By Lyle Fitzsimmons
The folks at Merriam-Webster have a clinical definition for it:
“(The) compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.”
Thing is, it also fits the way Omar Figueroa Jr. feels about boxing.
“We’re crazy. We’re insane. We’re masochists,” he said.
“I really have no other way of explaining why we love to put ourselves though this. Once you’re a boxer you become addicted to that rush you get when you’re beating someone up or they’re beating you up, or whatever the fact is. That’s what drives us.”
Now 27, the fresh-faced Texan has indulged his demon three dozen times since debuting shortly after high-school graduation in 2008. His subsequent rise through the ranks has yielded a championship at 135 pounds and “featured fighter” status within the acclaimed Premier Boxing Champions stable.
Figueroa’s next buzz seems sure to come Saturday night, when he’ll tangle with three-time welterweight title challenger Robert Guerrero atop a PBC on Fox card that’ll go live at 8 p.m.
Boxing, he said, provides the sort of athletic and psychological jolt that baseball never could.
“I didn’t really give myself much of a choice. I always knew,” Figueroa said.
“There’s not much I can do when they hit the ball to the third baseman and he can’t catch it to save his life, or the shortstop, or we can’t hit and produce runs. It’s just something I decided, I don’t want to be relying on other people. I want my success to lie on my shoulders and I want my failure to lie on my shoulders as well. You don’t get to point the finger at anybody else.
“It’s just you and your mind, your conscience, against him and his. Everything that you did wrong during camp. The time that night that you decided not to go for a jog – because you were too tired from the workout before, the strength and conditioning, the weight cut, the sparring – that’ll come back and haunt you. You have to be able to dance and live with your demons if you’re going to be a boxer.
“That’s what kills most boxers is the fact that they can’t mentally handle being a boxer and everything that comes with it.”
Indeed, as with a lot of addictions, the post-high reality brings a different challenge.
Figueroa conceded that the extended break since his last fight, a grinding unanimous decision over Antonio DeMarco in December 2015, has included a generous amount of time spent simply savoring his family and recognizing a renewed awareness of the peril he faces each time he takes another hit.
“As boxers, I feel like we have to deal with all this stuff internally,” he said.
“People don’t know what it’s like to get ready and to look at your family, look at your kids, look at your life the way it is – the hard work that you’ve done and everything you’ve built – and then know that you could go into the ring and never get to enjoy that the way you were enjoying it. Your kids, you’ll never see them the same way. Your family, your mother, your father, you’ll never see them the same way ever again if you get hit the wrong way. Or if just the accumulation of punches, one day, overflows the cup.”
It’s particularly pertinent given a fan-friendly style that almost guarantees a battering – Figueroa’s foes have averaged 234 landed punches over his last four 12-rounders – even in a victory.
“My daughter kept asking me questions (after the DeMarco fight) and she just kept caressing me and asking if I was OK and if it hurt. I don’t want to put her through that anymore,” he said. “It’s tough having to deal with all that and then having to get into the ring with world-class fighters. It just really stresses you out and it puts a lot of pressure on you. Mentally, you have those thoughts more often than not. And it’s something my mind needed a break from.”
Still, when it comes to those defiant tough guys who might brand such vulnerability and introspection as weakness, Figueroa has a simple diagnosis:
“Every fighter thinks about it,” he said. “Every fighter thinks about it and everybody who’s close to the fighter thinks about it as well. That’s why mothers and fathers and siblings are so worried, because the fighter voices it to them. And they think of it themselves. They never know if it’s the last time they’re going to see us normal again. It sucks. It’s tough. But it’s part of the job.
“That’s why, in my opinion, the suicide rate with boxers has gone up, because it’s something that we feel like were alone in and nobody understands. But then you get a fight and it kicks in again: ‘F*ck it. I gotta do what I gotta do. It’s my job. It’s what I love to do, so here we go.’”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF featherweight title – Wembley, United Kingdom
Lee Selby (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Jonathan Barros (No. 1 IBF/No. 11 IWBR)
Selby (24-1, 9 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten in scheduled 12-round fights (13-0, 6 KO)
Barros (41-4-1, 22 KO): Seventh title fight (3-3); Won seven straight since 1-3 stretch in 2011-12
Fitzbitz says: Barros has had a nice run since a rough patch against top-level competition, but Selby has too much to lose here and seems the more dynamic talent. He’ll keep it going. Selby by decision
IBO super middleweight title -- Wembley, United Kingdom
Chris Eubank Jr. (champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Arthur Abraham (No. 2 IBO/No. 2 IWBR)
Eubank Jr. (24-1, 19 KO): First title fight; Sixteen straight wins by KO/TKO (85 total rounds)
Abraham (46-5, 30 KO): Twenty-fourth title fight (19-4); Lost four of six fights outside Germany
Fitzbitz says: Abraham has the track record and, at least according to independent rankings, should be the favorite. But it says here that young blood beats old resumes. FOTY perhaps? Eubank in 10
WBA super featherweight title – Inglewood, California
Jezreel Corrales (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Robinson Castellanos (No. 10 WBA/No. 14 IWBR)
Corrales (21-1, 8 KO): Second title defense; First fight in the United States
Castellanos (24-12, 14 KO): First title fight; Has 14-2 record since 2010 (Started career at 10-10)
Fitzbitz says: Corrales scored a huge upset over Uchiyama, then backed it up in a rematch. And even though Castellanos is legit, he’s not thrived on the highest level and won’t here. Corrales by decision
WBA minimum title -- Chonburi, Thailand
Thammanoon Niyomtrong (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Rey Loreto (No. 1 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Niyomtrong (15-0, 7 KO): Third title defense; Seventh scheduled 12-round fight (6-0, 2 KO)
Loreto (23-13, 15 KO): Third title fight (2-0); Held IBO title at 108 pounds (2014-15, one defense)
Fitzbitz says: Niyomtrong has had one title belt or another on the line for each and every one of his 15 fights, and he’s never disappointed. It won’t happen here either. Niyomtrong by decision
WBC super featherweight title – Inglewood, California
Miguel Berchelt (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Takashi Miura (No. 1 WBC/No. 5 IWBR)
Berchelt (31-1, 28 KO): First title defense; Won by KO/TKO in both U.S. fights (12 total rounds)
Miura (31-3-2, 24 KO): Eighth title fight (5-2); Held WBC title at 130 pounds (2013-15, four defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Speaking of FOTY possibilities, this one seems a sound bet. Miura has more title-fight experience, but Berchelt may have revealed himself as special last time out. Berchelt by decision
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Lebedev)
2017 picks record: 47-17 (73.4 percent)
Overall picks record: 869-291 (74.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.