Omar Figueroa has a Face That Lies
by B.A. Cass
In December of 2012, Golden Boy Promotions called up Omar Figueroa Jr.’s dad to say they had a fight for his son. After his dad got off the phone, he came up to Figueroa Jr. and said, “Guess what?” He looked scared, genuinely scared. “Guess who they want you to fight?”
“Who?” Figueroa Jr. said.
“Remember that kid I told you about?”
Figueroa Jr. remembered all right, mainly because his dad was constantly talking up Michael Perez, the Puerto Rican prospect. He liked the way Perez fought and wished his son could fight more like that. On occasion, he would even compare Perez’s artistry in the ring to Michelangelo.
“So what do you think?” his dad said.
“What do you mean, ‘what do I think’?”
“Well, would you fight him?
“Why the hell not?”
“I believe you can,” his dad told him.“But that’s a tough fight. You haven’t really been training.”
Technically, Figueroa had been training. But he had just celebrated his 23rdbirthday, and he was also going out at night and having a goodtime. Figueroa’s dad, who was his trainer at the time, believed in his son’s abilities but was concerned about his conditioning. Add on to this the fact that the proposed fight with Perez was slated for January 6th, only several weeks away.
“Let’s take it,” Figueroa Jr. said. It sounded like a bad ass fight to him.
So Omar Figueroa Sr. called Golden Boy back and then he reached out to Perez’s camp, who used an intermediary to make sure that Figueroa Jr. knew who he was going up against. “They want to make sure that you’re sure about taking the fight,” the intermediary said. “Does Omar know who Perez is?”
The answer was obvious. After all, as Figueroa Jr. says now, “I knew because my dad had been on his nut for the past year.”
“Well, you know, they just want to make sure you knew who he was. They figured you took the fight because you weren’t sure who he was.”
That’s when his father realized the Perez team was just fucking with them. And once the fight was arranged, he said to his son, “Alright, now you got to kick his ass.”
“Yeah, I know,” Figueroa Jr. said. “I’m gonna fuck him up.”
Long before the fight with Perez, Figueroa Jr. had been looking for a place to train because he and his dad weren’t getting along at all. That’s how Joel Diaz came into the picture. Golden Boy Promotions showed Diaz a video of one of Figueroa Jr.’s fights and asked if he would help prepare him. At that time, Diaz was training a couple of young kids who were tough professional fighters. And when he saw those videos of Figueroa Jr., Diaz recalls thinking, “Eh, any of my boys will beat him. I don’t see anything special about him.” But he agreed to meet with them anyway.
And so, two days before Christmas, father and son traveled from Weslaco, their small Texas town on the border of Mexico, and joined Joel Diaz at his training camp in Indio, California. “I’ll never forget it because I still talk about it today,” recalls Diaz. “He came to the gym, and I started working with him. Wow, was I wrong. He has a style that really works for him. He’s very explosive; he has a lot of power, he can hit. From that point on, I was like, OK, I can work with him.” Diaz prepared Figueroa Jr. for a tough fight against Perez, which to the surprise of many he won when Perez’s corner threw in the towel after the 6th round.
According to Diaz, his relationship Figueroa Jr. got better every time, every fight. But in 2014, Figueroa Jr. decided to resume training in Texas with his dad so he could live close to family. A lot has been made of that decision and even more has been made of his year and a half hiatus from the sport. After all, it’s uncommon for such a young fighter to take so much time off. But it wasn’t simply the injuries that forced him to take a break. “I’d been dragging,” Figueroa explains. “It got to the point where I was kind of annoyed. I was starting to dislike what I was doing. I attribute that to the injuries I was having because they weren’t letting me enjoy my job. I mean not being able to train, missing weight, knowing that I wasn’t a hundred percent going into the ring with these guys, it weighed heavily on me. Mentally I was in a very bad place.”
Omar Figueroa Jr.’s last professional fight occurred in 2015 when he faced Antonio Demarco, a fight he won by unanimous decision. For much of the fight, Figueroa overwhelmed his opponent. In the first two rounds alone, Figueroa Jr. threw close to 300 punches. And it took until the end of the 3rd round for DeMarco to finally let his hands go. That’s when he caught Figueroa Jr. with a solid right hook. Figueroa Jr. stepped back and, before coming back in with his left hand, he paused a moment and smiled. We all know boxers taunt each other with their smiles, often using their smile to cover up the fact that a punch has landed and they’ve been hurt. But Figueroa Jr.’s smile wasn’t like that. His smile seemed remarkably innocent, like he was happy, if not just a bit surprised, that a real fight was starting up. Here was a young man who looked like he was having fun.
Figueroa Jr. makes his long-anticipated return to the ring this Saturday in a fight against Robert Guerrero at the Nassau Coliseum in Unionville, Long Island. Guerrero’s been dismissed by many as a fading fighter clearly past his prime, a fighter who has lost four out of his last six fights. Still, Figueroa isn’t taking him for granted and is prepared for a hard ten rounds. “Knowing I’m getting into the ring with someone like Guerrero, it brings the nerves back, a little bit, being out so long,” Figueroa says. “And I know it’s not an easy fight at all. It brings the nerves back, and I miss that feeling.”
Figueroa Jr. might strike some as being too polite to be a fighter—and perhaps a bit too nice looking. Joel Diaz, who has again come on board as his trainer, is the first to admit that his champion has a baby face. “You see the face of Omar Figueroa and you don’t think he has the heart that he has. His face is not suitable for his heart. It’s very deceptive. But he’s never been dropped. The more you hit him, the more he’s on you.” Anyone who has seen Figueroa Jr. fight knows that this is true.
Can we expect to see anything different from Figueroa Jr? Aside from feeling healthy, strong, and rested, Diaz doesn’t think so. “Omar’s never going to change,” Diaz says. “He’s never going to change his style of fighting. His strategy’s never going to change. He’s always going to be the same.” However, Figueroa Jr. believes his time away from boxing has matured him as a fighter. And Diaz admits he’s been working with Figueroa to improve his defense, so we perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of a smarter Figueroa Jr. on Saturday night.
The Figueroa Jr. vs. Guerrero fight might not be the match up of the year, but it will be fun to watch.As Diaz says, “Styles makes fights.” And the style of both these fights is not going to leave room for a lot of space. Diaz doesn’t expecteitherfighter to go back. “They’re both going to be in the ring and crash on the inside,” he says. “They’ll exchange in the middle of the ring from the beginning bell to the end.”
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