Omar Figueroa Jr. is a former boxing champion who has never lost in the ring, but his biggest battles have been the obstacles of life and himself.
On Saturday, Feb 16. Omar Figueroa Jr. (27-0-1) returns to the ring to fight John Molina Jr. (30-7, 24 KOs) on Premier Boxing Champion’s weekend fight card. Figueroa Jr. defeated Nihito Arakawa in 2013 to win the WBC lightweight title. He defended it twice in 2014, and it looked like he was on his way to becoming a pound-for-pound terror, but things aren’t always as they appear.
While Figueroa reigned as world champion, he was dealing with career-altering physical ailments. From 2014 through2018 Figueroa’s body has betrayed him at the worst possible times. There’s been a litany of injuries to his hands, wrist, elbow and shoulder.
Outside of an ailing body, Figueroa was also going through turmoil in his private life. Everyone has a limit, and there’s only so much a person can take. Sports fans judge athletes based on their athletic performance, but they don’t see the private pains that their favorite stars are battling.
The weight of physical and emotional setbacks took their toll of Figueroa’s psyche. The private stresses of life became public when he was arrested in late January of 2018 for DUI as he was set to fight Adrien Broner as a super lightweight that April. Instead, he suffered another injury that has kept him out of the ring ever since.
It has been a year and seven months since Figueroa’s last fight where he brutalized Robert Guerrero in three rounds. Although Figueroa looked sensational against Guerrero, his DUI and injury may have been a blessing in disguise. They helped him realize that even though he was successful in the ring, he was falling apart outside of it.
“I took this time to reflect,” Figueroa told FanSided. “I’m getting older. I have little aches and pains sometimes and wake up in the morning, and I feed my kiddos, and they’re getting older. It’s like dang, time is just passing by.”
Time stops for no man as the old saying goes, but Figueroa needed a break to deal with the emotional toll his personal life was taking on him.
"I was dealing with a lot of family issues as well. My parents just divorced and were going through that whole process. It got ugly at points. Me being the oldest, I was pretty much in the middle of it all. I had to contend with my parents and my siblings that were split too. It’s been trying, but at the same time, its helped me grow as a person as well and make me realize what’s important in life."
With the family turbulence that Figueroa was experiencing compounded with years of setbacks due to injuries, he looked for an outlet for his anguish outside of boxing.
“If I have to be honest, to me what I thought my best outlet was, was drinking,” said Figuerora. “That’s why I’ve gotten in trouble with the law. That’s why I feel like my career is maybe not at the place where it could be. I realize that now. Because of the trouble I’ve been in with the law, I’ve had to go through several programs for all that.”
It was clear to Figueroa that his own actions were hindering his career. His toughest adversary was himself and his own internal struggles. It’s easy to see when a boxer collapses in the ring, but their inward grief is something that doesn’t appear until it’s too late.
During his time away from the ring, Figueroa has focused on healing physically and mentally. His inactivity has been a cathartic experience that has benefitted him greatly.
"I always stress mental health. It’s a huge part of life, especially for an athlete. If you’re not right mentally, you’re not going to perform where you need to perform. Your body follows whatever your mind says. If your mind is in a messed up place, then you’re body is going to follow right there. I realize that I had to get myself in line. That’s what I’ve been doing these past two years where I’ve been inactive."
After so much time away from the ring, the big question is if Figueroa is the same fighter he once was? His performance against Molina will answer that question, but he feels like he is in tremendous shape.
“I feel great right now,” said Figueroa. “I value the time I’ve taken off so much because it has given me a better perspective on life.
When questioned if he still believes that he’s one of the best super lightweights in the world, Figueroa quickly responded, “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I was the best.”
Figueroa will try to prove to the world and himself that he’s still one of the division’s elite when he meets Molina on Saturday, Feb. 16 on FOX. Their broadcast begins at 8 PM ET.