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Brandon Figueroa on stepping out of his brother's shadow with a breakthrough 2019

Sporting News — (Steven Muehlhausen)

Entering 2019, Brandon Figueroa had one clear goal in mind: Become a world champion. 

While it's easier said than done, Figueroa accomplished the feat in April when he stopped Yonfrez Parejo to become the interim WBA super bantamweight champion. 

He followed it up with an even better showing in August, notching a spectacular knockout of Javier Nicolas Chacon for his first successful title defense.

"My goals were to at least become an interim world champion," Figueroa told Sporting News. "I became that. I honestly didn’t believe I would be a regular champion for the WBA. But here I am, defending it. It’s an amazing feeling what I’ve accomplished in one year." 

Since then, Figueroa was bumped up to WBA "Regular" champion status by the sanctioning body as he looks to defend again, facing Julio Ceja as part of the Deontay Wilder-Luis Ortiz 2 card Saturday night.

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Since he was a little kid growing up in Weslaco, Tex., the 22-year-old was always in the shadow of his older brother, former WBC lightweight titlist Omar Jr. Their father, Omar Sr. had always given the majority of his attention to his elder son because he felt the 29-year-old had more potential of the two. However, the tide started to shift a bit when Brandon was 15 and he stopped a Mexican pro fighter during a sparring session. That was Brandon laying the groundwork toward eventually becoming a world champ himself.

"I definitely do feel like I’ve carved my own path," Figueroa admits. "I’m grateful to my brother for paving the way for me and opening up doors. At the end of the day, I’m the one who puts in the hard work in the gym. I’m the one who puts my life on the line every time I’m in the ring. I’ve worked hard to get here. I feel like in my own way. I’m creating my journey. I just know that I’m an action-packed and fan-friendly fighter. I feel like little-by-little I’m starting to get that respect. I’m only 22, and I only have a lot to prove to myself." 

Saturday's fight is the biggest of the year for the rising star because of how quickly he ascended boxing heights and the fact that he's on the undercard of one of the top names in the sport in Wilder. 

Figueroa has relied on big brother to help him navigate the waters of what's been a hectic lead-up.

"He helps me out in the little things like keeping me loose, not overthinking about the fight, how to handle the media interviews, which allows me to focus on going out there and giving it my all," Figueroa said.

A win over Ceja (32-4, 28 KOs) would make Figueroa 4-0 for 2019 and erase any lingering doubt about him being in the shadow of his brother.

"It would make it an amazing year for me," Figueroa said. "To start off the year becoming the interim champion and then defending the title. Winning on a card like this, I deserve to be the regular champion. I have to win in spectacular fashion and look really, really well to not put any doubt in people’s minds and prove to myself that I belong here."