|Doghouse Boxing Sits Down With Light Welterweight Contender Frankie “El Gato” Figueroa (Part 1)
Interview by Bob Carroll, DoghouseBoxing (May 26, 2009)
Light welterweight contender and former NABF light welterweight champion Frankie “El Gato” Figueroa, 203 (13 KO’s), is one of the most energetic fighters I have ever spoken with in my media career.
At the young age of 30, Frankie has not only planned his boxing career, but planned what will happen after his career. He has also made plans to help young fighters, just entering the sport, to stay away from the pitfalls they may face as professional fighter. He is a fighter that makes no excuses for his losses, and looks forward to his future.
Recently, Frankie sat down with Doghouse Boxing to talk about his past, present and what he is expecting for his future.
Bob Carroll (BC): Frankie, let’s start with your nickname, “El Gato”. How did you come by that moniker?
Frankie Figueroa (FF): El Gato means Cat in English. It comes from a gym that I was sparring at, and they had a home cat. The cat would run in and out of the ring quickly. One day I was sparring and they dared me to catch this cat. I could see him in my peripheral vision, trying to climb up to run across the ring. When he did get up and run across the ring, I wound up catching him while I was sparing and wearing my boxing gloves. When I did that, my trainer said “You can’t just catch the cat, you have to be the cat” and in Spanish, it’s El Gato. So that is how I became called that, I caught a cat while I was sparring.
BC: You had a relatively short amateur career, but you fought for two amateur titles along the way. Who are some of the names you fought and why did you decide to turn pro after just 16 amateur fights?
FF: One of the guys that I fought was Leon Green, who I fought in the finals of the Golden Gloves, Alvin Acousta, and I also fought in the US Everlast Open. That was were I fought a couple of really big names you may have heard of, Juan McPherson, James Harrison who won the national Golden Gloves the year before I fought him.
BC: You turned pro in 2002 and never took the easy road, taking on fighters like Martinus Clay, Matt McKart (Bronco’s brother) and finally a guy who gave you your second loss, Francisco Rincon. In that fight it seemed that things were working against you, did that hurt you mentally, ultimately costing you the fight?
FF: Um, no, that fight was after I fought Troy Wilson and got robbed in his hometown, so I don’t consider that a loss. That fight was given to him, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s what my record says and it says a loss. Francisco Rincon was a tough fighter, we were both upcoming prospects. There was no reason to fight him, but my manager that we should fight. I was beating him in rounds one through nine, and then round ten, he caught me with a punch that landed behind my guard and ended up putting me down, a flash knock down. Being so inexperienced, when he came to attack me again, instead of holding on like Randall Bailey, I ended up trying to attack back and hold my form, like “you may have hurt me, but I am going to show you that I’m still good!” When I tried to hit him, he hit me with a counter shot and I wound up going down once again. Being that there were two knockdowns in the final round, um, the judges ended up seeing the fight his way. It was a tough call, it could have been a draw, could have gone my way, but I didn’t really see it as his win. Of course, the judges were not listening to me, and it went his way.
BC: You bounced back from that loss, winning the New York State light welterweight title and eventually facing veteran Ubaldo Hernandez for the NABF light welterweight title. This was a guy who had been in against guys like Miguel Cotto, Juan Urango and Demetrius Hopkins, but you took the fight to him, knocking him out in the twelfth round. What was it like to hold that belt over your head?
FF: Well you know, I was so exhausted (laughing). I was too exhausted to contemplate the moment. In the round that I knocked him through the ropes and everybody jumped in the air was, for me, more exciting than winning the belt. Like I said, I jumped into boxing so late and to win the New York State title was more important for me than winning the NABF title. The New York State title was better because I grew up there; it meant more to me winning that belt than the NABF belt. To be honest, the NABF belt didn’t mean too much to me because, before I fought for it, I had never even heard of it. I knew it would get me rankings, but I didn’t go into that fight knowing what the NABF was all about, so it was more exciting for me to knock him through the ropes, and the people jumping up in the air, throwing stuff. That was the greatest part, seeing the fans get so excited. That was more exciting for me than winning the NABF title.
BC: You made two defenses of that belt, but gave it up after those defenses? What happened that you decided to give up the NABF belt?
FF: There were some promotional problems. They wanted me to fight Lamont Peterson and my promoter told me how much money I could make fighting him, I was like, man you are an a-hole! Why would I fight a guy like Lamont Peterson for $5000? You told me I would make a pile of money and now you want me to fight Lamont Peterson for $5 or 10 grand? Hey F you man, are you out of your mind? You have been playing with us the whole time with money and now you want me to fight Lamont Peterson for 5 grand? Are you out of your mind? I just told them to keep the belt, it won’t make a difference. So I ended up relinquishing the belt.
BC: In your latest fight, you took on a very dangerous veteran in Randall Bailey in an IBF eliminator bout? How did that fight come about?
FF: It came about after I beat Emmanuel Augustus, the IBF ranking system had the #1 and #2 spots were vacant because Paulie Malignaggi had given up the belt to fight Ricky Hatton. So #1 and #2 were vacated so they could fight for the title. So rankings 3-5 were me, Randall Bailey and Ricky Hatton. The whole world knew that Ricky Hatton was not going to Juan Urango for the title. So systematically, it came down to me and Randall Bailey to fight for a title shot.
BC: After taking a lead into the fourth round, you got hit by a damaging right from Bailey that put you down for the count. Do you even remember the fourth round?
FF: Yes, I remember the whole thing. I remember I was winning the fight. I’m pretty ring savvy and know whose winning a fight or losing a fight. I remember a part where we both stopped punching and I backed away because I knew Randall was coming at me. So I backed away and I remember Bailey throwing a jab and then a right hand that I did not see and that was the punch that put me down and out.
BC: After getting up off the canvas, you walked around the ring with Bailey, raising his hand in victory. Is the class you showed in doing that, something you ingrain in yourself?
FF: Well, I try to be a classy, confident and humble fighter. I’m very business savvy. I was talking to my brother and my fiancé about the fight and they started to talk to me about how I hugged Randall Bailey and I was like “really, I hugged Randall Bailey”? They said “yeah, you don’t remember that”? I said I don’t remember that part. They said I hugged Randall, he hugged me back and then we went around the ring together, getting the crowd excited. I said “ME?” they said “Yeah you!” I said “wow”, but that does show you the kind of character I have, and try to keep. I don’t remember the first 20 minutes after I got up off the canvas, and that’s just crazy how things like that happen and I didn’t even know what was going on.
In Part two of this interview, Frankie speaks of what made him the fighter and the man he is today. I'd like to thank Frankie Figueroa for taking time out of his training schedule to do this interview. For more on Frankie, listen to Bob Carroll, Butch and "THE Big Dog" Benny Henderson Jr. every Wednesday night from 89pm EST on Fightin' Words Radio Show. To listen live via the internet, go to http://1490wwpr.com and look for the "listen here" tab. Don't forget to check out the Fightin' Words Radio Show website, fightinwordsonline.com