By Jake Donovan
John Molina Jr. was less surprised of first hearing that Omar Figueroa Jr. was eager to face him than he was of conditions under which said fight would take place.
The pair of all-action warriors will collide this Saturday live in primetime on Fox TV from the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California. Not only does the fight take place 30 minutes from Molina’s Covina hometown, but was also due to be held at (or around) the super lightweight limit as opposed to welterweight where Figueroa has appeared his past two fights.
“I have to be honest, that’s the only part of the fight that really surprised us,” Molina Jr. (30-7, 24KOs) admitted to BoxingScene.com of their crossroads bout. “Everyone just assumed it would be a welterweight fight, but Figueroa and his people actually insisted on it taking place at 140.”
It turned out to be a strange request on the part of Figueroa, who for the second time in his past three fights was forced to request a modified weight limit just days ahead of a scheduled bout. The two will now compete at a contracted catchweight of 146 pounds, although both fighters came well within that mark during Friday’s weigh-in
Molina Jr. was actually due to fight at welterweight last September, only for his planned showdown with past sparring partner and former welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz never quite make it to fight night. Ortiz was arrested during fight week on multiple counts of felony sexual assault, for which he continues to stand trial.
The dilemma left the 36-year old Californian without a fight for all of 2018, but with the promise of something big around the corner. The cancellation of the bout came at a time when his adviser, Al Haymon and the team at Premier Boxing Champions were mapping out long-term plans with Showtime and Fox Sports.
Molina Jr. was brought into consideration for the latter faction, and given a few extra months to shrink his 5’10 ½” frame back down to a super lightweight uniform. He hasn’t fought at the weight—or at all, for that matter—since an off-the-canvas 4th round knockout of Ivan Redkach in Dec. ’17.
Still, it’s been his weight class of choice dating back to 2013 and the fight with Ortiz was always intended as a one-and-done at welterweight—unless, of course, a huge opportunity within the lucrative weight division was to follow.
It now turns out that Saturday’s affair will serve as that lucrative opportunity to fight outside of his comfort zone.
For Figueroa, sadly it’s business as usual.
The now 29-year old Texan missed weight for a May ’15 super lightweight clash with Ricky Burns, in which he won a disputed 12-round decision. Nearly everyone involved in his Dec. ’15 showdown with Antonio DeMarco was caught off guard when he tipped the scales at a beefy 151 pounds, revealing well after the fact that the weight limit had been drastically changed during fight week.
Figueroa Jr. wound up sitting out all of 2016, sorting through in-house issues while also ballooning up in weight. He came back fighting fit in a 3rd round knockout of former multi-division titlist Robert Guerrero in July ’17, but has spent the past 19 months recovering from injuries and other matters in finally returning to the ring this weekend.
Although he requested the weight limit at which Saturday’s co-feature attraction will be fought, there still remained the matter of both boxers actually hitting the mark at Friday’s weigh-in. A concession made during fight week clearly gave us that answer.
“I can’t speak for (Figueroa Jr.), but I know how I’ve spent my training camp,” promises Molina Jr., who did miss weight by three pounds in an eventual 8th round knockout loss to then-140 pound champion Terence Crawford in Dec. ’16. “It’s a very intricate process, but we have a precise system in place to ensure that the weight comes off the right way.
“A lot of other fighters go about it in a very antiquated matter. That’s why there are so many frontrunners in the sport. They come out with a burst of energy in the first four rounds, then fall flat. We’ll find out on Saturday if Omar is ready to fight or just trained to make weight. I know how I prepared for this weekend.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox