Omar “Panterita” Figueroa Jr. defeats Nihito Arakawa; wins interim WBC World Lightweight Championship

Photo I took of both boxers, right before the fight.

Photo I took of both boxers, right before the fight.

Eric Gomez' photo of both boxers, in the hospital, after the fight.

Eric Gomez’ photo of both boxers, in the hospital, after the fight.

The Rio Grande Valley is a unique place. Sometimes when I am traveling outside the Valley, I have a difficult time explaining el magico Valle to someone who isn’t familiar with the area. This is a land that gave the world people like Esteban Jordan and Gloria E. Anzaldua. All I can tell them is that some people don’t like it down here. They have their reasons and that’s fine. However, I personally love the Valley. We got great food, great music, and most importantly, great people. That sounds corny but I genuinely believe that. So to those of us down here, who follow sports, seeing the rise of Omar “Panterita” Figueroa Jr. (22-0-1) and seeing him put the Valley on the boxing map, means a great deal to us. So far, we are all so proud of what this young, humble kid has done in his boxing career. We realize it wasn’t easy.

Saturday night was a reminder of that.

It wasn’t a first round KO. It was a rough, nasty and brutal 12-round fight, but Panterita walked away with the interim WBC World Lightweight Championship on Saturday night, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Panterita has become the first Valley athlete in a combat sport to win a major championship. If Adrien Broner doesn’t defend his lightweight crown again, Panterita will be promoted to official WBC World Lightweight Champion.

He had gone to decision five times before in his 22 career fights. The longest fight he had prior to Saturday was 10 rounds, which took place against Dominic Salcido last year on the prelims to an HBO fight card. Panterita wasn’t pleased with that fight, feeling that Salcido didn’t come to fight. No one can accuse Nihito Arakawa (23-3) of not coming to fight.

In his 23rd career fight, Panterita went a full, hard 12-rounds for the first time in his career. He started off, as he typically does, firing away with his hyperactive fists. Uppercuts here, body shots there, Panterita was going to work and digging in those shots in nasty fashion. In the second round, with his back against the ropes, Panterita blitzed Arakawa with several punches that forced the Japanese boxer down to one-knee. It looked like Panterita might have this in the bag.

But Arakawa didn’t fly from Japan to San Antonio to just have a nice vacation in the best state in the U.S. and to visit the hometown of Flaco Jimenez. Oh no, he came here to prove something and he fought back, gaining momentum that carried on to an epic third round that he possibly won. As others have stated on Twitter, this fight was so fun and over-the-top that scoring it was difficult at times.  It was an emotionally charged contest that brought me out of my chair on multiple occasions.

The fight was fought a ridiculous pace. Arakawa was going forward, pushing Panterita against the ropes and aggressively throwing as many punches as possible. Like Nick Diaz, with good manners and on fast-forward. Panterita would pick his moments for offensive spurts. When he saw an opening, he would throw insane power punches on Arakawa. I’m talking about cringe-inducing, brain-rattlin’, liver quiverin’ type punches, y’all.

In the sixth frame, another Panterita onslaught sent Arakawa into the ropes for what the referee deemed a knockdown. Like in the first knockdown, Arakawa survived and fought back valiantly. Silly nationalistic stereotypes proved to be true in this case, as the fearless Arakawa was not going down easily.

With Arakawa’s never-ending cardio and determination, it felt like Panterita was having the toughest fight of his life. With both his hands hurt and a busted-up nose from an unintentional headbutt, Panterita showed that he was every bit as resilient as his new amigo from Japan was on this grand occasion. In the 12th frame, with both boxers still stabbing at one another with fists, Mauro Ranallo joked that it looked like they were still in the first round. The pace just never slowed down.

Statistically speaking, while Arakawa threw more punches, Panterita landed more total punches. ShoStats indicate that difference being 480 to 280 in total punches. But the real key-difference in the fight was the power behind those punches; 450 of Panterita’s 480 punches were power punches.

The judges ruled the fight 118-108, 118-108 and 119-107, giving the kid from Weslaco the win via unanimous decision. I don’t feel the fight was that wide in the scorecards but it was clear that Panterita was the winner. In the beginning of the fight, Arakawa received some boos from San Antonio crowd. It was nothing personal, he was just Panterita’s opponent. At the end, everyone was cheering and applauding his efforts in the ring that night. This is a case where losing doesn’t hurt you at all.

There were several rounds that I would classify as candidates for possible “Round of the Year”; this bout is my “Fight of the Year”. Am I being biased? Probably.

At this point in time, its key competition for that award are Timothy Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov and Brandon Rios vs Mike Alvarado II. I felt Bradley-Provodnikov was better than Rios-Alvarado II, due to it’s amazing bookends and high-drama. But on this weekend, my choice stands with the raw, high-workrate brutality that Weslaco’s favorite son and Arakawa delivered on Spurs territory.

After such a fight, let’s hope both Panterita and Arakawa recover and get some good rest before they step back inside the ring.

But after the resting is all done, who will Panterita fight with next?

During the fight, color commentator Paulie Malignaggi mentioned how great a fight between Panterita and Juan Diaz would be. Others on Twitter, referenced John Molina Jr. and Jorge Linares as possible future opponents for Panterita. On an interview with KGBT Action 4 News, Panterita said a rematch with Arakawa is possibility. All are fine opponents and I would happily go to any of those fights if they were held in Texas.

The road is bound to get tougher for Panterita at this point. The skill level and grit of the boxers in the upper-echelon of the lightweight division will make them far more difficult to put away. Valley fans may need to get used to the idea of seeing Panterita having fights that will be competitive, as opposed to quick KO’s. Also, as seen on his Facebook, Panterita is very much aware that his defensive skills need work. He says he will try not to put his fans, family and friends through another crazy brawl like that again. But he concludes, “unless it’s absolutely necessary. Lol.”

In the mean time, enjoy the party at Ponchos in McAllen, you’ve earned it Panterita.

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