Jerry Belmontes may have gotten the better of lightweight titlist Omar Figueroa when they were amateurs, but it will be a different story as pros. At least that’s what Figueroa insisted.
Depending on who you believe, they either fought three times in the unpaid ranks or five times. What neither disputes is that Belmontes swept Figueroa.
But that was then, and this is now.
While Belmontes has been a disappointment as a pro, even getting released by original promoter Top Rank, Figueroa has blossomed into one of boxing's most exciting fighters and has claimed a lightweight belt.
Now Figueroa is set to make his first title defense, and it will come against amateur nemesis Belmontes on Saturday night (Showtime, 9:30 ET/PT with preliminary bout on Showtime Extreme beginning at 7 ET/PT) in the opening bout of a tripleheader at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
Keith Thurman (22-0, 20 KOs) defends his interim welterweight belt against Julio Diaz (40-9-1, 29 KOs) in the main event, and junior welterweight contender Lucas "The Machine" Matthysse (34-3, 32 KOs) returns from his decision loss to 140-pound champion Danny Garcia in September to take on John Molina (27-3, 22 KOs) in the scheduled 10-round cofeature.
"One difference between when Belmontes and I used to fight and now is that I'm a full-grown man,” Figueroa said at Wednesday’s media workout. “Now, I have the size advantage. I've sparred with the likes of Amir Khan, Tim Bradley, the late Edwin Valero and Julio Diaz. Working with them has helped me cover all my bases, and now I'm a world champion.
"Jerry's been talking forever about fighting me. But it hasn't just been a one-way street. I've been wanting to fight him, too, since the amateurs. Believe me, it got to the point where I would have settled just to spar a few rounds with him. I'm very vengeful when it comes to boxing. On Saturday, I'm looking forward to shutting him up for good. To be able to do it on television and get paid for it, well, what's better than that? My goal in every fight is to punish my opponent and hurt them.”
Figueroa (22-0-1, 17 KOs), 24, of Weslaco, Texas, is returning from a nine-month layoff and hand injuries. He injured both his hands last July in an epic slugfest against Japan’s Nihito Arakawa in an interim title bout that was a strong fight of the year contender.
Figueroa, who beat Arakawa by decision, was due to return to defend the full title -- he was elevated after Adrien Broner, who had moved up to welterweight, was stripped of the title -- against Ricardo Alvarez on March 8. However, Figueroa dinged up his hand again in training, and his first defense was postponed until Saturday.
“My hands feel great now and my preparation for this fight has been great,” Figueroa said.
Alvarez went ahead and faced a different opponent March 8, and Belmontes (19-3, 5 KOs), 25, of Corpus Christi, Texas, is thrilled to be getting the shot at Figueroa.
"He says we fought three times in the amateurs but I say five and I beat him all five times,” Belmontes said. “As far as I can tell, he still fights the same way. He comes forward, possesses no defense and likes to get hit. He's always fought like that. Our fights were 12-13 years ago, but I remember beating him easily, basically by out-boxing and out-moving and out-working him. If he gets frustrated on Saturday, just like he always does, I know I'll have him again.
"I always wanted this fight. My confidence is way up. I'm faster, quicker and love to fight in the pocket. I'm finally listening to my corner. They brought me in as an opponent for Will Tomlinson in my last fight, but I defeated him on a decision.”
Indeed, Belmontes landed this title opportunity by beating Australia’s Tomlinson on the same March 8 card Figueroa had been scheduled to fight on. Tomlinson had just signed with Golden Boy and was a heavy favorite against Belmontes, who had lost three of his previous four bouts (all by 10-round decision).
"I beat Omar five times in the amateurs but it was just that, the amateurs, we were young," Belmontes said. "We have taken different paths as professionals and finally they cross and we meet again. He'll be beaten -- for the sixth time.”
Figueroa has other expectations.
"I am especially excited about this fight because I have wanted to get payback against Belmontes for longer than a decade," he said. “I fought him in the amateurs and he always beat me because I was always shorter than him. Now I am taller, stronger and bigger than him, and I am looking to beat him the way he beat me in the amateurs."