Figueroa is winning battles outside the ring and hopes to do so inside it when he faces fellow former champ Sergey Lipinets in a WBC 140-pound title eliminator Saturday night on SHOWTIME.
It has been said the most complex computer is the human brain. And that must be true, if the total of all the components in the three pounds or so of soft fat floating inside the skull in a sea of cerebrospinal fluid are added up. A weekly lottery ticket purchaser could score the big jackpot in numerous consecutive weeks at lower odds than even the most accomplished probers of the human brain could in attempting to accurately describe all the intricacies of thought processes involving approximately 86 billion neurons woven together by an estimated 100 trillion connections, or synapses.
Even so renowned an expert as Christof Koch, Ph.D., Chief Scientist and President of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, admits to the semi-futility of answering every question that might arise from the study of brains in life forms vastly less intricate than those of human beings. “We don’t even understand the brain of a worm,” Dr. Koch offered in a moment of candor.
But mankind nonetheless presses on in its never-ending quest for knowledge, which brings more than a few seekers of truth to the curious and compelling case of former WBC lightweight champion Omar Figueroa Jr., whose brain has been a veritable petri dish of case studies since he was a teenager.
At various times, the 32-year-old Figueroa (28-2-1, 19 KOs), who takes Sergey Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs), a late replacement for former four-division world champ Adrien “The Problem” Broner (34-4-1, 24 KOs) Saturday night in the 12-round, WBC Super Lightweight Title Eliminator live on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, has been diagnosed with all manner of jumbled neurons and synapses.
An opponent in the other corner intent on knocking him out is hardly the most pressing concern for Figueroa, who for years has had to fight his way back in an ongoing battle with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), Bipolar disorder, clinical depression, anxiety, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) known as “complex PTSD.” He also has had to deal with a series of injuries, most notably to the primary instruments of his trade, his hands.
“Injuries have hindered my career, too,” said Figueroa, whose last victory, a 10-round unanimous decision over John Molina Jr., was on February 16, 2019. “I’ve broken my hands several times each. You can’t do anything without your hands in boxing.”
Nor, it would seem, can you approximate the best version of yourself in the ring if your mind is not in near-perfect harmony with your body, which it was not for Figueroa in his most recent bout, a sixth-round stoppage loss to Abel Ramos on May 1, 2021. That defeat resulted in Figueroa receiving an urgent message from his mind that the physical and psychological sides of himself needed to resolve any and all conflicts, or else his career as a past world titlist with a vision of becoming one again would end sooner than he or his supporters would prefer.
“I don’t know,” Figueroa said of his surprisingly less-than-stellar performance against Ramos. “I wish I knew what the heck happened in that fight. My legs just weren’t there. That’s the most frustrating thing that can happen because we went through a whole camp and whenever I’m in camp I’m 100% and I dedicate myself.
“ I’m appreciative of and grateful for the opportunity that I have to do this (boxing) again. ”
Former World Champion - Omar Figueroa Jr.
“I did everything I had to do to be perfect for that fight. In the first round I knew I hurt him and I know I could have finished him, but when I tried to put in that little extra effort to finish him, my legs just weren’t there. I don’t know what happened to my body at that point, but that’s also what started me on this introspective journey. I started looking into mental health and I realized how important that was.”
The inspiration – well, one of them, at least – for Figueroa to identify some of the inner torments within himself and to restrain them as best he could was pixieish gymnast Simone Biles, whom everyone expected to shine as brightly at the 2021 Beijing Olympics, as she had at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. But Biles withdrew from several events, citing mental fatigue and her desire to find the sort of peace that she had not felt for some time.
“The fact that she pulled out of (a portion of) the Olympics lit a fire under my ass and it got me thinking that she had to do that when she was one of the focal points of her sport, to take care of herself, got me to thinking, `What am I doing with myself? To myself? What aren’t I paying attention to my brain, which is the most vital part of me that I have? I knew I had to look inward.’”
The pre-therapy side of himself, Figueroa said, “was fueled by hatred and anger … all the negative stuff. I’m appreciative of and grateful for the opportunity that I have to do this (boxing) again. I know now that it was never me against the world. It was me against me.”
Can the less-stressed, more-in-control Figueroa prove as successful, and perhaps more so in a strictly boxing sense, than his previous incarnation as a raging storm making frequent landfalls inside the ropes? He believes it is possible, but one thing he has learned about himself is that it is imprudent to issue guarantees that only can be verified, or not, on fight night.
“The therapy and counseling has allowed me to open up and be human,” the Texas-born Figueroa said of his reconfigured priorities that can and should also prove useful to him as a fighter. “I didn’t feel human before. I went through so much growing up, especially in the Mexican culture as a man with all the machismo.
“We all deal with these sort of things to one degree or another, but me maybe more so because of the position that I’m in, as a known boxer and all that. Knowing that I could use the platform that I’m on to help people like me have the courage to face what I did … Look, I can be open about it now and shine some light in other people’s lives if they’re going through a dark place.”
Mental health – for everyone, not just boxers or athletes – has become an increasingly major concern. That Broner, who has his own history of sometimes inexplicable behavior, cites that factor as the reason for his withdrawal only serves to identify the “dark place” Figueroa has been striving to escape for a large segment of his life.
If Figueroa truly has found a way to stop fighting himself, adjusting to a new opponent, the 33-year-old Lipinets, should be a relative snap.
For a closer look at Omar Figueroa Jr, check out his fighter page.