By Ryan Songalia
Both Rashad Holloway and Francisco "El Gato" Figueroa have made their reputations as battle-tested sparring partners to the stars. If either man has aspirations that reach beyond gym wars, a victory in this eight-round crossroads welterweight bout on November 4 at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina is imperative.
Roy Jones Jr's Square Ring Promotions, which represents Figueroa, will host the event. ESPN2's Friday Night Fights will televise.
The last time boxing was televised at the marine base was May 2008 when Edner Cherry dusted off former lightweight champion Stevie Johnston in ten.
Both Holloway, 11-1 (5 KO), and Figueroa, 20-3 (13 KO), are on the road back following career-threatening events.
Holloway, 28, has fought three times since suffering a fractured orbital bone on the right side of his face during a sparring session with Antonio Margarito last December. Holloway told this writer in an article published on BoxingScene.com on February 9 of this year that he believes Margarito had illegal substances in his gloves at the time - the same kind that led to his license revocation a few months later.
"It took a while to get my confidence back and trust myself that I never had the injury before," says Holloway. "I'm 100% back, the same guy that will drop his hands in front of you and counter you."
The 31-year-old Figueroa's setback occurred not in the gym but on national television in April. Fighting for the first time in a world title eliminator, Figueroa was dropped early in the first round and for good in the fourth by Randall Bailey, halting a five year unbeaten streak in the process.
"I just want to show the world that I still got what I got," says Figueroa of The Bronx, NY, who himself was a three year veteran of the Army. "This is a fight for recovery. I haven't fallen off and I'm here to stay."
Figueroa is taking the fight on a month's notice and will come up to 147 pounds for the fight. He says the short notice wouldn't allow him to squeeze into his natural division of junior-welterweight.
"He has two advantages being tall and a bigger guy, but that doesn't mean he creates power in his punches. I'm the biggest step-up in his career."
Figueroa will have the advantage of sparring with welterweight champ Miguel Cotto in Tampa, FL to get ready for this bout. Cotto, who will fight Manny Pacquiao on November 14, used Figueroa for sparring to prepare for another southpaw Zab Judah in 2007.
"I need a guy who is strong and throws punches. He may not be as sharp as Holloway but I've been in there with Emmanuel Augustus and Joey Rios. I have experience with guys that are technically sound."
Cincinatti native Holloway has also worked with some of boxing's biggest names out of the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, CA including Pacquiao and Amir Khan. While Figueroa has the promoter on his side, Holloway will have home court in North Carolina. He lived in Raleigh for five years and competed in the 2004 Olympic trials while representing the Tar Heel State.
Holloway, who will be facing his fourth southpaw in a row, has been sparring with a number of experienced lefties in Hollywood, most notably former lightweight contender Ricky Quiles, who has been inactive since 2007.
"He's a veteran, I learn a lot from him. He shows me things with southpaws. I've got great sparring for this fight."
While Figueroa is laudatory of Holloway ("They tell me he's a very respectable person"), Holloway is almost dismissive of the task at hand.
"This is boxing and you can't look past anyone. I think skill-wise we're in two different classes. I don't see Frankie as a fast fighter. He does have some skill but he's all heart. He's a tough guy with a lot of guts and determination. I'm expecting the same kind of aggressive Figueroa. I think it'll be stupid for him to try to stay at distance with me. I don't think he's faced fighters as strong as I have."
"All I have to do is continue to train hard, show up for the fight and my skills will say the rest. I just hope to hear Teddy Atlas saying good things about me." -RS
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com .