Omar Figueroa Jr. was at his crowd-pleasing best in 2013. That year, he scored consecutive first-round knockouts, followed by a unanimous-decision victory over Japan’s Nihito Arakawa, whom he floored once each in the second and sixth rounds to claim a 135-pound world title.
“The first fight in March was against Henry Auraad, and I knocked him out in 47 seconds. I was healthy for Abner Cotto [in April], and knocked him out in one round as well,” Figueroa says. “But then I hurt my hands during the process of fighting Arakawa [in July], but that turned out to be a Fight of the Year candidate. The last fight that I was healthy for was the Arakawa fight.”
Indeed, since winning that title, Omar Figueroa Jr. has been snakebit by injuries.
A bum left wrist forced him to pull out of a scheduled March 2014 title defense against Ricardo Alvarez. When he finally did return to the ring the following month, the 25-year-old struggled in winning a split decision against slick-boxing Jerry Belmontes.
Then in August 2014, Figueroa scored a ninth-round stoppage of Daniel Estrada, whom he floored in the final round. However, he suffered a cut over his left eye early in that bout and was sidelined for several months afterward.
After a ninth-month layoff, the Weslaco, Texas, native made his 140-pound debut in May, grinding out a unanimous decision over ex-champ Ricky Burns. However, that victory came with a price, as Figueroa (25-0-1, 18 KOs) severely damaged his right hand.
The hand healed sufficiently for Figueroa to agree to a bout against Mexican-born southpaw and former 135-pound champion Antonio DeMarco (31-5-1, 23 KOs). The 140-pound contest was to be featured September 26 on a Premier Boxing Champions card headlined by heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder against Johann Duhaupas.
Unfortunately, another ailment—this time a sore left elbow—has forced Figueroa to pull out of what was expected to have been an explosive fight against DeMarco.
“We’ve gone through injuries before, so I just thought it was the usual soreness of getting back into sparring eight, 10 rounds, of throwing my jab and my hooks and getting hit on it and all of that,” says Figueroa, who is trained by his father, Omar Figueroa Sr. “I kept sparring, but it just hurt more and more.
“I’ve been getting massages just about every day, because I was really knotted up, but [the massages] weren’t really doing anything. It just wouldn’t go away to the point where even when I wasn’t training, my elbow would be hurting. So I told my dad I couldn’t do much, and that’s when we decided to take action.”
With Figueroa's fight against DeMarco shelved, the card at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, will now feature 2012 U.S. Olympian Dominic Breazeale (15-0, 14 KOs) against Fred Kassi (18-3-1, 10 KOs) in a heavyweight clash (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT).
Figueroa says he’s unsure exactly what is wrong with his elbow and is awaiting results of an MRI. “I think we’ve ruled out a stress fracture, but it could be tendinitis or tennis elbow or one of those things.”
Whatever the diagnosis, he’s annoyed that another injury has stalled his career.
“I’m just frustrated at having to decline another fight and that I can’t bring the best of myself to the fans,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Come on, why can’t I just be healthy?’ I’m not asking too much.
“I know how good I am when I’m healthy enough to fight at my full potential, stopping sparring partners left and right and going through three or four of them a day. My body is my tool in boxing, and I need it to be at 100 percent. It’s just unfortunate for me and the fans, and it’s frustrating not to be able to truly showcase myself.”
- Omar Figueroa Jr.