By Keith Idec
ATLANTIC CITY — Omar Sheika respects Yusaf Mack’s boxing ability, but the veteran brawler believes he can make Mack quit.
Sheika will try become the fifth fighter to stop Mack when they meet tonight in the main event of an eight-bout card at Resorts Hotel Casino, a non-televised, 12-round fight for the USBA light heavyweight title.
“He does well, but he does die out,” Sheika said. “I don’t know if it’s the pressure or he can’t take it when they fight him back. When it gets tough on him, he quits in a way. He’s not comfortable in there. That’s when you have to dig deep and see what you have in you. That’s what I’m trying to do with him, to see if he’s going to dig deep or he’s going to quit.”
Those closest to Sheika suggested that he quit boxing this time last year, after he took an inordinate amount of punishment in a one-sided, 12-round defeat to Philadelphia’s Garrett Wilson. The 35-year-old Sheika knew, however, that his loss to Wilson was as much related to him making the mistake of fighting at cruiserweight as anything.
And the longtime super middleweight contender had beaten Wilson (13-5-1, 7 KOs) by fourth-round technical knockout a year earlier, so he didn’t want to end his career after such a disappointing defeat.
“I have a lot of belief in myself,” said Sheika (32-11, 21 KOs), whose granite chin has helped make for some highly entertaining slugfests during his 15-year career. “But if you’re going to do it [halfway], don’t do it at all. Especially in boxing, it’s not worth it. This is a sport you can get hurt in. And it showed.
“When I fought Garrett Wilson the first time I was in decent shape, at 178, 180, and I stopped him in four rounds. I felt good. Then, when I fought him again, I was like 195. I felt like [crap]. I didn’t train, I didn’t spar. And he couldn’t even do nothing to me. I was taking shots, but I could take that. But I knew that wasn’t me. I’m not a cruiserweight. I’m not a 195-pound fighter. I had to get back to doing it the right way and doing it 100 percent.”
New trainer Alex Davila helped push the Paterson, N.J., native to rededicate himself to training late last year. He came back to win his last two bouts by decision, but Philadelphia’s Mack (29-4-2, 17 KOs) is a better fighter than fellow Philadelphians Charles Hayward (7-5, 3 KOs) and Anthony Ferrante (12-3, 7 KOs). Sheika beat Hayward by majority decision Jan. 21 in Hamilton, N.J., and defeated Ferrante by unanimous decision Feb. 24 in Chester, Pa.
The 32-year-old Mack hasn’t fought since IBF light heavyweight champ Tavoris Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) stopped him in the eighth round June 25 in St. Charles, Mo., but he’s still considered a legitimate light heavyweight contender.
“That’s why I took a fight like this,” Sheika said. “He’s ranked No. 6 or No. 7 in the world. It’s for the USBA championship and that’s a title that can put you up there in the IBF [rankings]. It can open many doors. He’s a tough fighter, people know of him, he’s ranked high.
“So I think beating him would be a good win for me, especially in Atlantic City the day before the Hopkins-Dawson fight on HBO, where there’s going to be a lot of press, a lot of media, a lot of good things in AC that weekend. If I look sharp, I think a lot of things could open up for me again. A lot of people know of me, they know my name, so if they see me in the right condition, the right shape, and that I’m for real, I could get that opportunity again.”
Sheika has fought four times for super middleweight world titles, but lost each of those fights to Joe Calzaghe (August 2000), Eric Lucas (September 2002), Jeff Lacy (December 2004) and Markus Beyer (September 2005). The 1996 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team alternate also lost to Roy Jones Jr. three years ago and beat former undisputed light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson by majority decision in June 2000. He hopes to earn a fifth title shot before he retires.
“I think I have the same style as [Glen] Johnson, even better I think, and Cloud and [Librado] Andrade,” Sheika said, referring to three of the four fighters who’ve stopped Mack. “All these guys put pressure on him. They don’t’ have that one-punch knockout power. They just threw a lot of punches and broke him down. My style is similar to that style, so I’m basically going do that and hopefully we’ll get him out of there.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com.