Boxing is returning for the first time in 31 years to NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, but the star of a show filled with fighters with Long Island and New York ties is a Texan who is a relative unknown to all but the most hard-core local boxing fans. Omar Figueroa Jr. is an undefeated former WBC lightweight champion who is coming off a 19-month layoff that left his promising career in self-imposed limbo.
However, the crowd-pleasing styles of Figueroa (26-0-1, 18 KOs) and former four-division world champion Robert Guerrero (33-5-1, 18 KOs) makes their welterweight matchup one that is sure to draw viewers to the Fox TV portion of the card. As Joel Diaz, who trains Figueroa, said Wednesday, “We’ve got two guys who have similar styles as far as crashing in the middle of the ring, and they don’t take a step back.
“You’re going to see a great fight, not a boring fight. This is an all-action fight from the first bell.”
Figueroa’s taste for combat took him to the WBC 135-pound title, but his disdain for defense took a toll on his body. He won the WBC interim title four years ago in a battle with Nihito Arakawa that was a leading candidate for fight of the year. Figueroa defended the WBC belt twice and then moved up to 140 for two fights, but he absorbed more than 200 punches in each of those four bouts.
Suffering at times from injuries to both hands, his elbows and shoulders and even his legs, Figueroa said he was far less than 100 percent healthy for many fights. “It was just instinct and pure heart and determination that got me through these last couple fights because I was off when it came to training,” Figueroa said. “It was too much for me mentally. I was getting hit more than I wanted, and my body wasn’t responding.”
It was in Figueroa’s nature to figure he always could find a way to win, but when he had difficulty training or where hand injuries robbed him of his power, health became a safety issue.
“It’s like a cop going into a gunfight without a gun,” Figueroa said. “You think he’s going to feel very safe or secure? He’s going to be thinking about these things more than ever, and that’s the way I was feeling because of my injuries.”
Although the 27-year-old Figueroa was trained by his father most of his career, they had a degree of conflict over his layoff and agreed it was best to work with Diaz, who had trained Figueroa once before and is one of the best in the business.
After such a long time off, they decided it was best to “make a pit stop” at the 147-pound welterweight class rather than try getting down to 140 all at once. If he gets past Guerrero, Figueroa hopes to move to 140 for a title shot in that division.
But 34-year-old southpaw Guerrero is hardly a soft touch even though he’s lost four of his past six bouts. Three losses were to undefeated champions — Floyd Mayweather Jr., Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia. Figueroa is certain he’ll get everything Guerrero has left because it’s a crossroads fight for him, too.
“You develop that kamikaze mentality,” Figueroa said of his approach to this fight. “Guerrero is not going to be an easy opponent. He’s not someone you can put down in one or two rounds. He’s someone that’s going to stick it out and make you work for that victory and kick your [expletive] in the meantime.
“I’m ready. Fights like this give me those good type of nerves where you’re tingly and you’re excited. I can’t wait to get back.”