- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Lightweight Omar Figueroa could be on the precipice of stardom. The 23-year-old is a talented, pure action fighter with a growing fan base and a ton of potential.
He scored his biggest win in his most recent fight by blowing out undefeated Abner Cotto -- a cousin of Miguel Cotto's -- in the first round in a surprisingly easy fight. He dropped Cotto twice and stopped him, to the approving roars of a crowd of nearly 40,000 at the Alamodome in San Antonio on April 20, when Figueroa was on the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez-Austin Trout fight.
"Omar Figueroa is a guy who, every fight, every opponent we put him in against, he's getting better and better," Golden Boy promoter Oscar De La Hoya said. "He's passing the test with flying colors, and now it's time to step it up and step it up big time. These are difficult fights, but we feel comfortable that he will continue to pass these tests with flying colors. I don't think there's a limit to where he can go. This is a kid that we feel is going to go very, very far."
Figueroa, who lives in Weslaco, Texas, had a lot of fans on hand cheering him on against Cotto. Many of them figure to be back to see his next fight, this time at the AT&T Center in San Antonio for the "Knockout Kings II" card Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET/PT; preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme at 7 ET/PT).
Figueroa (21-0-1, 17 KOs) will be shooting for his first title -- a vacant interim belt -- on the undercard against 31-year-old southpaw Nihito Arakawa (24-2-1, 16 KOs) of Japan. The winner will likely become the full titleholder, assuming that Adrien Broner vacates and remains at welterweight, where he won a belt in June.
Interim belt or full belt, the fight is the culmination of a long rise for Figueroa, who has been boxing since he was a small child.
"This is it. This is 17 years of work," he said. "This is why every boxer starts, what every boxer dreams of. This is it. This is a great opportunity. This is what we have been working so hard for.
"We don't take anybody lightly. We are ready, we know that a fight can take many directions with every step you take in the ring, so we are ready."
Arakawa will be fighting outside of Japan for the second time. Two fights ago, in his only fight away from home, he lost a 10th-round technical decision to Daniel Estrada in Mexico in November when Estrada couldn't continue after suffering a swollen right eye caused by an accidental elbow. "I'm happy to have this chance at my first world title," Arakawa said through a translator. "That gives me extra motivation to win this fight. I don't think I can win by points. I have to knock him out. I think that's my only chance to walk out of here with a world title.
"I've prepared for this world title chance for my entire life, and I know Omar has prepared for this as well. We're both going to fight as hard as we can to get that first world title. I know I want it and I know he wants it, so it's going to be an exciting fight."
Although former two-time welterweight titlist Andre Berto headlines the card against Jesus Soto Karass, one of the reasons Golden Boy put the card in San Antonio was to take advantage of Figueroa's drawing power.
"I live only four hours away, so this totally feels like home," Figueroa said of fighting again in San Antonio. "Texas has the best fans in the world, and I'm glad to be a Texan. My plan is to go in there and give a great fight. [Arakawa is] a great guy and he's ranked No. 1 for a reason. I've prepared really hard for this fight and I'm ready to go 12 hard rounds.
"This is what it comes down to. It's the bottom of the ninth, two outs, full count. There's no room for butterflies. This is what we've been working for 17 years for, and it's finally here. I'm not going to let it slip."