In a certain Fight of the Year candidate, Omar Figueroa earned a lop-sided but incredibly entertaining decision victory over Nihito Arakawa to win the interim WBC lightweight belt Saturday night.
The confident, undefeated 23-year old Figueroa (21-0-1, 17 KOs) immediately came out firing from the outset but found himself met at mid-ring by an incredibly stubborn Arakawa (24-2-1, 16 KOs). The pattern of the fight that continued through all twelve rounds was Figueroa landing vicious shots with both hands to the head and body and Arakawa somehow bravely finding the resiliency to weather each storm and never stop wind-milling punches—nearly a thousand in total. Figueroa’s heavier hands continuously landed the much more devastating blows however.
Fans quickly got a preview of what was in store when Figueroa landed two huge left hooks halfway through the opening round that Arakawa somehow managed to shake off. The two men unexpectedly touched gloves to begin the second round. There had been some hard-earned mutual respect established already.
In the second, Arakawa bulled Figueroa to the ropes with a torrent of punches when suddenly Figueroa landed a sharp right hook that bounced off of the top of Arakawa’s head and had him badly wobbled. A follow-up volley and Arakawa’s knee touched the canvas for only the fourth knockdown of his twenty-eight fight career. The Japanese combatant rose and tore back into his opponent as the two went nose-to-nose in the proverbial phone booth until the bell.
Determined to even the score, Arakawa blitzed Figueroa to begin the next round, but as the wild see-saw action swung the more powerful Figueroa’s way suddenly a deep cut appeared on the middle of the bridge of his nose that would continue to pour blood for the remainder of the fight.
The next few rounds saw more of the same, as crowd anticipation swelled for the undercard fighters. Their heads lowered, they remained glued shoulder-to-shoulder trading withering shots—Figueroa’s artillery consistently heavier. Although Arakawa kept storming forward and trapping his opponent against the ropes, Figueroa actually did much more damage from there with his booming counter-punching. Soon the blood from all over Figueroa’s face began streaking Arakawa’s back.
In the sixth Figueroa landed his deadliest punch—the right hook from a southpaw stance—that badly hurt Arakawa and had him stumbling forward into the ropes for another ruled-knockdown. The Bushido warrior once again stunningly regained his bearings and attacked his opponent relentlessly, instantly erasing any doubt that his fighting spirit had diminished even one iota.
Despite remaining competitive, the shocking punishment Arakawa was taking caused Showtime commentator and welterweight Paulie Malignaggi to wonder aloud if his corner should contemplate stopping the fight. At one point, commentator Al Berstein declared, “Nihito Arakawa I think may be the toughest man on earth.” The swelling over Arakawa’s left eye from all of those thudding right hooks began to look grotesque from the ninth round on.
In the eleventh Arakawa somehow rallied yet again and won only his second clear round of the fight with endless volume punching. After spending the majority of the round trapped against them, Figueroa abruptly fought his way off of the ropes and the two engaged in a fierce exchange to end the round that caused one commentator to annoyingly exclaim, “Mama mia!”
The two fighters touched gloves to begin the last round before immediately settling into the cruel confines of their familiar phone booth. As the savage round drew to a close, Malignaggi concluded, “This is a time capsule fight…for every second of three minutes one or both guys has been punching.” The two fighters fittingly traded brutal toe-to-toe shots til the final bell. Figueroa’s nose was a bloody mess and Arakawa looked like he may have suffered a fractured orbital bone the way his left eye had frighteningly ballooned.
At the bell Arakawa smiled and held out his arms as the men embraced as only two warriors who had just been through such a ferocious encounter can. A battle that intense triggers emotions that trancend language barriers. Larry Holmes explained this phenomenon after his classic 15-round war with hated rival Ken Norton, “I learned more about Ken Norton in that fight than I could have if I sat down and talked to him every day for a year.”
The 119-107, 118-108 (twice) scorecards were academic, but Showtime commentator Mauro Ranallo surely took the words out of many observers mouths when he said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a lop-sided decision more.”