Today, Saturday November 14, 2015, Rita “La Guera” Figueroa will become the first female inductee into the Illinois Boxing Hall of Fame. Figueroa was an active professional boxer for many years before being sidelined with an injury. She first became involved in the sport in 1998 and continues to contribute to boxing through training and cornering. She gives a straight-shooting talk about her love of boxing, the people she’s worked with and being a woman in the sport.
Meredith Lyons: How does it feel to be the first women inducted into the Illinois Boxing Hall of Fame?
Rita Figueroa: I think it’s kinda cool! I think there’s a lot of women that work really, really hard that don’t get as much recognition as they should. So many women have opened the doors for me [and] I hope this opens the doors for somebody else to follow the same path.
ML: Do you have a fight that was a favorite or one that you are the most proud of?
RF: Probably when I won the WIBA belt. That was a good fight. The girl that I fought [Eva Lidia Silva] was really nice. She lives in Mexico, and I wish she lived closer because I would really like to work with her. She was such a nice girl. But, you know, my fights with Tammie Johnson were great because she is just tough as hell and we’re still friends. So that is really cool for me, because Tammie and her husband are just such good people. And she made me fight. She’s a tough girl! Just good fights, you know? When I think of fights that really made me do well, they would be the Tammie Johnson fights.
ML: You were already coaching while you were actively fighting in the ring. When you got injured, obviously, you had to stop fighting. Do you think that the fact that you were coaching already helped you stay in the sport?
RF: Absolutely. It was an easier transition, because I was already doing it, for sure.
ML: Do you think that you would have continued boxing after that fight had you not been injured?
RF: No. I already knew, and I didn’t voice it to anybody, because once you say you’re going to retire, you pretty much already have, but I knew in sparring. Fighters know. When you’re getting hit with shit you never got hit with before, you know. Your timing’s off, you’re slowing down your reaction time is different; so that was actually going to be my last fight. But you know, it kinda sucks you in, so you can’t say for sure, but in my mind, I was going to retire. Whether I would have or not, we’ll never know.
ML: Do you see yourself coaching boxing long term?
RF: I see myself being involved in the sport in some way or another for a long time. It’s just part of who I am; it’s like a drug. I mean, sometimes it’s a pain in the ass and it’s all bullshit, but you know, when you go in the gym and you work with the fighters … Just being with the fighters, that’s where I really like to be. The other bullshit, the business side of it, contracts, who cares. When the fighters say, “Hey, man, thanks coach, I appreciate it,” or you see them working on something and they’re doing good or you see them win a fight … just … you see them succeed. And if you can be a small part of that, that’s what it’s all about.
ML: Have you seen more women become involved in boxing since you’ve been active in the sport?
RF: I have. I mean, there’s a lot of good women boxers, there’s a lot of good women involved in the sport in general, not as much as there could be, but I think that a lot of women that want to get involved get intimidated. A lot of guys can put that attitude out there that it’s a guys sport but you can either have a thick skin and get through it or you don’t and you let it push you away.
ML: Any thoughts about the group of inductees going into the Hall of Fame with you tonight?
RF: I appreciate getting inducted because there are some really good people going in, Mike Garcia, David Diaz, Mike Joyce, Bobby Hitz, Doc Nicholson, Montel Griffin, Johnny Lira … and Johnny was always very nice to me. He was an old school guy, but he’s one that really showed me that old school guys appreciate somebody that works hard whether you’re a girl or not. Same with Mike Joyce. Mike Joyce made some very nice comments in an article, and that was very cool. He’s an old school guy. And Sam [Colonna] of course, Sam and I have been working together, doing stuff together forever. They’re just top-notch; not just boxers, but people. They’re just good people, so I feel honored to be going in with them. I’m just lucky to be involved in it. I’m grateful for the fighters that believe in me.
ML: Congratulations again and have a great time tonight. Any last thoughts?
RF: Thanks to everybody who helped get this far, and we have a long way to go.