Figueroa, who faces Nihito Arakawa for the interim WBC lightweight title, says that Indio (which isn’t too far from Palm Springs) and Weslaco aren’t too different from one other. “Yeah, actually, there’s a lot of similarities except, of course, here, it’s a desert and there’s a lot of mountains and stuff. Over there, it’s just flat,” Figueroa pointed out, “but it’s kinda the same. It’s a very simple way of life, especially here where I’m staying in Indio. It reminds me a lot of back home and I guess that helps me too. I’m not a city guy, so I’m in the same environment as I am back home…well, excluding the weather.
“But other than that, it reminds me a lot of back home.”
Indio does have a strong boxing environment. The Diaz brothers - which included the likes of Antonio and Julio - hailed from this region and Tim Bradley (who also trained by Diaz) works out at the same Boys & Girls Club Figueroa frequents.
The idea to bring Figueroa to Diaz came from his father, who wanted him away from Weslaco, where he enjoys a certain celebrity status.
Diaz explained, “His dad decided to bring him just to get him away from distractions. Back home, he was hanging around with friends and just getting his mind off the sport and he started lacking some things. That’s why his dad brought him over here just to try out a little something different and the first week he was here - and like every father, there’s a lot of fathers in the business that want to be right there. They want to be next to the son - Omar Sr. seen my work, seen the way I work. He said, ‘Y’ know what? You take over. I’m going back home. I know he’s in good hands.’ And ever since, he’s always been happy with my work.
“He comes and sees my work. Every time we go to the fights, he sees my work and he’s really, really happy.”
Figueroa says going to Indio was something he had no problems doing. After all, this is his career. Then a certain dynamic changed in his life.
“When I found out I was going to be a dad, that’s when it started hitting me that I was going to have to spend a lot of time away from my daughter,” said the 23-year-old, now a proud father to his first daughter, Sophia. “So now, it’s harder. Now I will admit, it does take its toll and I do miss my baby a lot. But thank God me and her mom have an agreement and I’m able to bring her over here with me. Like right now, I have her here with me and I’m going to have her till the day of my fight.”
In the past, Figueroa would stay with Diaz at his home. Now through the trainer’s friend, a real estate agent, he had his own apartment for this camp.
The stakes are now raised. The heavy-handed Figueroa is on the verge of some big things. But for all his power, there are still rough edges to smooth out as he moves up the boxing ladder.
Diaz says of his charge, “This guy is just very reckless. He’s very powerful. He’s like a very unpredictable fighter. You don’t know what he’s going to come up with and he’s very explosive with both hands.”
Thus far in 2013, Figueroa has scored two first round stoppages (of Henry Aurad and Abner Cotto) and three of his last four fights have not lasted a round. Going back further, six of his last seven bouts have all ended before the second frame. It’s these types of performances that have created a buzz about this young man.
And in the boxing hotbed that is Texas, he has a chance to be its next legitimate attraction.
“Oh, absolutely,” said Richard Schaefer, Golden Boy Promotions CEO. “When I was there for the ‘Canelo’ [Saul Alvarez] fight against Austin Trout, [Figueroa] fought right before ‘Canelo’ and those 40,000 fans in the Alamodome, they were very loud and loudly cheering on Omar. It was an amazing scene and when I was there standing ringside with Mike Battah (of Leija Battah Promotions, who ran the show locally), we said we’re definitely going to have to bring him back because he’s not only exciting but he sells tickets.”
While he’s not even the headliner (that would be Andre Berto vs. Jesus Soto Karass), Figueroa will be the one really filling the seats at the home of the Spurs. “I can’t argue that, to be honest,” said Schaefer, laughing.
Perhaps Figueroa needs more seasoning and quality rounds under his belt but Diaz is convinced he has a future lightweight champion on his hands.
“He’s really, really close. I know this fight is for an interim WBC title but the opponent is an opponent that doesn’t have much exposure. A lot of people don’t know how he is,” said the trainer. “What Omar needs is just an opponent with a name and just take him out in explosive manner and then he’ll be a superstar in the sport. I know he will be. He’s showed it. It’s not that the opponents are bad but it’s just that his power is tremendous.”
And with that, the scrutiny and the attention he will receive at home will only increase, making the safe haven of Indio even more important as they move forward.
“I’m a very simple kind of person and it does overwhelm you when I have to go here and I have to go there, reporters here and I have to show up. I would prefer not to do that but it comes with boxing,” says Figueroa, who understands that his life and career could change very soon. “It comes with success and I just have to be grateful for what I have and for what I’m doing and, God-willing, I accomplish even greater things. But it’s something I’m going to have to get used to and me and my family are going to have to adapt.
“Because like I said, we come from a very humble background and all this is new to us. We really have to make a big adjustment.”
For nine-plus rounds, Mickey Bey had put on a solid display of boxing in holding off the hard-hitting Johnny Molina. And to begin the 10th and final round, he actually came forward and started banging to Molina’s body, seemingly hurting him. The fight was in the bag for all intents and purposes and Bey was on his way to bigger and better things.
But there’s an old saying in boxing, stating that punchers are always dangerous and you should never walk toward them. This is precisely what Bey did and he was struck by perhaps the one clean left hook Molina landed all night that changed the fight. Bey was stunned and Molina, sensing he was on the verge of the proverbial 10-run home run, kept swinging away. Bey, who was out on his feet, was rescued by referee Vic Drakulich with about a minute to go.
It was as dramatic and startling a moment as we’ll see in boxing this year.
That’s Molina in a nutshell, a guy who can get outclassed by superior technicians like Bey and before that, Hank Lundy (who, ironically, around that same time on Friday night, was putting on a solid display of boxing in upsetting Olusegun Ajose on ESPN2), yet somehow never be completely out of his fight because of his natural - if unharnessed - power.
Molina is far from a great boxer but regardless of whether he wins, loses or draws, he generally gives you a pretty good night of entertainment.
He certainly gave us a memorable night this past Friday.
I don’t know what the exchange rates are but I guess a nine-count in England is a 10 for American fighters, as heavyweight Malik Scott found out this past weekend in Wembley against Dereck Chisora.
It was a closely contested fight between the two and in the sixth, a chopping overhand right hurt Scott, sending him to the canvas. While stunned initially, Scott looked like he had recovered quickly and was coherent as he was looking at referee Phil Edwards during the mandatory eight-count. As Edwards got to “nine,” Scott began to rise, only to have the referee suddenly wave the fight off.
It says here that Chisora was getting stronger and coming on and let’s face it; Scott has never been known for his finishing kick. But let’s call that ruling for what it was: pure rubbish (as they would say in England).
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