Omar Figueroa Jr. has what he believes is a foolproof plan for solving the world’s problems, and he says it comes down to two words: “being nice.”
“Everyone focuses too much on the color of our skin, our religion, [ethnic] background, if we’re rich or poor,” says Figueroa, a Mexican-American and lifelong resident of Weslaco, Texas. “Social media has a lot to do with that. But it’s stupid that we don’t just see each other as human beings—all brothers and sisters who are about serving others.
“I don’t know what’s gone wrong with the world, how all of that’s been forgotten, or why we’re not teaching our kids [that] you’re not above or below anybody else. It’s just being nice—it’s as simple as that, regardless of what you’ve been through. If we taught that to our children, we’d solve everything.”
That such a sentiment would come from any man who makes his living pounding other men with his fists certainly seems, at the very least, incongruous. That the sentiment is coming from Omar Figueroa Jr. seems downright strange.
This is a fighter, after all, who approaches his craft with an unmatched ferocity, his all-action, fan-friendly style often translating into bloody narratives.
Indeed, Omar Figueroa Jr. (25-0-1, 18 KOs) may desire peace outside the ring, but within the squared circle, he seeks to destroy.
“When Omar’s in the ring, there’s going to be a war and there is going to be blood,” says Omar Figueroa Sr., who serves as his son’s trainer. “That’s where this guy’s an animal, a cold-blooded warrior with no compassion for his opponent.”
There’s little doubt that Figueroa will leave his empathy at the door when he returns to action December 12 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, where the “Panterita” (Little Panther) faces southpaw Antonio DeMarco (31-5-1, 23 KOs) in a 12-round clash of former 135-pound champions (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 pm. PT).
“ I was taught early on to look at the bigger picture, not worry about myself and to put others before me. ” Omar Figueroa Jr.
But while Figueroa may not show any mercy when he slips on the gloves, his compassion and altruism outside the ring are very real, character traits that have been ingrained since he was in diapers.
It all goes back to a tradition started by his grandfather, Juan Botas. Nicknamed “Johnny Boots,” Botas, along with Figueroa’s grandmother, once sold tamales to purchase toys that were distributed to needy children in Mexico.
“My father-in-law started a tradition, and I was helping him, to help kids by donating toys,” Omar Figueroa Sr. says. “We got Omar [Jr.] involved at a very young age, so Omar has sort of taken it to heart and lives his life that way.
“He had some guys cutting hair at his gym for something like 25 or 30 kids for three hours and provided sandwiches.”
Figueroa Jr. says charitable efforts come naturally to him, whether it’s distributing more than 500 backpacks and school supplies to children (as he did this fall) or embracing the family’s annual Johnny Boots Christmas Toy Drive.
And if Figueroa Jr. has his way, the giving spirit that exists within him will be passed along to his offspring, 3-year-old Sophia and 10-month-old Omar III.
“I was taught early on to look at the bigger picture, not worry about myself and to put others before me,” Figueroa says. “I see it as very important for my daughter and son to grow up knowing there are bigger issues going on in the world than whatever they have going on [in their lives].
“I know that me and my siblings had to give up our Christmases so that [less fortunate] kids could have theirs, and it’s something I have no problem doing, even now.”
To that point, Figueroa plans to spend this Christmas Day 15 minutes from Weslaco in Rio Bravo, Mexico, where he and his family will yet again distribute some 2,000 toys near a convenience store owned by the boxer’s grandparents.
“We close the block down, get a DJ and throw a little party with dancing, singing contests and food,” says Figueroa Sr., who was born in Rio Bravo, as was his wife, Judith. “I was one of the kids who never got a toy, but God’s been good to us, so now we can give something back.”
To hear his son tell it, spreading Christmas cheer to those who could most use it brings him more joy than landing a fight-ending uppercut to the chin.
“Seeing kids who are without shoes or proper clothing saddens and humbles me,” Figueroa Jr. says. “It’s therapeutic knowing that I’m doing my part to brighten kids’ eyes, even for a day.”
For complete coverage of Figueroa vs DeMarco, check out our fight page.