The ring is engulfed by book bags, brightly colored folders and boxes of Kleenex—mounds of school supplies in the place where fighters normally get schooled.
This was the scene at Omar Figueroa Jr.’s Panterita's Boxing Gym in Weslaco, Texas, on Sunday, when the fighter and his family handed out enough classroom necessities for 450 kids in grades K-8.
Children and their parents lined up around the block as Figueroa dug into his own pocket to keep some of his hometown young’uns flush with glue sticks.
“It was incredible,” says Figueroa, who will next face Antonio DeMarco in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 26. “It’s something that I wanted to do for a long time; I just didn’t have the means to do it the way I wanted it to be done because I didn’t want to be asking people for money.”
For Figueroa, the event was about more than doling out several wheelbarrows’ worth of pencils and paper, it was about adding a real-life dimension to that old adage about the value of pursuing your dreams no matter what. That kind of well-traveled saying tends to elicit eye rolls when coming from parental units, but not when delivered by a champion boxer standing right in front of you, embodying as much.
“Kids see me on TV, they see me with my belts and then they have me there in front of them, taking pictures with them and just hanging out with them, I feel like it bridges that gap,” he says. “It makes the unreachable reachable. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish here, to make these kids push themselves.”
Nevertheless, Figueroa acknowledges that not every youngster in line knew who he was, even if mom and dad did.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, you fight on TV? So you get punched in the face?’” he says with a laugh.
It’s this mix of fanfare and dude-next-door approachability that defines Figueroa in large part. This—and his tendency to throw roughly a gazillion punches per round.
He’s a hands-on kind of guy—in the ring and outside of it—which is why it was important for him take part in passing out the school supplies.
“If it’s something that impacts kids and their families, then I want them to link that with me just so that they can see that even though I’m successful, I’m still there,” he says. “I feel like I’m a regular guy, just like those kids, because at one point, I was in their place. I just had extraordinary parents and opportunities. And that’s the only thing that makes me different than them.”
For complete coverage of Figueroa vs DeMarco, visit our fight page.