A Closer Look at the Weslaco ‘Heartbreaker’ and an Early Peek at Inoue-Nery


By Arne K. Lang

Brandon Figueroa returns to the ring on Saturday after a 14-month absence. He meets Jessie Magdaleno in a 12-round featherweight affair at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with the winner potentially headed to a match with Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue. Figueroa vs. Magdaleno will be part of the four-fight pay-per-view telecast topped by Canelo Alvarez’s super middleweight title defense against Jaime Munguia.

Akin to Magdaleno, Figueroa (24-1-1, 18 KOs) is a former super bantamweight (122-pound) champion. He won the WBA version of the world title with a 10th-round stoppage of Damien Vazquez and added the WBC belt with a seventh-round KO of previously undefeated Luis Nery who fights Inoue this coming Monday at the “Big Egg” in Tokyo.

Throughout history, many prominent boxers have been identified with the place that hewed them. Students of boxing history can identify the Saginaw Kid, the Terror Haute Terror, the Cincinnati Cobra – the list is long – and even casual fans can name the Brockton Blockbuster, the immortal Rocky Marciano.

Brandon Figueroa hails from Weslaco, a small city in the southern tip of Texas. It is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, commonly abbreviated RGV, and the locals feel an emotional tie to the entire valley, a place where the unofficial language among the adult population is Spanglish, a melding of Spanish and English.

Brandon’s older brother Omar Figueroa Jr, who retired in 2022 with a record of 28-3-1 after losing his last three fights, became a local hero after becoming the first boxer from the Valley to win a world title, in his case the WBC lightweight diadem. Brandon, 27, has the opportunity to out-do him by becoming the first boxer from the Valley to win titles in two weight divisions.

The brothers were introduced to boxing by their father, Omar Figueroa Sr. A mailman now in his twenty-seventh year working for the U.S. Postal Service, the elder Figueroa never boxed but followed the sport closely and hoped that one of his sons would follow in the footsteps of his sporting heroes Julio Cesar Chavez and the late Salvador Sanchez. Brandon borrowed a page from the Chavez playbook when he scored his signature win over Luis Nery. A left to the solar plexus ended the match. Nery replied with a sweeping left hook, but it was all instinct. In a delayed reaction, he crumpled to the canvas after launching the errant punch and was counted out.

Although Omar Sr has a picture in his cell phone of Brandon in fighting togs when Brandon was two years old, he insists that he discouraged his younger son from pursuing a career in boxing. “He was too skinny and didn’t have Omar’s natural talent,” the elder Figueroa told this reporter when we chatted at Las Vegas’ Pound4Pound Boxing Gym. “Then, when Brandon was about 12 or 13, he started hurting bigger boys with punches to the body in sparring and I thought, hold on, maybe I have something here.”

Omar Sr. opened a gym, Pantera Boxing, to give his sons a leg up and eventually enough kids from the neighborhood started coming by to field an amateur boxing team.

Omar Figueroa Sr was born in Northern Mexico and came to the United States at age nine. Many of his siblings – he was one of nine children -- reside in Mexico but close enough for family get-togethers. The Figueroa family has crossed the international bridge that connects the two countries on many occasions. Returning to Weslaco, they share the span with border-crossers seeking refuge in the United States.

“One of the things I’ve noticed,” says Brandon, “is that there are a lot more Europeans crossing over that bridge into the U.S. than we used to see, especially people from countries like Russia and Ukraine.”

About that nickname: Brandon acquired it while visiting relatives in Rio Bravo, Mexico, situated roughly 18 miles from Weslaco. He was just a boy, perhaps 11 or 12, and it was teenage or pre-teen girls who affixed the “Heartbreaker” label to him. Indeed, in the looks department, he could give Ryan Garcia a run for his money. (Back off, ladies, Brandon has a steady girlfriend.)

Brandon Figueroa doesn’t want boxing to define him. “I’m also a businessman,” he says, noting that he owns several parcels of Weslaco real estate and owns stock in one of his sponsors, LOCK’DIN, a start-up, high-performance beverage company whose Board of Directors includes Manny Pacquiao.

Brandon Pacquiao

In high school, Brandon took classes in theater. He has a role in a forthcoming Amazon Prime movie, “Find Me,” and a starring role in the first episode of the reconstituted “Tales from the Crypt” which will air on HBO Max.

When Brandon quits boxing, will Hollywood beckon? “I can’t imagine settling down anywhere but in the Valley,” he says. “The Valley will always be a part of me.”

In his last outing, Figueroa won an interim WBC featherweight title with a lopsided decision over Mark Magsayo. In theory, that boosted him into a fight with Rey Vargas who was allowed to keep his WBC featherweight title after moving up to 130 where he suffered his first defeat at the hands of O’Shaquie Foster. But in boxing, “money” trumps “mandatory” and Vargas jumped at the chance to fight in Saudi Arabia where he was fortunate to retain his title when he received a draw in his match with Liverpool’s Nick Ball.

The most lucrative fight out there would be a match with four-belt super bantamweight champion and pound-for-pound king Naoya Inoue who has expressed an interest in moving up to featherweight after disposing of Luis Nery. Yes, that’s putting the cart before the horse, but Brandon Figueroa thinks the challenger from Tijuana, despite his impressive record (35-1-1, 27 KOs) has scant chance of winning. “I found a hole in Nery’s style,” he said, “and knew that once fatigue set in for him, he would be mine.”

Inoue vs. Nery is a very big deal in Japan in part because there’s a hero and a villain. Luis Nery is the only man to defeat the popular Shinsuke Yamanaka, a long-reigning title-holder who quit the sport after Nery knocked him out twice. After their first meeting, Nery’s “A” and “B” samples tested positive for a banned substance and he came in three pounds overweight for the rematch (a substantial edge in a small weight class), for which he was suspended and dropped from the WBC rankings. Nery, wrote TSS correspondent Tamas Pradarics, “repeatedly cheated on the Japanese in ugly and disgusting ways,” and the Japanese haven’t forgotten.

If Brandon Figueroa goes off to Japan some day to oppose Naoya Inoue, it will take some doing to contort him into a villain. “I love the Japanese people and the Japanese culture,” he says, “the whole Samurai thing which is so in tune with the warrior spirit of Mexicans.”


The pay-per-view portion of Saturday’s show is available for purchase on various cable and satellite platforms including Prime Video, DAZN.com, and PPV.com. First bell is slated for 8 pm ET/5 pm PT.

Brandon Figueroa vs. Jessie Magdaleno will be the second bout on the four-fight PPV program. It will follow the WBA world welterweight title fight between Eimantas Stanionis and Gabriel Maestre and will precede the WBC interim world welterweight title fight between Mario Barrios and Fabian Maidana.
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