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Action stations for Luis Nery and Brandon Figueroa

Luis Nery vs Brandon Figueroa
Esther Lin/Showtime
Combative super-bantams Luis Nery and Brandon Figueroa prepare for battle, writes Paul Wheeler

WHEN Premier Boxing Champions and Showtime announced their upcoming fight schedule last month, there were some appealing matchups on the list. One of which was the 12-rounder between WBC belt-holder Luis Nery and his fellow unbeaten super-bantamweight Brandon Figueroa. Both men like to come forward and let their hands go, so expect no shortage of action when they collide at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California this Saturday (May 15).

Last time out in September, the two fighters recorded victories on the same bill. Nery picked up the vacant WBC title by unanimously outscoring the undefeated but untested Aaron Alameda, while Figueroa dominated and stopped the overmatched Damien Vazquez in 10 rounds. Although Nery was a worthy winner against Alameda, his performance was not as dynamic as we have become accustomed to seeing from him. The bout brought an end to a run of 11 consecutive inside-schedule wins for the Mexican southpaw.

For the Alameda contest, Nery had Eddy Reynoso in his corner – the coach of Canelo Alvarez and other top names. However, in February, Nery declared that he had parted ways with Reynoso after only one fight together. Having now reunited with his former trainer Ismael Ramirez, the 26-year-old wants to get back to doing what he does best – fighting on the front foot and letting his fists fly.

“A lot has been different in this training camp,” Nery commented. “My knockout streak came to an end because I wasn’t fighting in my style. I’m being more myself now, like I was during my knockout streak. My mentality is simple – it’s either me or him. I’m going to be myself and I’m going to be aggressive. I plan to win fighting in my style. Figueroa is a threat to my future plans. I need to eliminate that threat.”

For touted Texan Figueroa, this bout provides a chance to secure a statement victory, as beating Nery would undoubtedly be his biggest achievement so far. The Joel Diaz-trained talent is confident that he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

“My camp has been amazing and I’m in tremendous shape,” Figueroa said. “I know that Nery is a tough fighter, but I’m 24 now, so it’s time for me to start fighting these world-class opponents. I want to show that I belong in there with the best.”

While Figueroa is still searching for a true breakout win, Nery notched his back in August 2017, when he emphatically dethroned long-reigning WBC bantamweight titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka on away turf in Japan. A fourth-round stoppage saw the respected Yamanaka suffer a defeat for the first time in his career, yet Nery’s joy was to prove short-lived.

Just over a week later, it was revealed by VADA that in a sample provided 19 days before the fight, the Tijuanan tested positive for the banned substance zilpaterol, which is similar to the more widely known clenbuterol. There was talk of the result potentially being overturned and Nery being stripped of his belt, but he was reprieved when the WBC ruled that “all information and facts lead to conclude that the adverse finding was due to consumption of contaminated food products.”

Luis Nery
Naoki Fukuda

Though the WBC judged that Nery had not intentionally ingested zilpaterol, they still ordered him to take part in a rematch with Yamanaka, which took place in March 2018, once more in Japan. There was controversy again when Nery came in three pounds over the bantamweight limit and had to forfeit his title. Although he lost his belt, he did not lose the fight, as Yamanaka was ruthlessly dispatched in two rounds and sent into retirement.

Up to now, Figueroa’s most notable wins have come against Oscar Escandon and Moises Flores, who have both mixed in good company. The Weslaco native KO’d Escandon in the 10th round in September 2018, before knocking out Flores in the third, four months later. The sole blemish on his 21-0-1 (16) record came a year-and-a-half ago when he was held to a split draw by the heavy-handed Julio Ceja in a toe-to-toe thriller. The fact that Ceja missed weight by more than four pounds did not aid Figueroa’s cause.

The younger brother of ex-WBC lightweight title-holder Omar Figueroa Jnr, Brandon is a switch-hitting pressure-fighter who employs a fan-friendly, all-action approach. A tall and strong super-bantam who can take a shot, he possesses a tireless engine, which he puts to fine use by regularly unleashing hurtful hooks and combinations to head and body.

Like Figueroa, the 31-0 (24) Nery is a hard-hitting volume-puncher. He attacks with fast and furious flurries, putting a particular emphasis on the midsection. He is a fearsome aggressor, though he has been knocked down more than once in the past.

Despite holding significant advantages in height and reach over Nery, Figueroa does not usually fight to his size by boxing from range, instead opting to engage up close on the inside. This type of match should suit the more compact Nery, who can win a fiercely contested encounter on points, setting up a September 11 clash with WBO titlist Stephen Fulton in the process.

The Verdict Fulton will be watching with interest from his ringside seat.

The Undercard
Roman heads up the supporting acts, while Martinez continues his education

JUST as in the main event, the chief support pits two aggressive front-foot fighters against one another at super-bantamweight, as Daniel Roman meets Ricardo Espinoza over 10 rounds.

Roman, 28-3-1 (10), is the more experienced of the pair, having shared a ring with various noteworthy rivals. A previous holder of the WBA and IBF belts, the Los Angeles man dropped the titles to the quality Murodjon Akhmadaliev in January last year. In a close and compelling fight, the 31-year-old was edged out by Akhmadaliev on a split vote. He rebounded eight months later by unanimously outpointing the skilled but past-his-best Juan Carlos Payano, although he did not have things all his own way.

Espinoza is best known for engaging in a give-and-take war with the decorated John Riel Casimero at bantamweight in April 2019. Level on the scorecards going into the 12th and final frame, the 23-year-old Mexican was overwhelmed by Casimero with just over two minutes left in the bout.

With 21 early victories from his 25 wins (against three defeats), Tijuana’s Espinoza can certainly dig. However, he can be decked, too. Both Espinoza and Roman are effective body-punchers, but Daniel is the more polished boxer with his varied shot selection. The tough and well-conditioned Californian can come through on points in an entertaining scrap.

Also on the bill, the 16-0 (11) Xavier Martinez, from Sacramento, California, takes on seasoned Mexican Juan Carlos Burgos in a super-featherweight 12-rounder.

Last time out in October, the 23-year-old Martinez was given a scare by the dangerous Claudio Marrero, who sent him to the canvas twice. Martinez demonstrated his grit and determination by bouncing back to prevail via unanimous verdict.

A professional since 2004, the durable Burgos, 33, has fought some accomplished adversaries, but his prime was back in the early-to-mid 2010s. Expect another loss to be added to the Tijuanan’s 34-4-2 (21) ledger this weekend, with Martinez’s spiteful blows earning him a decision victory.

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