Bitten by the injury bug, Omar Figueroa Jr. works hard to return to full strength

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Omar Figueroa Jr. had envisioned a long championship run after winning his 135-pound title with a unanimous decision over Nihito Arakawa in June 2013.

Omar Figueroa Jr. and Nihito Arakawa

Omar Figueroa's title-winning victory over Nihito Arakawa (left) in 2013 came at a price: He damaged both of his fists, the first of several injuries that have slowed his career.

Instead, what followed was a series of injuries—including to his fists and wrist—that forced the postponement of multiple bouts and limited the hard-hitting Mexican-American to two title defenses before he jumped to the 140-pound division. 

But Omar Figueroa Jr. (25-0-1, 18 KOs) says he’s taken the necessary steps to ensure he will be 100 percent healthy for Saturday’s clash against southpaw Antonio DeMarco (31-5-1, 23 KOs). The scheduled 12-round matchup of former 135-pound champs serves as the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card from San Antonio (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 pm. PT).

“These last few sparring sessions I’ve been averaging around 130 to 150 punches per round, so, for sure, my hands are good,” says Figueroa, who turns 26 on Sunday. “We’ve really been taking care of my body. I’m actually lying down for a message as we speak. That’s one of the many things we’ve focused on to keep my body right.”

Which is wise, because plenty of things have gone wrong lately for the lifelong Weslaco, Texas, resident.

In his thrilling title-winning victory over Arakawa, Figueroa fought with a bloody nose and damaged both fists, although you would’ve hardly known it watching the fight: He out-landed Arakawa 480-280, including a 450-266 advantages in power shots, in what was a Fight of the Year candidate.

After his fists healed, Figueroa injured his left wrist while training for a March 2014 title defense against Ricardo Alvarez, forcing him out of the bout. When he finally was able to return to action a month later, Figueroa escaped with a 12-round split-decision victory over the savvy Jerry Belmontes.

Then in August 2014, Figueroa suffered a cut over his left eye during a ninth-round stoppage of Daniel Estrada. The gash was so severe that Figueroa was sidelined for nine months.

He finally resumed his career in May, when he made his 140-pound debut against England’s Ricky Burns, winning a 12-round unanimous decision. But even in victory, Figueroa fought with brittle hands and threw punches with discretion.

“[Burns] has one of those European guards where he holds his hands up high and his elbows are exposed,” Figueroa says. “I had to be careful going to the body because that’s how I hurt my hands most times, from hitting the elbows.”

Speaking of elbows, Figueroa injured his left one earlier this summer, which caused him to pull out of his originally scheduled fight against Demarco in September. Throw that malady on top of his injured wrist, fists and eye, and one couldn’t fault Figueroa for feeling like a cursed human voodoo doll.

Rather than sulk about his string of unfortunate ailments, though, Figueroa chose to focus on fine-tuning his body. In boxing parlance, his approach has been to beat the injury bug to the punch.

“I’m sticking to the plan of training and conditioning this camp—cardio, sparring—but the big difference for me is really strengthening and taking care of my body through different preventative therapies,” Figueroa says. “We put heat pads on my body, my arms, my back before we even start training.

“I’m icing, stretching, and utilizing the Thera-Band in workouts. I’m also working with more recovery exercises—warm-up and cooldown, [stimulation], ultrasound—I can tell in my camp performance that it’s changing my body.

“We’re making sure that I’m going to be all right for this fight and for every fight in the future.”

For complete coverage of Figueroa vs DeMarco, head over to our fight page.

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