Blood spilled from Omar Figueroa’s nose the last time he was at the AT&T Center, his hands injured from throwing a thousand punches. Figueroa was exhausted, and it was all worth it when the championship belt was placed on his shoulder.
That was on July 27, 2013. Figueroa fought Nihito Arakawa and claimed the WBC Lightweight Title in a bout that topped many Fight of the Year lists.
Two years later, Omar “Panterita” Figueroa is coming back to the AT&T Center. Figueroa (25-0-1, 18 KOs) is headlining a Premier Boxing Champions card on Dec. 12, where he’ll fight Antonio DeMarco (31-5-1, 23 KOs).
Tickets starting at $31 are available at www.attcenter.com for the fights, which also includes Dominic “Trouble” Breazeale against “Prince” Charles Martin in a heavyweight bout and the return to the ring of former welterweight champion Victor Ortiz.
For Figueroa, his return to the AT&T Center ring means a return to the setting of one of the greatest nights of his life, when he defeated Arakawa in a decision.
“Going toe-to-toe, 12 rounds, it was like something in the Rocky movies,” Figueroa said. “It’s about having the courage and heart to stay in there and perform that way. To go in there, blood and broken hands, it was amazing. I was glad to be able to do that here at the AT&T Center.”
Figueroa, 25, is the pride of the Rio Grande Valley. He’s a native of Weslaco, about 250 miles south of the AT&T Center. He trains there with his father, Omar Sr., who first put gloves on his son when Jr. was 6.
Nicknamed “Panterita,” Figueroa developed his style in the ring through an estimated 200 amateur fights in Mexico and another 50 in the United States as a junior.
He’s a relentless puncher. He doesn’t mind taking a few hits if it means getting a few shots in himself. Fights with Figueroa become less about the “sweet science” and more about sheer willpower. That style led the greatest fight the AT&T Center had ever seen.
Figueroa and Arakawa traded punches for every second of their 12-round fight, with the AT&T Center crowd chanting “Omar! Omar!” throughout. Although Figueroa, an orthodox fighter, injured his hands punching Arakawa’s face and body, Arakawa would not go down. Both fighters persevered for 36 minutes, giving each other nods of respect at the end of each round.
When the fight was over and Figueroa was crowned the first world champion from the Rio Grande Valley, his courage through the fight earned him much more than a belt in boxing circles. According to CompuBox, which tallies punches thrown and landed, Figueroa connected on 450 power punches in the fight, the fourth-most all-time in any weight class in CompuBox’s 30 years of recording fights.
“In a sport that has produced many memorable chapters,” announcer Mauro Ranallo said during the fight, “here in San Antonio you can add another chapter to boxing’s beautiful and brutal legacy.”
Having moved up to the 140-pound weight class, Figueroa said this is the first time he’s felt fully healthy since the Arakawa fight. As Figueroa’s star continues to rise, DeMarco, a former WBC Lightweight champion himself from Sinaloa, Mexico, is standing in his way.
“This will be a very tough fight and will most likely be a war because of our fighting styles,” DeMarco said.
The Dec. 12 card is filled with big matchups, another main event bout feature sDominic “Trouble” Breazeale (16-0, 14 KOs) against “Prince” Charles Martin (22-0-1, 20 KOs) and Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola (36-4-1, 31 KOs) against Travis “My Time” Kauffman (30-1, 22 KOs).
Breazeale, a former quarterback at the University of Northern Colorado, took up boxing after his college career ended and became a 2012 Olympian. He has recorded a knockout in all but two professional fights, but faces his toughest test against Martin, who has gone more than four rounds just once in his last eight fights.
Victor Ortiz makes his return to the ring in the AT&T Center as well, as his career has taken a fascinating path since he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2011. Ortiz appeared on “Dancing With The Stars” in 2013, and has acting roles in “The Expendables 3” and “Southpaw.” His San Antonio fight will be his first in 364 days, and Ortiz will be a fan favorite.
Leija/Battah Promotions have brought the fight card to San Antonio, as hometown son Jesse James Leija said he hopes to bring bigger and bigger fights to the AT&T Center.
“San Antonio’s probably the best city for boxing in the United States,” Leija said. “We want to keep giving the fans their money’s worth with some of the best fighters in Texas and elsewhere.”
The fights at the AT&T Center are also an opportunity for some local fighters to get in the ring on a broadcast that will be televised on NBC and NBCSN beginning at 5 p.m. CST.
Mario Barrios, a 20-year-old who attended Southwest High School in San Antonio, has already fought six times in 2015 and won all six fights. For Barrios (13-0, 7 KOs), walking into the AT&T Center is something he said his whole career has been building toward.
“I’ve fought in so many places where nobody knew me,” Barrios said. “To fight at home, in front of my family, it might be a little overwhelming. It’s going to feel for me like that point in your career that you’re really doing something.”