By Lem Satterfield
Former 135-pound world champion Omar Figueroa Jr. wants a knockout within the first four rounds on February 16 against 140-pound rival John Molina, who claims he can “out-slug Omar if I choose to because I’m the bigger, stronger man” in their projected an all-action brawl on FOX (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT) at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles near Molina’s home of Covina, California.
Each is coming off an impressive performance his last fight, with The “Panterita” (Little Panther) standing 5-foot-7 ½ to Molina’s 5-foot-10½, and having a comparative 73-inch reach to Molina's 71.
The 29-year-old Figueroa (27-0-1, 19 KOs), of Weslaco, Texas, ended a 19-month ring absence with his five-knockdown, third-round TKO of former two-division champion Robert Guerrero in July 2017.
“Molina won’t make it to the halfway point for sure,” said Figueroa, who earned the WBC’s interim 135-pound title with a two-knockdown, unanimous decision over Nihito Arakawa in July 2013 and defended it in April 2014 by split-decision over Jerry Belmontes. "I don’t even think it will go past four. I don’t see where I’ll have any problems getting Molina to conform to my style of fighting, which is kind of like his style of fighting."
The 36-year-old Molina (30-7, 24 KOs) will end a 14-month ring absence since in his last fight in December 2017, when he rose from the canvas in the second round to score his own pair of knockdowns on the way to a fourth-round TKO of Ivan Redkach. In victory, Molina rebounded from an eighth-round TKO loss to three-division champion Terence Crawford (December 2016).
A common opponent is southpaw Antonio DeMarco, a former 135-pound world champion who lost a unanimous decision to a 151-pound Figueroa in December 2015 after having scored a 44-second TKO of a 134 ½-pound Molina in a WBC title bout in September 2012.
Molina finds humor in in the KO prediction by Figueroa, whom he claims to have had on his radar for years.
“When I first read Omar’s comments I laughed a little bit. I like how he’s trying to ruffle my feathers, and it did light a fire in me. Either he’s trying to gain a mental advantage or he's as naïve as he looks,” said Molina, who lives 30 minutes from Los Angeles in Covina, California.
“But I don’t expect him to say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go out there and get knocked out in two rounds,’ so kudos for him for having high expectations of himself. But I’ll just say that -- with no disrespect to Robert [Guerrero] -- ultimately, I can out-slug Omar if I choose to because I’m the bigger, stronger man.”
Figueroa-Molina is happening on the undercard of a WBA “super” featherweight title defense by three-division champion Leo Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs), who is after his fourth straight victory in as many defenses against Miguel Flores (23-2, 11 KOs).
But Molina expects their battle to steal the show.
“Omar is fighter out of all of the fights throughout my whole career that I’ve specifically asked for over the last four years. You can check my track record whether it be on social media or interviews with media outlets. Stylistically, this was always one I’ve felt would make a lot of sense," said Molina.
"I think Omar has a perfect style to accommodate me to put on a spectacular fight. But let Omar say whatever he’s gonna say, because I’m a veteran who knows how to navigate this stuff. I will just say I’ve never been more exited about a fight than this fight.”