By Jake Donovan
‘Omar comin’, yo!’
Omar Figueroa doesn’t roam the streets in a trench coat and wielding a shotgun like legendary TV character Omar Little, but the unbeaten lightweight has managed to strike fear in the hearts of his industry enemies in a different way. The two-fisted knockout artist has hit the ground running ever since a breakthrough knockout win over Michael Angel Perez last January.
"Ever since we've signed Omar Figueroa, he keeps on proving us wrong," promoter Oscar de la Hoya says of the lightweight. "He keeps on proving that he can be moved faster at a faster pace. So, every fight that he has, he always tells me look, when am I going to get that world title and he started asking me that after ten fights.
"So, this is a kid that we feel is going to go very, very far."
Figueroa doesn't have to go very far for his first (interim) title opportunity. The 23-year old faces Japan’s Nihito Arakawa at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, a few hours from his hometown of Weslaco, Texas. The lightweight title fight serves as the co-feature attraction of a Showtime-televised tripleheader, headlined by Andre Berto in a welterweight clash against Jesus Soto-Karass.
Also on the show is fellow knockout artist Keith Thurman, who makes his first title bid when he faces unbeaten Argentine slugger Diego Chaves in the televised opener.
A knockout bonus is at stake for all televised fighters, as promised by promoter Oscar de la Hoya for a show aptly named ‘Knockout Kings II.’ The inaugural entry for the series came last September, when Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez obliterated overmatched Josesito Lopez in four rounds to win the fight and the $100,000 bonus that was at stake for all eight combatants on the televised quadrupleheader.
Figueroa has two fewer fighters to contend with for this weekend’s prize. But as his record indicates, a win bonus is never necessary to inspire an early exit.
“I don’t have to change anything,” Figueroa (21-0-1, 17KO) insists in sizing up Arakawa (24-2-1, 16KO), whose lone trip outside of his native Japan resulted in a wide points loss to Daniel Estrada last November in Mexico. “My goal is to punish my opponent as much as possible. It’s just an added incentive (to get the knockout and the potential bonus). I know I have the punches from different angles to hurt my opponent.”
Figueroa admits to knowing next to nothing about his opponent, but that’s not an uncommon scenario. He had enough knowledge of past opponents Abner Cotto and Michael Perez to know that neither could withstand the punishment he would eventually dole out.
“I know myself. I know that I hit very hard,” Figueroa simply states. “One punch can change the outcome of any fight.”
It happened in his last fight, a 1st round knockout of Cotto that also took place in San Antonio. In that fight, the beginning of the end came midway through the opening round, in the form of a left hook to the body that floored Cotto for the first of two times in the bout. Another body shot later in the round put him on all fours, thus immediately ending the fight.
The win set up a second straight fight in his home state of Texas and second in a row in San Antonio.
"The fans have really taken to Omar down here," says Mike Battah, the driving force behind Leija Battah Promotions, who co-promotes this weekend's show. "His fan base continues to grow and he entertains every time he steps in the ring."
Figueroa's entertainment value could literally translate into dollars by night's end. But more so than a little extra cash in his pocket, the thrill of fighting in front of fellow Texans is enough to provide that extra burst of energy before a fight.
“I don’t think there’s anything better. It’s like a football team playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium,” Figueroa says of fighting at home on any occasion, but in particular with a title at stake. “It’s a blessing. I’m taking advantage of the opportunities given.”
The fringe belt at stake this weekend is not the end of the story for Figueroa, however. Instead, he treats the bout as an audition for bigger fights and greater prizes.
“I was hoping to get a spot on the September 14 Floyd-Canelo card. But I’m realistic; I’m not the type of investment that makes it necessary to be on the show,” Figueroa admits, though with an overwhelming amount of humility.
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer has previously stated that the door is open for the free-swinging Texan to land a spot on the year’s biggest event. It’s by no means a guarantee, but it’s enough to motivate him to win, look good and keep moving forward in his career.
“I have to win this fight. If not, then I don’t get anything. Hopefully I’ll be a world champ and many more doors will open. I have to go through this door first. I’m prepared to go 12 hard round with (Arakawa) but I’m also ready to blast my way in the moment the opportunity is there.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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