Omar Figueroa On Getting His Start, His… by uSports

Omar Figueroa, Jr. made have taken 18 months off from boxing, but he is still as sharp as ever.

The 27-year-old Weslaco, Texas, native sat down for an exclusive interview with uSports following a press conference three days before his match against Robert Guerrero at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on July 15. Figueroa (27-0-1, 19 KOs) won the fight by knockout after dropping Guerrero five times.

Figueroa — the 2014 WBC lightweight champion — revealed his father Omar Sr. taught him how to box to improve his self-defense skills, which he never received from his own parents.

“My dad was the one who started me in boxing,” said Figueroa. “He always wanted to be a boxer but he didn’t have the support from his parents, so he put me in boxing so I could learn how to defend myself.”

The 5-foot-7, 147-pound fighter has evidently learned well since first learning the basics of the sport at the age of 6. Since his first professional bout at age 18, Figueroa has won 27 fights and recorded 19 knockouts. He claimed the 135-pound title by defeating Japan’s Nihito Arakawa in San Antonio in July 2013. Figueroa’s victory came in 12 rounds and via unanimous decision.

The following year, Figueroa successfully defended his lightweight title against Mexico’s Daniel Estrada in Carson, California. Following an accidental head-butt eight rounds into the fight, Figueroa suffered lacerations to his nose and left eye. However, he rallied in the ninth to secure a TKO victory, although he was eventually stripped of that belt in November 2014 and declared a “champion in recess.”

Figueroa said he took the time off in large part because of his chronically injured hands.

Figueroa also revealed the origin of his nickname, “Panterita,” which means “little panther” in Spanish. He explained that Weslaco’s high school mascot is a panther, and that he would skip the gym every Friday to go watch his cousins compete as part of the school’s sports teams.

“Every Monday that I came back [to train at the gym], coach would ask me where I was and I told him I went to go watch the Panthers. I would never miss a game,” said Figueroa. “So one of those Mondays, he just said, ‘Ah, que panterita me saliste!’ (‘What a real panther you turned out to be!’) and the nickname just stuck.”

Family is obviously very important to Figueroa, who picked up, hugged and played with his little siblings after the press conference. The fighter attempts to pass on the same knowledge and advice he receives from his two main role models — his father and his trainer, Joel Diaz — to his younger brother Brandon Figueroa. 

Brandon, 20, made his pro boxing debut in May 2015 at age 18 in a four-round match against Hector Gutierrez, and since then, the 122-pound fighter has been undefeated (13-0-0) and has recorded eight knockouts.

Omar Figueroa said he is delighted to see his younger brother compete now, too, though he admitted watching Brandon fight occasionally makes him nervous.

“It’s great, he said. “It actually keeps me… even though I get more nervous for his fights, it puts me at ease. I calms me down.”

As for Diaz — who has been with Figueroa since the beginning — Panterita says he also considers his trainer family at this point.

“He’s right up there with my family, so I treat him the same, we get along the same, said Figueroa. “I feel like that’s why I found myself at home when I first went to Indio [California] to train with him.”

“We get along so well, the respect is what really makes it for us. I respect him so much and I feel like he does the same for me. We clicked from the very beginning.”

Besides training with Diaz in Weslaco and Indio, Figueroa has also spent time in Mexico.

Figueroa finished by explaining that listening to seasoned fighters is the key to improving as a boxer.

“You gotta listen, he said. “They’re not called veterans for nothing, age doesn’t pass in vain… I’ve learned so much, I’ve evolved so much, I’ve matured and grown.”

“The sport of boxing is brutal, so I just try to stay sane but having people in my corner that are very knowledgeable and as experienced as they are, it’s amazing.”

Figueroa mentioned his brother Brandon again, and re-emphasized that he hopes to pass all this advice on to him.

“I’ve been where he’s at. I’ve already reached the big stage, so I just want him to realize that,” said Figueroa.

Figueroa defeated Guerrero, 34, by TKO in the third round of Saturday’s main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card in Uniondale, New York before a crowd of 7,492. The loss marked Guerrero’s first knockout defeat of his career.

Guerrero announced on Monday he is retiring from his 16-year career following the loss.

Figueroa has not revealed when he is fighting next, although he wrote on his Facebook page that he is “looking to be back in the ring around late September.”

UNIONDALE, NY – JULY 15: Omar Figueroa Jr., left, battles Robert Guerrero during their Welterweight fight at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on July 15, 2017 in Uniondale, New York. Figueroa defeated Guerrero by a TKO in the third round. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

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