CARSON, Calif. – All of the fighters involved in Saturday’s tripleheader at StubHub Center, are primed to put forth the best performances of their careers.
It’s one of the reasons the three feature bouts of the Golden Boy Promotions card are expected to combine to make Showtime’s best boxing broadcast of the year. The main event fighters – unbeaten welterweight standouts Shawn Porter and Kell Brook – both realize that they face their most formidable opponent in their IBF title bout.
There’s unfinished business in the co-featured rematch between WBC super middleweight titleholder Sakio Bika and Anthony Dirrell.
However, nobody on the stacked card has motivation that can compare with Daniel Estrada, who challenges unbeaten Omar Figueroa Jr. for the WBC lightweight title in the first bout of Showtime’s broadcast.
Estrada, a 31-year-old veteran from Mexico City, lost his sister and one of his nieces when they were killed in a car crash two weeks ago. The plain clothes police officer had to identify the body of his 8-year-old niece, Emery Fernanda, and was present when his 28-year-old sister, Yanin, died on a hospital bed three days later.
Estrada says his sister told him not to pull out of the fight and to continue training before passing away.
“She told me to go for my dream and win this fight,” Estrada told RingTV.com through translator Beto Duran at a Wednesday media workout at the Fabela Chavez Boxing Center. “I didn’t start boxing until I was 15 and she was always my biggest supporter.
“She was at my first amateur bout and she attended most of them. I always heard her voice in the crowd, motivating me. I want to win this title bout for her.”
The car contained six family members, all returning to Mexico City from vacation in Cancun. Among the survivors are Estrada’s other niece, 5-year-old Ana Valeria, and his brother-in-law, who was driving.
Estrada took only three days off from camp to mourn the loss of his sister and niece, according to his trainer Carlos Rosales. Estrada (32-2-1, 24 knockouts), who has won his last nine bouts, is clearly determined to give his best effort in his first crack at a world title (which is also his first bout outside of Mexico).
The nearly 5-foot-11 lightweight says his training routine has never been better thanks to future hall of famer Juan Manuel Marquez, who took on an adviser role in his career about one year ago.
“Juan Manuel has taught me about being the ultimate pro,” Estrada said. “As soon as he began advising me he would show up to my house at 4:30 a.m. every morning to do roadwork with me.
“He’s taught me about true dedication to the sport, and in the ring he’s teaching me when to box and when to attack.”
Rosales, the son of legendary Mexican trainer Pancho Rosales, says knowing when to fight and when to box will be very important against Figueroa (23-0-1, 17 KOs), a born-slugger who has freakish resistance to pain and punishment.
Rosales, who helped develop former WBC lightweight titleholder Miguel Angel Gonzalez into an undefeated world-class boxer, says Figueroa is more than a slugger.
“Figueroa is a great athlete,” Rosales told RingTV.com through translator Ramiro Gonzalez. “I’ve studied him and his career. I know that he was a star athlete in both baseball and swimming while in high school.
“He’s also a better boxer than he’s given credit for. He can be tricky. He’s a switch-hitter. However, we’ve prepared for this and for his fighting spirit.”
Rosales says Estrada has improved his style and technique since notching a 10-round technical decision over relentless Japanese brawler Nihito Arakawa in November 2012.
“Daniel boxes more now than he did when he fought Arakawa, who is probably the best fighter he’s faced,” Rosales said. “He’s a better boxer on the outside and a better inside fighter. He’s always been versatile like that, but he still has a bad habit of slugging it out when he gets hurt.”
That’s a bad habit to have against Figueroa, as Arakawa can attest to, but it should make for another entertaining battle at StubHub, which has arguably hosted more Fight of the Year candidates than any other U.S. venue over the past 10 years.
FIGUEROA RETURNS HOME FOR CAMP
Figueroa’s training camp for Estrada took place in his hometown of Weslaco, Texas. His last 10 camps took place in Coachella, Calif., at the gym of noted trainer Joel Diaz.
Figueroa parted ways with Diaz earlier this year, but the 24-year-old titleholder says it was an amicable split.
“One of the main reasons for training with Diaz was because of the world-class sparring I got in his gym,” Figueroa told RingTV.com at Wednesday’s media workout, “but ever since I hurt my hands in the Arakawa fight I haven’t been able to spar very much, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of the top fighters who were there.
“I was just in the Coachella desert, training to make weight and suffering emotionally by being away from my family.”
Figueroa, who earned the WBC belt by outslugging Arakawa to a brutal unanimous decision last July, says he made the choice to return home and bring back his father as head trainer for peace of mind.
“I’m into the mental aspect of the game,” he said. “If you’re mentally 100 percent, you can perform at your very best. I feel more comfortable at home and I’ve got more confidence in my training thanks to the experience I got from training with Diaz.
“I learned a lot from Joel and I’ve been able to take it back home and help my dad. In the beginning, it was just me and Dad and we were both learning on the job, so to speak.”
However, the jury is still out if Figueroa is able to apply what he’s learned against world-class opposition. He struggled to a split-decision victory against amateur rival Jerry Belmontes in his first title defense on April 26.
Belmontes, a crafty boxer who probably belongs at 126 or 130 pounds, is not a lightweight contender. Many insiders believe Jorge Linares, who is next in line to face Figueroa should the titleholder defend his belt on Saturday, has the ability to outbox and maybe outclass the young Texan.
Linares, who faces journeyman Ira Terry in a stay-busy bout on Saturday’s undercard, is a superbly talented boxer with greater size, speed and power than Belmontes brought to the ring.
Figueroa just smiled when boxing writers told him that Linares wanted to fight him next.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I don’t mind. It’s not my decision who I fight next, but I welcome a fight with Linares.”
RETURN OF THE DOG
Dirrell hasn’t fought since holding Bika to a draw last December. The 29-year-old native of Flint, Mich., hasn’t wanted to fight anyone but the rough-and-rugged holder of the WBC’s 168-pound belt.
Dirrell (26-0-1, 22 KOs), who dropped Bika in Round 5 of their split-draw verdict, believes he should have won a clear unanimous decision. The talented switch-hitter enters Saturday’s rematch with a sizable chip on one shoulder and plans to leave the ring with the green title strap on his other shoulder.
“I’m trying to get something that’s rightfully mine,” Dirrell told a group of boxing media at Wednesday’s workout. “Bika knows that belt is mine. He knows I won that fight. If he really thought he won that first fight he wouldn’t have taken this rematch.”
The younger brother (by one year) of former super middleweight contender Andre Dirrell says he will make a few adjustments to his game plan for the first bout. He doesn’t believe Bika, a 35-year-old veteran from Australia (by way of Cameroon), is capable of making any changes to his awkward aggressive style of fighting.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Dirrell said. “I’m a young, talented up-and-comer. I can make adjustments. He can’t.
“But all I have to do is tune up on a few things. He can’t tough me, whether I’m boxing or fighting. He can’t touch me at all.”
Email Fischer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer