When Ricky Burns travels to the lion’s den Saturday in Hidalgo, Texas, to take on Omar Figueroa Jr., he’ll be taking on a fighter who has just one minor blemish on an otherwise impeccable sheet.
Twenty-four wins against zero losses and one draw. Guess which one Omar Figueroa Jr. says is the No. 1 fight when he counts down his Greatest Hits? It's a fight that taught him a valuable lesson—and gave him incentive never to repeat the mistakes he made before that one.
3 vs. Nihito Arakawa, July 27, 2013, at AT&T Center in San Antonio
Of the four fights Figueroa had scheduled for 10 rounds, only one went the distance. The rest? First-round knockout, second-round knockout and his opponent didn’t answer the bell for the seventh. So when it came time to put a 12-rounder on the slate, it wasn’t exactly familiar territory Figueroa was sailing into.
He handled it, though. Figueroa hung in with Arakawa for all 12 rounds and nearly pitched a shutout in the process, losing a total of five rounds across the three judges’ scorecards.
“I feel like in that fight he tested me in every way possible,” Figueroa said. “I felt like I stayed true to myself. You don’t give that kind of performance if you’re not in shape, if you didn’t do things right in camp. I feel like I stayed true to myself, and I’m proud of myself in that.”
2 vs. Michael Perez, January 6, 2012, at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California
Perez was being groomed to be a top-of-the-bill fighter who was going to use a win over an undefeated Figueroa to establish credibility on his way to stardom. Except Figueroa didn’t get the script.
Figueroa played spoiler so well that Perez’s corner threw in the towel before the start of the seventh round. It’s easy to see why after Figueroa spent the sixth peppering Perez at will. Not bad for a guy whose own father was talking up the other corner before the fight even came up.
“I didn’t even know who that guy was, but my dad did,” Figueroa said. “My dad was scared because he had actually been praising [Perez] and talking about how good he was, how his body work was a thing of beauty. He even told me, ‘I hope one day you can fight like him, that you’re as good as that guy.’ But my dad has a lot of confidence in me. The way it works is someone talks the talk, they have to walk the walk—but my dad is the one who does the talking for me and I just take care of the walking.”
1 vs. Arturo Quintero, November 12, 2010, at State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas
By 2010, Figueroa had fought several times in Texas, but this one was the first arena fight so close to his native Weslaco. For whatever reason, though, Figueroa, by his own admission, wasn’t ready to go.
“I know before the fight we all speak great things and wonderful things about camp because we can’t give off the impression something went wrong,” he said. “You don’t want to give your opponent an edge because it is a mental battle, and once you lose that mental battle it’s a really steep hill you have to climb to make up for it. But the condition I was in for that fight, I’m surprised I even went through with it.”
The lack of conditioning came back to bite Figueroa. He fought Quintero to an eight-round split draw. A fair verdict, even if it was disappointing. At least there was a takeaway from that one, though.
“Hey, you live and you learn. It was a mistake and I learned from that and I’m not going to make the same mistake again,” he said. “I’m just glad I didn’t lose the fight. It was a close fight, I will admit that, but I honestly don’t feel like I lost. I don’t feel like I won, either. It was a good choice by the judges to give it a draw.”