Omar “La Panterita” Figueroa: Star Waiting To Shine

(June 22, 2012 – Source: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America

Weslaco is a city in Hidalgo County, Texas, United States. The population was 35,670 at the 2010 census. Weslaco derives its name from the W.E. Stewart Land Company. It is the hometown of Omar “La Panterita” Figueroa. Omar Figueroa was born December 13, 1989 in Weslaco, Texas and he is an undefeated Mexican- American professional boxer rated in both the Light welterweight and the Lightweight division. Omar is signed to Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. In fact, Oscar De La Hoya signed Omar personally after only his fourth professional fight. De La Hoya isn’t the only big name in La Panterita’s corner; Figueroa is trained by renowned trainer Joel Diaz (who also trains Timothy “Dessert Storm” Bradley). Along with Golden Boy and Joel Diaz, Figueroa also retains services from Al Haymon, who is only the most influential boxing adviser in the sport. The types of backing Omar possess in his team are that of a star. However, Omar is still a bit skeptical on the issue of Golden Boy and just how much faith they have in him.

On January 06, 2012 Omar Figueroa was thrown in a fight vs. the then unbeaten, and very tough Michael Perez. This was a fight where many thought Omar was being served up to the more skilled, more know Puerto Rican fighter, in Perez. On paper it was a stylistic mismatch being that Perez was the more technical of the two and should have scored at least a points decision over Figueroa. Omar had other plans.

“I was under the same impression because of that same fact; I knew I was the underdog in that fight and that I was supposed to lose. I knew it; I knew Golden Boy didn’t really believe in me, I don’t know why? I thought I had pretty much proven myself in my fights. I came to fight, I never backed down, and I did what I had to do. I don’t know exactly what they [Golden Boy] were looking for in a fighter. Going into that fight when my dad told me about it, I knew it was going to be a better opportunity for me, because I knew I was going to be the underdog. I knew that everyone was going to be rooting for him. Well, maybe not rooting but thinking he was going to win because he was more technically sound. I knew I was going to surprise everybody, I knew I was going to win. I never had any doubt and I knew I was going to make him quit,” Figueroa said.

Make him quit he did, and I doubt any of the ringside experts at Fantasy Springs predicted the outcome that night. Omar won that fight by RTD (Perez retired on his stool). Omar went on to successfully win his next four fights, fighting a total of five times this year to date. The problem is, instead of the opposition improving or staying on the level of Perez, it’s been the exact opposite of that.

Omar had this to say: “I don’t know? That’s the same question we’ve been asking Golden Boy. I honestly can’t wait; you know I do this sport for the challenge. I love being in [the ring] there and can’t wait to be in the type of fights Victor Ortiz was just in. That’s going to test my character and test my will, it’s going to test my heart, my chin, everything. That’s what I’m waiting for, till I get in a fight like that, where the guy is willing to go in [Ring] there and trade punches with me.”

Omar didn’t just begin his boxing career with Joel Diaz. In the beginning, he was trained by his father Omar Figueroa Sr. Omar made the switch to another trainer before landing with Diaz. He tried out former world champion and trainer Jesse James Leija, but things didn’t go as planned and the one fight he had while training with Leija, ended in a draw.

“My dad’s always been my head trainer. It was hard for us to get along. I guess it was the same pattern as other father-son relationships in boxing. So I went to train with Jesse James Leija for a while and that’s when I ended up getting the draw. So I just was like never mind [speaking to Jesse James Leija]. It was my decision, my dad wasn’t really sure with letting me go to Leija’s camp. I insisted and I was pretty stubborn in that. I wouldn’t say it was my mistake,[going to Leija’s camp] because I learned a lot. A lot has changed after that fight. I think most of the changes have come internally for me and in me. [Jesse James Leija] changed the system, he tried to change me. It was a complete 180 from what we did or how we did things before. I was sparring guys that were almost 200 pounds, you know slower guys. Basically, there was no sparring for me there,” Figueroa said.

Omar is now with Joel Diaz, after the Leija setback. It’s a decision he is pleased with. In the Diaz camp he gets the right sparring and diet.

“I’ve always been pretty good with that [diet], but he [Diaz] helps me out. He trusts that I will be dedicated and discipline. He has other guys that help me out too, you know, it’s a big family that I have over there. It’s amazing and I love everybody here at the camp, and it makes the hard work easier for me,” Figueroa said.

Al Haymon is the last piece to the puzzle in the Figueroa camp. Haymon has the ability to get his fighters on television while maximizing their purses for a fight. Having Haymon on your team means great things for a fighter in terms of finances and exposure, but it also means you are the goods. Al Haymon doesn’t just sign anyone so if Omar is with him, it means Haymon sees the same star power we see.

“Ever since signing with Al Haymon things have gotten a lot bigger and faster I should say. I got to fight on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather vs. Miguel Cotto, and I know it doesn’t mean much to a lot of people because I fought closer to noon than anything else. They wanted me to get the experience, I guess, at those types of shows. More because Mayweather is involved you know, it’s more of a show then it is a fight. It was pretty interesting; they wanted me to get the experience to know what it’s like in a big fight like that. Al Haymon has been working his magic to get me on television. The “Showtime Extreme” fight was just another one of his doings. I mean I don’t know what they have planned for me, but like I said, hopefully on the 21st of this month I have a fight on HBO on the undercard of Adrien Broner vs Vicente Escobedo and I’m just letting them guide me,” Figueroa said.

The Mexican in Omar had me wondering his thoughts on the recent decision Victor Ortiz made in his fight vs. Josesito Lopez and his decision not to continue after suffering a broken jaw in the fight.

Figueroa said, “I always said when it comes to me the only way I’m going to lose a fight is if I have to be dragged out of there on stretcher. Everyone is different obviously, I don’t care about longevity because when I fight, I fight 110%, and I devote myself completely. So if I’m going to fight, I’m not thinking about my next fight, I’m not thinking about the fight next year, I’m thinking about that fight only, and I’m thinking about the fans getting what they came for. So if I had a broken jaw, broken arm, I mean I’ve had a broken hand during the fight and I still went on to win a unanimous decision. I’ve been injured my whole boxing career that’s why I only have 18 fights. I don’t know, I wasn’t in that situation but in my opinion the only thing I have to say is if it was me,  I don’t think I wouldn’t have quit.”