OAKLAND, CA – SEPTEMBER 08: Antonio Demarco celebrates after he beat John Molina Jr. in their WBC Lightweight Championship bout at ORACLE Arena on September 8, 2012 in Oakland, California. Demarco knocked Molina out in the first round. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

And Out Come The Wolves: Antonio DeMarco Goes Back To The Battle

Antonio DeMarco was 24 years old when he was first fed to the wolves. Human horror film Edwin Valero was making his Showtime debut, and Top Rank, his promoter, needed somebody who would not only make him look good, but who would give him a decent test. Enter DeMarco, a fellow southpaw with good pop, an iffy defense and an abundance of grit. This man would not lie down easily for anyone, and it didn’t take much prodding for him to go to war.

It was Feb. 6, 2010. DeMarco gave everything he had. He opened up a hideous gash on Valero’s forehead (from an elbow), took an absolutely frightful beating, and lost every round of the fight until the exhausted Mexican could take no more punishment. He could barely lift his head up in the corner after the 9th and final round. Many pundits wondered if he’d ever be the same. Valero would be dead two months later. DeMarco was back in the ring in July.

DeMarco scored a spectacular 1st round knockout of the normally-durable John Molina in 2012, earning himself a fight with Adrien Broner. The match-up pitted DeMarco’s aggressive southpaw style against Broner’s blistering hand speed and reflexes. Again, this one wasn’t close, with Broner teeing off until the fight was stopped in the 8th round. The emerging pattern was obvious — a step up in competition for DeMarco equaled an uncompetitive loss.

Saturday night, DeMarco will be fighting undefeated Texan Omar Figueroa in the main event of Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions” broadcast on NBC. DeMarco was not placed here to win. He’s lost two in a row, and though he’s only 29, lately he looks closer to 59. He’s in this position because he’s supposed to make Figueroa look good, give him some rounds and ultimately wilt away. DeMarco seems acutely aware that boxing has taken its toll on him, so much so that he retired earlier this year.  But that retirement was extremely short-lived, and now he’s going up against a guy known for his indefatigable work rate and relentless pressure. That’s not a good combination for a guy who hasn’t looked right in a long time. It’s a recipe for another terrible beating.

Last time we saw Figueroa, he earned a unanimous decision victory over Englishman Ricky Burns, aided by some iffy scorecards and a god-awful referee. Like DeMarco, he has no problem going to war. Despite his long reach, Figueroa likes to fight on the inside, landing power punches from everywhere. He frequently switches from southpaw to orthodox in an effort to break his man down. He’s good at it. And he’s got youth on his side — at 25, he can still dive face-first into shots in order to land his own, and he doesn’t come out any worse for wear. He relies on his chin and pressure, and they haven’t failed him yet.

If this fight had been made just a couple of years ago, it would have been pegged as a possible fight-of-the-year candidate, mostly because both fighters are so similar in style. Plus, one is southpaw and the other usually fights out of the orthodox stance, leaving both wide open for straight power shots. But DeMarco has faded so badly that most believe it will just be a matter of rounds before Figueroa ruins him, especially since his punch resistance is nowhere near what it used to be.

Maybe DeMarco has one more night left in him. Or maybe Figueroa just isn’t that great — there are certainly questions about whether or not he could handle a guy like Terence Crawford, or even someone like Broner. If we’re well into the fight and it’s a war, DeMarco has done something right, or Figs just isn’t quite as good as he’s made out to be. There were times during the Burns fight where Figueroa was getting drilled with everything. But Burns doesn’t punch like DeMarco can, so he simply couldn’t deter Figueroa from attacking.

And power is really DeMarco’s lone shot — a violent, wicked left hand that comes out of nowhere to catch his opponent right on the button. Figueroa is wide open to be hit. That won’t change here. Does DeMarco have enough left to land something significant before being pressured into dust? Hopefully this doesn’t end up being the one-sided beating many fans are expecting. DeMarco has proven willing to step into the ring with anybody, regardless of style. He’s never phoned it in, always fought with guts and heart.

Unfortunately, those who fight with heart and guts usually end up with only those things to rely on. DeMarco might already be there. And if he is, things are going to get ugly on Saturday, even more so if the referee is incompetent (we’re looking at you, Laurence Cole). Who knows, perhaps DeMarco will surprise everybody. This is boxing, where anything can happen. Just ask Peter Quillin. But this reeks of DeMarco’s handlers throwing him into hell one last time for a paycheck. Is the beating worth it?

As one of the more fan-friendly fighters in the sport, DeMarco deserves better.

(Image: Demarco celebrates after beating John Molina, Jr. Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)