It was April 2014, and Omar Figueroa Jr. had just completed his first defense of the 135-pound championship he had earned with the help of trainer Joel Diaz.
But even as Diaz—one of the hottest cornermen in boxing—had helped lead Figueroa to the pinnacle of his profession, there was a pain in the pit of Figureoa’s stomach that the then-24-year-old fighter could no longer endure.
Training with Diaz meant Figueroa, a native of Weslaco, Texas, would have to spend long stretches of time in Indio, California. Early in his career, this wasn’t a problem. Now, though, being away from Weslaco also meant being away from his newborn daughter, Sofia.
So as Sofia neared her first birthday, Figueroa was faced with making a decision that was at once difficult, yet easy: He chose his baby girl over Diaz, then handed over training duties to his father, Omar Sr.
Father and son will work together for a third consecutive fight Saturday, when Omar Figueroa Jr. (25-0-1, 18 KOs) puts his unbeaten record on the line against experienced Mexican Antonio DeMarco (31-5-1, 23 KOs) at AT&T Center in San Antonio (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT).
“It was just because of my daughter,” Figueroa recalls of his decision to split with Diaz. “It was very hard for me to leave and not be able to see her.”
Under Diaz's tutelage, Figueroa went 10-0 (7 KOs), the last win being a split decision over Jerry Belmontes in April 2014. That was Figueroa’s first defense of the 135-pound title he won in July 2013, when he floored Nihito Arakawa twice during a unanimous-decision victory.
After beating Belmontes, Figueroa lined up an August 2014 title defense against Daniel Estrada. He would end up stopping Estrada in the ninth round, but not before first cutting ties with Diaz and moving his camp back to Weslaco from Indio.
Separating from Diaz was tough for Figueroa, and not just because he was leaving a trainer who helped guide him to tremendous success.
“I had developed a really strong bond with Joel Diaz and his family. They had become my second family in California,” said Figueroa, who will turn 26 the day after facing DeMarco. “I miss being over there in California. I miss Joel Diaz and his brothers and the intensity of the training that we had over there. So it was a hard decision to make, but it was the best one for my career and for my family.”
“ He feels good being here in Texas near his family. And if he feels good, then he says he performs better. ” Omar Figueroa Sr., father and trainer of undefeated Omar Figueroa Jr.
One of the reasons Figueroa initially hooked up with Diaz in late 2011 was because he felt he needed to get away from the distractions of his lifelong hometown. But after Sofia arrived, whenever he departed for training camps, his body would be in California while his mind remained in Weslaco.
These days, he says prepping for fights near his family—which now includes 10-month-old son Omar III, in addition now 3-year-old Sofia—has brought him more serenity and focus.
“I enter the ring more peacefully knowing I’m surrounded by my kids and family,” he says. “When I was in California, it was so I wouldn’t be distracted. But after my daughter came into my life, I was more distracted being away from her and my family than I was helped by being away from her.”
Not only is Figueroa more comfortable when training close to home, but it’s clear he performs quite well when he gets to stay in his native Lone Star State on fight night. Three months prior to winning his title against Arakawa at the AT&T Center, he scored a first-round knockout of Abner Cotto at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Then in his most recent bout on May 9 in Hidalgo, Texas—less than 20 miles from Weslaco—Figueroa won a 12-round, unanimous decision over England’s Ricky Burns.
“He feels good being here in Texas near his family,” Omar Sr. says of his son. “And if he feels good, then he says he performs better.”
While Omar Sr. will once again be the main man in Figueroa’s corner Saturday against DeMarco, his son’s former trainer won’t be far away. That’s because Diaz has added another Figueroa to his stable: 18-year-old Brandon, a 120-pound boxer who will look to run his record to 4-0 when he takes on 19-year-old Francisco Muro in an undercard bout.
It will be the second time Brandon will have warmed up the ring for his sibling, having made his pro debut on May 9 in Hidalgo. That night, things went very well for the Figueroa brothers, and both expect a similar post-fight family celebration Saturday.
For full coverage of Figueroa vs DeMarco, head over to our fight page.