not supposed to but I still have to watch out for it because I never know if my hands are going to get injured again. I pray to God they don’t but I never know. A head butt, anything can happen in the ring. We just like to be prepared for the 10 or 12 rounds. We were ready for the 10 rounds against Abner but we knew it wasn’t going to go that long, we knew as soon as I landed a good punch he was going to feel my power and that he was going to lose it, he was going to lose the fight in his head. You know when a fighter loses his head it’s not long ‘till the body follows. So that was our plan. I saw the opening, I landed a good right hand in the beginning of the round and I knew he felt my power. He started backing up a little more and I noticed that whenever I went in he immediately tried to hold my hand so I was going with my hands kind of raised so he would lift his elbows so I saw that opening for the left hook. If you pay attention to the fight 20-30 seconds before I hit him with the left hook that finished him I started going to the body a bit more because I noticed he was lifting his elbows. It was just fantastic, we executed our plan to perfection and we hope to do the same against Mr. Arakawa.
(Regarding fighting on the Canelo-Trout card, which attracted 40,000 fans to the AlamoDome) I can’t really comment on that ‘cause I didn’t let it get to me, I can’t. I remember the first time I fought on a big stage, it was Juan Diaz against (Paulie) Malignaggi, their first fight in Houston. I remember that was the biggest venue I had fought, that was the biggest crowd even though I fought quite early and I was just shocked I saw Lupe Contreras in the middle of the ring. I saw the HBO banners, I saw the lights, I started daydreaming, I got lost in the lights and it took a couple of punches in the beginning (of the fight) for me to wake up and that when I was like “OK I’m at a fight, I can’t let it get to me.” So I guess I learned my lesson after that. I can’t let anyone outside the ring to get to me so I try my best to block everything out. Against Abner it was no different, it was insane if you were in that building. It was electric. You could feel the electricity in the air. Every seat was taken. It was unbelievable. I look back and whenever I watch the fight again I look at myself and look to the stands. I go back to that same place. I remember exactly the place I looked up at and saw all the seats occupied and I was like wow this is it, this is what I have been working my entire life for, we’re finally here. Then I think I’ve got to stop and you can see my eyes come back to the ring and it was all business from there.
AW: Who are the key members of Team Figueroa?
OM: My promoter is Golden Boy Promotions, my dad Omar Figueroa Sr. and Al Haymon co-manage me, although Al Haymon is like a sort of advisor, and Joel Diaz, who is my trainer.
AW: Tell us about your training camp?
OM: I’ve been in Indio, California since the beginning of June so about a month and a half we train at the Indio Boys and Girls Club.
I’ve sparred with Willie Williams, the three Magdaleno brothers, they’re all southpaws. I sparred one of them I don’t know which one. Also, another of my Golden Boy stablemates is Jamie Kavanagh. He’s Irish.
I’m definitely not blessed when it comes to weight. I do struggle sometimes and I do have to change my diet a lot because down in South Texas, if you’re ever down in South Texas in the Valley, let me know and I will show you exactly why I have trouble with weight! (Laughs)
We know a lot of restaurant owners and that’s why after I fight the one thing I know I will have in abundance is food, all kinds. But when I’m in camp I’m a grown man I know what I can eat or can’t eat. I do change my diet accordingly, a lot more fish, a lot more veggies. Just normal healthy eating.
AW: Four of your last five fights have ended in the opening round. You’re obviously a very good puncher. Tell us about your other skills?
OM: One thing I would say is I can do pretty much anything when it comes to being inside the ring. If you want me to box I can box. If want me brawl I can brawl. If you want me to be a puncher-boxer I can be a puncher-boxer. If you want me to use foot movement I do that too. In that regard thank God I am blessed because I can mimic pretty much any style with ease. I have been doing it my whole life. I thought to myself “I don’t want to be a cookie cutter kind of fighter so I’m going to make myself different.” That’s why I started to teach myself (to be) a lefty and a righty, then my dad joined in and thought that would be a good idea and with his help I got even better at it.
Aside from being able to switch stance from left to right you can ask my sparring partners if I don’t want to get hit I won’t get hit. I have very good defense and I’m very proud of that because I’ve seen a lot of the guys I’ve started with, they have broken noses, they have cuts all over their faces. Thank God I still look pretty much the same. I can be a boring fighter, I can pick you apart but I choose not to. I prepare myself in a way to the point I know I can throw punches in bunches and I can fight the whole fight like that. That’s my goal, plus I don’t want to bore the fans to death ‘cause I can. I do it in sparring sometimes and I have to ‘cause losing weight and sparring three, four times a week, it gets old and the body feels it. Sometimes I have to take days off and I box, my couch knows sometimes I just use my defense and box. I don’t spar a lot of southpaws. It is different fighting a southpaw ‘cause their punches come from different angles, with their foot movement it changes a lot ‘cause of their stance.
AW: You were born and raised in Weslaco, Texas. Tell us about your younger days and how you became interested and involved in boxing?
OM: I was six years old when I started because my dad had always been a fan of the sport. He had always wanted to do some sort of sport but his parents didn’t support him. He had to work the fields, he had to work to help his parents support their family and he didn’t want that for me so he chose to put me in sports, but other than that I grew up very humble. We started off in a 15-foot trailer and that’s how we got started.
I had my dad’s passion for the sport even before I knew what it was. I started training when I was six, had my first fight at seven in Mexico. Actually, I wouldn’t say my amateur background is great but I wouldn’t say it was bad either. I had a lot, almost 200 fights in Mexico aside from the 60 or so fights I had here. I don’t consider my amateur background great because a lot of the fights were when I was like eight and I would just go and they wouldn’t have a opponent for me so I would just pick an older kid ‘cause I knew if I picked someone my age (I’d win easy), so I always fought someone bigger and older kids.
I had a lot of fights in Mexico. I would fight every weekend over there. The thing that helped me a lot was they were three minute rounds over there as a little kid not like it was here, I remember when I was first here in the U.S. it was one-minute rounds and I was used fighting three minutes. That’s why my records not great. I developed a pro style since I was little, other than that I have a lot of sparring. I’ve sparred just about everyone whether they were heavier, older, lighter I didn’t care. I had my butt kicked, I’ve had a bloody nose, I’ve had a headache, I’ve had the wind knocked out of me. I think that’s all amounted to the fighter I am today. The only time I fought in a big tournament was when I participated in the 2007 Golden Gloves. I won state. I ended up beating the guy they picked to win the whole tournament in my first fight. My second fight I fought a guy from Houston who was 27 years old and I was only 17 and ended up knocking him out in the second round in the final fight. I ended up fighting Errol Spence and he’s with Golden Boy, too. I beat him too.
AW: What do you think of the lightweight division and the current champions?
OM: To be honest I don’t keep up with boxing much so I don’t know much about these guys. I think there’s talent everywhere. They’re champions for a reason. If I start belittling their championships it’s like doing the same for myself. I’m fighting the (WBC’s) No. 1-ranked guy now and God willing I win. Then I become world champion myself but I mean it’s something you have to work hard to earn, so my respects to all these champions. I respect whoever gets in the ring in this sport. Good luck to them.
AW: When you’re not training or boxing what do you enjoy doing?
OM: Well, another thing I’ve always done is charities. I’ve always enjoyed helping. I’ve always thought that what I have and what I’m getting isn’t just for me. It’s for everyone. As long as I’m doing well I think everyone’s going to do well because that’s the type of person I am, the type of person my parents raised me to be.
I have a daughter. I like to spend my off time with her a lot. I like to ride my motor cycle. That’s about it. I eat a lot of Mexican foods. Food and family is what pretty much keeps me occupied in my off time.
AW: In closing do you have a message for Arakawa?
OM: First off, I want to say thanks for the opportunity and just the best of luck to him. I hope he’s ready, I hope he‘s preparing well. We’re doing our best to be prepared on our end. Let’s hope he’s ready for 12 hard rounds because that’s what we’re going into the fight thinking.
Photos / Donald Miralle-Golden Boy, Jeff Gross-Golden Boy
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