By Jake Donovan
You have to love a fighter as honest as Omar Figueroa.
It certainly helps that he loves a good brawl and doesn’t shy away from a challenge. An even greater selling point is his willingness to go head-on with fellow unbeaten lightweight prospect Michael Angelo Perez, as the two collide tonight on Showtime.
That stuff generally tends to come with the game. Honesty – not so much.
Perhaps this is where the 22-year old Texan will set himself apart from the rest of the pack.
“I know Michael Perez is telling everyone that he will be the toughest test of my career. And you know what – he’s right,” Figueroa (13-0-1, 10KO) freely admits but with clarification. “But it doesn’t mean he’s the only test I’ve faced.”
Given his style, it’s safe to say that most challenges will be a test from the in-your-face brawler, unless of course his opponents wilt under pressure before they’re able to make a fight of it. Such has been the case in the majority of his 14 pro fights to date, having been extended beyond the third round just three times so far.
Chances are, he’ll be forced to bring a lunch pail against Perez (15-0-1, 9KO) when the two square off in the televised co-feature at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California. Neither fighter boasts a home field advantage – Figueroa fights out of Weslaco, Texas, while Perez is flying in from his Newark (NJ) hometown.
Both are promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, having been with the California-based company for roughly the same length of time, even sharing undercard space on the non-televised portion of an Aug. ’09 card in Houston. The show is best remembered for Paulie Malignaggi’s epic post-fight rant against the industry following his predicted robbery points loss to Juan Diaz in their first fight.
Figueroa remembers the night for a different reason, one that he insists helps him get past the bright lights that come with tonight’s fight.
“That show was the first time I ever fought in the presence of HBO’s cameras,” Figueroa recalls. “I was 19 years old and still a big fan of the sport. I wasn’t star-struck, but hearing (ring announcer) Lupe Contreras’ voice while I was live in the ring, I have to admit it got to me a little bit.”
Once the opening bell rang, Figueroa remembered why he was there. “My opponent (Jeremy Marts) came at me, and the nerves were suddenly gone. That’s when it hit me, that it’s just a fight, no matter what is outside the ropes.”
Fortunately, nothing else hit him very much that night. Figueroa managed to blast out his journeyman in less than two minutes.
The fight perfectly embodied his fight mentality, from the moment he put on his first pair of gloves as a teenager. His amateur career didn’t run very deep, particularly due to his overwhelming desire to lay pain his opponents, something not easily done with headgear and oversized gloves.
“I had about 40 amateur fights. I don’t care for that part of the sport,” Figueroa admits. “When I first began fighting, I had a fight in Mexico, which isn’t on my record. Anyway, there were no rules, just a free for all I just turned 18. He was 10 lb. heavier. I went on there and hit him with 8 oz. gloves, and I felt bad for him. It didn’t feel fair. I like to punish my opponents. I know I have a sinister feel for what I do, but I’m just making the best of my sport.”
That very desire to inflict pain was enough to convince Golden Boy to sign him to a contract in Nov’ 09. Fittingly enough, his next fight under their banner came one month later on the undercard of the rematch between Malignaggi and Diaz. Once again fighting in the presence of HBO cameras (though off-TV), Figueroa endured a much stiffer challenge, overcoming a rough first round to stop Anthony Woods in the second.
The win was his eighth straight knockout in as many pro fights, though would serve as his last over the course of the following calendar year. A pair of wins – by decision and disqualification – led to his first televised headliner.
It also resulted in the lone draw of his career, but proved his in-ring mettle and ability to overcome adversity against a quality opponent.
Arturo Quintero gave Figueroa all he could handle in their Nov. ‘10 Telefutura-televised war, which took place 30 minutes from his hometown. Once again, Figueroa was forced to overcome a slow start, getting handled early before turning the fight into a back alley brawl. His heart and guile paid dividends, even if forced to settle for an eight-round draw, his lone non-winning performance to date.
Figueroa has since won three straight, including his last two in front of the Telefutura cameras, but inactive since an August knockout win over Marcus Herrera. A car accident put the all-action fighter on the sidelines for the remainder of 2011.
Whereas most others would seek a tune-up upon returning to the ring, Figueroa prefers to go straight for the jugular. He insists he’s ready for the technically sound Perez, though confesses to not having very much first-hand knowledge of his opponent.
“I’ve seen him once on YouTube. I’m not into watching my opponents. I let my Dad and coaches do that. We have a common opponent; I finished him off quicker (Herrera, whom Perez stopped in eight rounds six months prior to Figueroa’s 2nd round knockout). I just know Friday will be a hell of a fight.”
Emphasis on ‘fight,’ as Figueroa isn’t very interested in putting on a boxing display. The belief on his side is that Perez views boxing as his best means of securing victory.
Figueroa is prepared for anything, and hopes for the fans’ sake that Perez is equally as prepared for what comes in return.
“I see him trying to outbox me. That’s the type of fighter he is. Do I see it happening? (Pauses) No! I’m going to add pressure – from what my coaches tell me, his power shouldn’t affect me. If I find it to be true, then I see it being hard for him to keep me off of him for 10 rounds.
“It will be hard for him to outbox me for 10 rounds, and I know he won’t outbrawl me.”
Figueroa’s affinity for action fights is why Golden Boy Promotions was anxious to sign him more than two years ago. The relationship has been solid, though not overwhelming. Figueroa is smart enough to know his place in the boxing food chain. He doesn’t even expect to be viewed as the favorite for tonight’s fight.
All he expects is that proper respect is paid by fight’s end, as his only intention since signing with the promotional powerhouse is to prove his worth.
“Our relationship is good. We have to prove ourselves and make ourselves known to let them know I’m worth their time and investment. It’s what drives me in the ring. I don’t expect anything knowing that I haven’t yet earned it. I want to show them that I’m not playing games. I just want them to know that I’m for real.”
A win over Perez will go a long way towards proving that point – to himself, to his handlers and most importantly, to the ones that truly pay the bills.
“(Perez) is a good fighter and I have a lot of respect for him. Impressing the fans is important to me. Whether I win or lose, as long as the fans come out pleased then I will know that I did my job.”
Nothing like an honest day’s work coming from an honest working man.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]