Former 135-pound world champion talks about his successful debut at 147 pounds, finally overcoming lingering injuries and what his next step inside the ring will be.
Omar Figueroa Jr. is confident that he can hold his own against world champion Keith Thurman and any other 147-pounder, but the former 135-pound world champ wants a world title at 140 pounds first.
“Panterita” (Little Panther) ended a 19-month layoff with a five-knockdown, third-round TKO of former two-division world champion Robert Guerrero during his 147-pound debut in July.
His past hand injuries and weight issues behind him, Figueroa Jr. (27-0-1, 19 KOs) stopped the 34-year-old Guerrero for the first time in his career. Guerrero subsequently retired.
Figueroa is targeting a January 2018 return, likely at 140. There are some attractive opponents awaiting him, including world champion Sergey Lipinets, four-division champion Adrien Broner and two-division title winner Mikey Garcia, who currently holds a 135-pound world championship.
How is life with family, healthy hands and no weight problems on the heels of perhaps your most definitive career victory?
Everything is 100 percent better in all regards after the hand injuries that led to me missing weight and all of the other (stuff) that I’ve been through. In the past, I couldn’t go to the gym, hit the bag or train properly as a result of my hands.
After the Guerrero fight, I was finally able to buy my own place. I wanted to be near my kids and I had been looking for a house for quite some time. I still live in Weslaco and it’s all worked out. Life is good after this last Guerrero fight. I appreciate where I’m at now.
What led you to train with Joel Diaz in Indio, California?
That wasn’t a tough decision. My career comes first. That’s how my kids are going to eat and have a place to stay, so when it came down to it, I did it. I told my family that’s what I had to do and they all understood that it was for the better.
Did it have anything to do with your performance at a career-high 151 pounds against Antonio DeMarco?
No, it wasn’t just that. I was at 50 or 60 percent for every fight after (Nihito) Arakawa due to my hand injuries. I didn’t have the confidence to train due to my hands. The performance against DeMarco proved to me that I needed to do something different because the competition was only getting better.
Healing my hands took time and rest. I had to do something drastic, and that 19-month layoff was the best thing I could have done. It allowed me to enjoy my time off, the fruits of my labor, to travel, spend quality time with my kids, and be a normal human being.
I ate as much as I wanted purposely wanting to get fat so that I would suffer getting back into training. I got as high as 187 pounds. I felt like it was the right thing to do and I was right. My performance against Guerrero proved that.
How rewarding was it to convincingly beat Guerrero—who defeated Andre Berto and went the distance in losses to Thurman, Floyd Mayweather and Danny Garcia?
I was finally healthy with no weight issues after a smooth camp. My game plan was to play possum in the first round, testing Guerrero’s strength.
He remained in the pocket and traded. I set a trap, letting him attack and gain confidence. I hurt him with my uppercut and after that, he was done.
“ That 19-month layoff was the best thing I could have done. It allowed me to enjoy my time off, the fruits of my labor, to travel, spend quality time with my kids, and be a normal human being. ” Former 135-pound World Campion Omar Figueroa Jr.
Was there a shoulder injury entering the fight?
I did run into an issue three weeks before the fight. The day after sparring, my right shoulder and rotator cuff were acting weird. I’m an avid bowler and wasn’t doing that after it started hurting. One of my doctors said I had sprained my rotator cuff.
So we had to adapt and put it on cruise control. We stopped sparring and didn’t do any heavy mitt work, but thankfully I had been in camp long enough that everything was under control as far as weight and conditioning.
Is there even the slightest temptation to pursue a title against Thurman or anyone else at 147?
That temptation’s always been there. I’ve never doubted myself, but it’s just that my injuries made things more difficult. Now that I’m healthy, I have no excuses. The bigger the name, the better I’ll perform. Thurman’s a very smart fighter.
It would be a matter who sticks to their game plan. If he sticks to his game plan, then I’ll probably be applying pressure and getting him to fall into my game. There is nobody in boxing today who is better than me on the inside.
How intriguing are Broner or Garcia at 140?
I feel like my style works perfectly for those fights and that they’re both tailor made for my style. Their both counter-punchers, but Broner’s more of a lazy counter-puncher.
Garcia’s more of an active counter-puncher, looking for the fight but waiting for you to attack and countering off of that. There’s no way that either fight would be a bad one.
I have no problems fighting at 147, but I prefer 140 as the natural progression because I haven’t won a title there. After that, I’ll be satisfied and can jump to 147, no problem.
Are there any fighters in history, living or dead, you’d wish to match skills against, and, if so, how would those fights play out?
I loved the way that Marco Antonio Barrera fought in his prime. He was action-packed, and that would be a war fighting him or Erik Morales. They were involved in three wars.
Then there is Prince Naseem Hamed, just because I hated that (expletive) guy so much. There’s also the late Edwin Valero and Juan Manuel Marquez is another one.
There’s also Mayweather. I’d be satisfied with at least punching him in the face. These fights actually scare me since I know I can lose, but at the same time, I would be so hyped.
What’s your favorite punch, and when did you land it perfectly?
It’s the left uppercut to the stomach, not really a left hook to the liver. It goes through the middle not the side, like the one that I landed on Guerrero to finally finish the fight.
I also landed that punch on Michael Perez to end the fight with a sixth-round knockout. There have been several of those that I’ve landed, but that is my absolute favorite punch.
If you could change anything about the world today, what would it be?
I would have to change closed-mindedness. People should be open to other peoples’ ideas, thoughts and beliefs, whether they’re black, white, green, purple, believe in God or trees.
It shouldn’t matter who or what they worship or they believe, because we’re all different. If everyone just understood that’s how the world is, it would be a better world for everybody.