Omar Figueroa: “I’ll Be Back Better Than Ever”

By Caryn A. Tate on July 14, 2017
Omar Figueroa: “I’ll Be Back Better Than Ever”
“[I learned] that boxing’s a tough business.” (Ronald Martinez/Golden Boy/Getty Images)

Omar Figueroa returns to the ring this Saturday in what promises to be a barnburner versus former champion Robert Guerrero…

Former lightweight WBC champion Omar Figueroa (26-0-1, 18 KOs), also known as “Panterita,” returns to the ring this Saturday, July 15, in what promises to be a barnburner versus former champion Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (33-5-1, 18 KOs).

Figueroa may be best known among boxing fans for his aggressive, active style. Yet, when he chooses to use it, he has underrated boxing ability, scrapping well on the inside and switching stances seamlessly between orthodox and southpaw.

“[Switching stances] is something that I feel came natural because of all the sports that I played throughout my life,” Omar said. “You know, being a baseball player simultaneously, I guess the stance just worked. I remember I started switching on my own when I was a kid and my dad saw the potential in that and he started helping me iron out the kinks. Before we knew it, I’d developed this very unorthodox style.”

Some fighters who switch stances notice a distinct difference in the results depending on whether they’re using their dominant hand as their lead or power hand. Figueroa, who is right-handed, is no different—though the reason he can switch so fluidly may lie in the fact that he feels completely comfortable in either stance. “The stances are the same [effectiveness] to me. I do feel different when I’m in each stance—when I’m standing orthodox I feel like I’m faster, my feet are faster, and I’m just more agile. When I’m in the left-handed stance I feel like I hit harder—that’s my power stance.”

For this fight, Omar is again working with top trainer Joel Diaz. The Texan boxer established training camp in California, where Diaz is based. “Things are great—I love working with Joel,” Figueroa said. “We get along perfectly. We have a mutual respect that I feel is the most important thing when it comes to teamwork. I love it here.

“He polishes my strengths. He makes my strengths better and obviously we work on my weaknesses.”

Diaz, who has worked with such world-class fighters as Timothy Bradley, Abner Mares, and Lucas Matthysse, has years of experience as a fighter in addition to his work as a coach. Said Figueroa, “One of the things I rely heavily on is somebody that has a brain, who knows what they’re doing, somebody that’s experienced, and somebody I can trust—that has that confidence in them, that when they tell me something you know it’s gonna work because he’s telling you. That’s one of the things that he has—he’s very imposing. When he says something he means it, and I love that. He’s a straight-up guy and I have full confidence in him.”

“Panterita” has faced some quality opposition in his nine-year professional career, but it’s possible that his July 15 opponent might be his toughest out yet. When asked which of his strengths he’ll chiefly need to draw upon when sharing the ring with Robert Guerrero on Saturday, Figueroa was candid. “All of them. I know that he’s been in the ring with the best. I know he’s seen just about everything—I mean, he fought Mayweather, so I’m sure there’s nothing he hasn’t seen. So I’m gonna have to bring out all the tricks to have the upper hand.”

Perhaps partially due to his highly active style—Figueroa threw over 900 punches during his 2013 Fight of the Year contender versus Nihito Arakawa—the 27-year-old has had more than his share of hand injuries. “That’s why [my layoff] was as long as it was, because I wanted to make sure my body was ready,” Omar explained. “My hands are fine now. They’re doing great actually. I just finished sparring today and they feel good. We’re gonna close out camp with some light sparring before we head out to New York.”

Boxing is a family affair for the Figueroa family. In addition to Omar’s father, Omar Sr., being heavily involved in his son’s career and having trained him in the past, another Figueroa son, Brandon, has joined the ranks as a professional fighter. Omar Jr. clearly looks over his younger brother, now 20 years old with a record of 12-0 (8 KOs). “He’s training with me right now,” Omar said. “He always looks to me for advice. I tell him, there’s no one else on this planet that can give you better advice than your own blood. Plus I’m doing the same thing he’s doing, which is boxing. So there’s really no one on this earth that could guide him better and give him better advice than myself.”

On top of being a boxer for most of his life, Omar also recently tried his hand at promotion. The endeavor taught him one very important thing. “[I learned] that boxing’s a tough business. I mean I already knew that, but now I know from every perspective it’s a tough business, and it takes a lot of brains and a lot of guts to succeed in it.”

Figueroa explained the origin of his company, Panterita Promotions. “I did it for that one fight. My brother was looking for a fight and his fights kept falling through, and I was like, I already have the company, I just didn’t start the actual promotion, so I went ahead and got my license. And I did it mainly for my brother, and also because I wanted to try my hand at it, I wanted to experience the other side of boxing. And it was fun. The fans loved the fights, the fighters loved it, the trainers were happy with the way we worked. So I’m looking forward to doing some more shows.

“I wasn’t looking to sign fighters or anything. I didn’t want to make fighters feel like they were tied down. I never really signed with anyone till I got with Golden Boy. I wasn’t planning on becoming the next Golden Boy so I wasn’t planning on signing anybody…and, you know, maybe lessening their chances to getting where they wanted to be. I was doing it to help fighters get to where I’m at, and facilitate that—act as a catalyst to help them reach their goals.”

Omar is open to doing more as a promoter one day, but for now his focus is solely between the ropes. “[Promoting in the future] is something I’m still debating. I know I have the doors open with PBC and I can work with them pretty much whenever the opportunity arises. But right now I’m focused on my career and boxing’s a very jealous sport, and I’ve learned that the hard way. So I don’t want to take my mind off of my career right now.”

Prior to his professional career heating up, Omar attended a semester of college and spoke about his studies and what he might want to continue studying one day after he retires. “I went to Texas A&M University—I was going to pursue a degree in construction science. I was going to become a contractor. I’ve always liked architecture and building and construction and all that. I used to want to be an architect but I did an internship with an architect once and it killed my dreams. I saw that there was [not much] art involved I guess from his side. He basically just had all the interns do everything on a computer and all he did was sign papers all day. It was kind of boring so I was like, I’m not gonna do that.

“So I decided to go for the actual being on the job site, and seeing the building go up—that’s what I love to see.”

During his 19-month layoff, Figueroa had the chance to do a lot of traveling. Turns out his favorite place is one that will enable him to use that construction science major to good effect once he’s no longer lacing up the gloves. “San Miguel de Allende, Mexico was definitely my favorite place, by far. I’m actually hoping to someday buy a house there and live there after I retire. It’s that nice. Like I said I’m a fan of architecture, and there’s actually a law in that city that you can’t change how [a building] looks. If you built something there it has to look according to the rest of the city. So I think that’s really neat.”

Omar expanded upon how he spent those 19 months as he waited for his body to fully recuperate. “I was being a bum,” he said. “Hanging out with my family, enjoying my kids, eating the food I wanted to eat whenever I wanted to eat it, drinking the drinks I wanted to drink whenever I wanted to drink them, traveling whenever I wanted. It was amazing.”

“Panterita” had one final message for his fans. “Thank you for staying by my side. Thank you for believing in me. I’m sorry I left you guys for so long but there were personal things I had to take care of, and I had to heal my injuries. But I’m back now and I’ll be back better than ever.”

Figueroa vs. Guerrero, a 10-round welterweight bout, will be broadcast on FOX and FOX Deportes on Saturday, July 15, beginning at 8pm ET/5pm PT from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, New York.

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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:36am, 07/15/2017

    Great interview and write up! Omar was life and death with Arakawa and Roberto was quite the same with Kamegai. Love these two but my real interest this weekend is with Miguel Berchelt and Robinson Castellanos in their respective bouts and if I get out of the house today I will visit William Hill and get something down on “bad to the bone” Castellanos!

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