By Joseph Santoliquito
The undefeated super bantamweight champion is showing maturity beyond his years as he prepares to take on former champion Julio Ceja Saturday, November 23, on FOX Sports PPV.
Omar Figueroa Sr. walked lightly, head down, trying to be discreet through the musty, noisy gym. The trainer would morph into a shadow, slip in behind a heavy bag, or behind some fighters sparring, and spy on what his younger son, Brandon Figueroa, was doing.
Brandon, around eight at the time, had approached his father about following in the footsteps of his older brother, Omar Jr.
Omar Sr. wasn’t crazy about the idea of Brandon boxing. Afterall, Brandon was frail for his age, and besides, those long eyelashes and sky-blue eyes were too pretty to be damaged by being punched in the nose. When he was a baby, strangers passing by would comment on how adorable Brandon was asleep in a carrier when the Figueroas were out in public.
Omar Sr. was torn. He didn’t want to risk Brandon’s face being damaged. But he wasn’t about to deter his son’s dreams either.
So, Omar Sr. would peer in and see if Brandon was really serious about pursuing boxing. Each day, to his surprise, Brandon would write in a diary, and draw pictures of famous fighters like Shane Mosley, and then hit the heavy or speedbags—on his own.
When he would spar, Brandon would cry and some of the trainers would jokingly call him the “Little brat.” Omar Sr. would implore his son to get out of the ring. Brandon refused. He wanted more.
“Brandon learned the hard way,” Omar Sr. proudly recalls. “Brandon did things on his own.”
It’s why Brandon holds the discipline, at 22, to fit 122 pounds in a lanky 5-foot-9 frame. It’s why Brandon (20-0, 15 KOs) will be on a big stage Saturday, November 23, when he makes his first title defense of the WBA world super bantamweight title against former champion Julio Ceja (32-4, 28 KOs) on the undercard of the Deontay Wilder-Luis Ortiz rematch at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, live on FOX Sports Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
What convinced Omar Sr. that Brandon wanted to pursue boxing was when he won a pair of fights at the age of eight in McKinney, Texas.
“At first, Brandon was a little slow and the other kids used to beat him up,” Omar Sr. said. “Brandon would be crying, but he would be throwing punches. And this was when he was around seven, eight years old. I wanted him to get out. He stayed in there.
“Around 13, 14, Brandon began training harder and spar two, three guys.”
One time, a Mexican trainer came into the gym with his son, who was in early 20s. He was also heavier and had some pro fights. The visitor asked Omar Sr. if they could get some sparring in. Omar Sr. told him they didn’t have anyone who had the same level of experience, but Omar Sr. did offer Brandon. The trainer had his misgivings.
“No, no, no,” the trainer told Omar Sr. “He’s too skinny, he’s too young.”
Omar Sr. just grinned. “Go ahead, put your kid in. If he beats up Brandon in the first round, I’ll just pull him out.”
The first round didn’t last long. That’s because Brandon cracked the young Mexican pro to the body and made him quit.
The hard lessons are what Brandon credits today for where he is. His age belies his maturity. He’s 22 going on 35.
“ I pride myself on my discipline. ”Undefeated Super Bantamweight Champion – Brandon Figueroa
That early wisdom could not have manifested itself more than in Brandon’s most recent fight. He secured his seventh-straight stoppage victory by beating Javier Chacon on Aug. 24 at the Bert Ogden Arena, in Edinburg, Texas, which is a 25-minute drive from “The Heartbreaker’s” home of Weslaco.
It was important because any homecoming fight can be filled with piles of distractions. There are media obligations, family and friends pulling and tugging for tickets and access, not to mention actually training for the fight.
Brandon circumvented all of that by shutting everything down—except training.
“I had fun with fighting in my backyard. I have such a passion and love for the sport that I enjoy the little things about boxing,” Brandon said. “That started young. I learned discipline and what it will take to become a world champion. It meant making a lot of sacrifices and missing a lot of things, like birthday parties, and family functions.
“It’s why I continue to train in my hometown. I pride myself on my discipline. People say he’s hard to train at home. For me, it’s not. I make sure I don’t fall into the BS.”
Brandon will turn 23 this year on Dec. 29. He admits that as his body matures, it’s becoming more of a task to make 122.
“Before, I never really felt a struggle making 122. But I’m getting the man muscle and I’m struggling a little now, though I’m still able to make 122 and I’m still strong,” Brandon said. “I walk around at 140. I won’t let myself get anything more than that.”
More fine tuning is needed for Ceja, who was up 68-65 (2) and 67-66 when he was stopped by Guillermo Rigondeaux in the eighth round this past June.
Brandon says he’s added more hand-eye coordination workouts, dealing with speed and positioning. He’s honing his defense and leg movement.
“This fight is going to be one of the best fights on the card,” Omar Sr. promises. “Ceja is very tough and very determined. I saw his fight against Rigondeaux and thought Ceja was winning that fight, until he got caught. I thought Ceja was ready to go again, and thought the ref stopped the fight too early.
“Brandon and Ceja won’t be hugging each other. Brandon can fight inside. He can fight outside. I can’t wait for that fight to happen.”
Omar Sr. did reserve the biggest test his son faces for last, keeping his many female admirers away from him.
“Oh, that’s a challenge,” Omar Sr. said, laughing. “It’s a little hard. But Brandon does well to maintain his discipline. It’s not easy. A smart man learns from another man’s mistakes. He knows distractions can derail him. Plus, Brandon is like me. He doesn’t like to lose.
“I used to play marbles as a kid in Mexican and I hated to lose. Even older women love Brandon. He’s young. There’s a lot of things he’s going to do, but right now, we need to concentrate on his fight.”
He isn’t called “The Heartbreaker” for nothing.
Article courtesy of PBC