Because true knockout artists are few and far between, boxing fans cherish each one that breaks onto the world scene. So far, Mexican lightweight Omar Figueroa appears to be the genuine article, all but one of his 17 knockouts in his 21-0 record occurred in the first three rounds and six of his last seven victories were finished within two rounds, including a one-round destruction of Abner Cotto -- Miguel Cotto's second cousin -- in his most recent outing.
Somewhere, fellow Mexican Ruben Olivares must be smiling.
On Saturday, Figueroa will take the next step in his journey as he will fight Nihito Arakawa for an "interim" WBC lightweight title, a step toward the genuine article should he be victorious. As for the 31-year-old Arakawa, who is eight years older, he is fighting on U.S. soil for the first time and his only other journey outside Japan resulted in a technical decision loss in Mexico -- against a Mexican -- two fights earlier.
Numerical factors that may shape the outcome include:
Offensive Versatility: Through many of his previous outings, Figueroa has either shown himself to be either a superlative KO machine or a fighter capable of producing incredible volume. Sometimes he has been both but almost always he has been impressive.
When he's chosen to bear his teeth and unleash his bombs, Figueroa has been incredibly precise. In polishing off Alain Hernandez in 94 seconds he landed 52% overall and 63% of his power shots while during his crushing two-round KO over Ramon Ayala, Figueroa landed 54% overall and 59% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. His figures against Cotto weren't as spectacular (35% overall, 45% power) but the final result was still highlight-reel quality.
In terms of volume, Figueroa unleashed 81 per round in wearing down the previously unbeaten Michael Perez (KO 6) and in out-pointing Eric Cruz (W 8), Figueroa fired 95.4 per round, far more than the 62.3 lightweight average. That enabled Figueroa to pound out connect gulfs of 252-161 (total) and 206-120 (power).
But Figueroa is most impressive when he manages to combine both aspects of his attack. When he blasted out Marcos Herrera in just 4 minutes 19 seconds Figueroa cranked up 174 punches, landing 73 overall (42%) and 58 power shots (50%). That output is the equivalent of a 121-punch three-minute round.
When Figueroa is on, he can be brilliant. But there have been fights when he has been less than impressive.
Problem Areas: If Figueroa is vulnerable in two aspects it's defense and his performance against slick boxers. His only blemish came against Arturo Quintero (D 8), a fight that saw Figueroa throw 107.5 punches per round but took by far the harder punches at a alarmingly high percentage. While Figueroa out-landed Quintero 281-185 (total), 107-38 (jabs) and 174-147 (power), Quintero landed 45% of his power shots and 40% overall, most of which connected with the graphic head-snapping force. That may be because Figueroa focuses so much on offense that he forgets to execute the subtle defensive maneuvers needed to blunt his opponents' attacks.
Against tricky journeyman Dominic Salcido, Figueroa struggled to generate volume and accuracy and as a result he produced the least impressive performance of his career. He appeared flummoxed by Salcido's in-and-out movement and tactics at close range. Figueroa coped by switching stances and pounding Saucedo's body as
well as producing brief power surges in rounds five, six, eight and 10. Still, Figueroa threw just 46.6 punches per round, landed 35% overall and 38% power and out-landed Salcido 163-102 (total) and 144-78 (power). Arakawa must hope that his southpaw stance and experience edge will rattle the Mexican youngster in similar fashion.
Scud Missiles: During the first Gulf War, the Iraqi's scud missiles often landed with force but lacked accuracy. Such is also the case with Arakawa, for in two CompuBox-tracked fights against Takehiro Shimada (KO 8) and Daniel Estrada (TL 10), his marksmanship didn't set the world on fire.
Against Estrada, Arakawa landed only 19% of his total punches and 28% of his power shots, far below the lightweight averages of 30% and 36% respectively. Estrada wasn't exactly precise either (25% overall, 30% power) but his higher work rate (81.8 vs. 66.7 per round) enabled him to out-land Arakawa 201-125 (total), 62-42 (jabs) and 139-83 (power) en route to a technical decision win brought on by Arakawa's accidental elbow that closed the Mexican's right eye.
But if one fires enough Scuds, they will eventually take out the target. Against Shimada, Arakawa again wasn't accurate (20% overall, 26% power) but his 86.1 punches per round trumped Shimada's 67.7 and eventually wore out his rival. In the final four rounds,
Arawaka soared from 57.3 in the first three rounds to 107.8, including 131 in the seventh and 112 in the eighth. In the final two rounds 76% of Arakawa's punches were power shots (184 of 243), as were 93% of his connects (52 of 56), surely contributing to Shimada's collapse.
Prediction: The cards seemed stacked in Figueroa's favor -- younger, stronger, on a superior career path and a consistently more explosive and prolific hitter. The fight is also taking place in San Antonio, where Figueroa is fighting for the third straight time while Arakawa hasn't fared well away from his native Japan. Arakawa's lefty stance and miles on his tires won't help him here, for the guess is that he will be steamrolled in rather short order.