By DAVID WEINBERG
ATLANTIC CITY — Local boxer Justin Figueroa loaned his opponent Tavaris Smith a pair of boxing shoes on Saturday night, then quickly knocked him down.
Figueroa, a member of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol and a graduate of Holy Spirit High School, had a spectacular professional debut. To cheers from hundreds of fellow lifeguards and former Spartans schoolmates, the 23-year-old recorded a first-round knockout at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom.
“The fans really gave me a boost,” Figueroa said. “I’m from Atlantic City and fighting in my hometown means everything to me. It was like a dream come true.”
Figueroa wasted little time to claim victory. He pounced on Smith (0-5) early in the scheduled four-round fight, blasting him with a barrage of punches that forced him into a corner. Figueroa landed another six-punch flurry that forced Smith to all fours. Referee Sparkle Lee completed the 10 count at one minute and 34 seconds into the junior middleweight bout.
With the fans roaring, Figueroa celebrated by doing the “Worm” in the ring, then stood up before jumping the ropes and spitting water into the air.
“I had this planned,” Figueroa said with a smile. “I’ve seen a lot of fighters do backflips in the ring after winning, but I’ve never seen anyone else do the ‘Worm’.
Given the electric atmosphere, Figueroa would have been forgiven if he had been a little nervous and hesitant beforehand, but that was not the case.
He tapped his foot and waved to fans during pre-fight introductions, then quickly settled in and got to work.
“I love his work ethic and his approach to things,” coach Arnold Robbins said. “I didn’t want him to think too much. I told him to relax and do what he does best and he did exactly that. He minded his own business like he was supposed to.”
Figueroa made sure to pay attention to both the fighting and the business of the sport.
Once he decided to make boxing his career, he bought the book “How to protect yourself at all times” by Adrian Clark. A conversation with Clark led to a meeting with Jolene Mizzone, a former Main Events matchmaker who is now president of Fighters First Management. Mizzone is Figueroa’s manager.
“The AC connection is what caught my attention at first,” Mizzone said. “It’s been a while since Atlantic City produced a local fighter. And then when I met him he had a list of questions for me and that really impressed me. He’s the total package.”
Millville middleweight Thomas LaManna (32-5-1, 13 KOs) has also shown success in and out of the ring. LaManna, who is president of Rising Star Promotions, set up Saturday’s eight-fight card and then recorded an eight-round unanimous decision over Mexico’s Saul Roman (46-16, 15 KOs) in the main event.
LaManna nearly ended the fight in the fifth round, pushing Roman into the corner with a left-right right hook combination that sent sweat to Roman’s forehead. Roman suffered a standing eight count but managed to last the remainder of the round.
“I had a little rust, but it was good to be back after a year and a half off,” LaManna said. “It’s the last time I’m going to promote and fight on the same card, though. It’s just too much to worry about and my career is too important to risk it again. This is my last comeback and I don’t want to do anything to compromise it.”
Undercard: In the co-main event, Puerto Rican bantamweight contender Emmanuel Rodriguez overwhelmed Miami’s Frank Gonzalez (9-3, 4 KOs) en route to a fourth-round knockout.
The best fight on the card saw Woodbridge bantamweight Jose Nieves (4-0, 2 KOs) go undefeated with a four-round unanimous decision over Juan Seguiera of Nicaragua (1-1, 0 KOs). Nieves came off the canvas in the first round to take control in a thrilling slugfest.
New York junior welterweight Kurt Scoby (7-0, 5 KOs) went undefeated with a first-round TKO over Miami’s Raul Chinno (19-16, 12 KOs).
Philadelphia lightweight Derrick Vann (2-4) scored a four-round split decision upset over New York’s Paul Bamba (4-2, 3 KOs).
Newark bantamweight Anthony Johns (4-0, 3 KO) went the distance for the first time in a four-round unanimous decision against Philly’s Jerrod Minor (2-15-1, 1 KO).
In the opening bout, undefeated welterweight Avious Griffin (9-0, 8 KOs), of Chattanooga, Tennessee, scored a pair of knockdowns en route to a second-round knockout against Bowie, Ariz. Ramon Marquez (4- 2, 4 KOs).
PUNCHLINES: Boxing will be back in town on Friday, September 9 with a SHOBOX: The Next Generation card in Bally’s Atlantic City. Joseph Adorno (16-1-2, 14 KOs), of Reading, Pa., will meet Argentina’s Hugo Alberto Roldan (21-0-1, 7 KOs) in the 10-round welterweight main event.
LaManna plans to challenge for a WBA regional title in Colombia in early September.