The recently retired former world champion is embracing his new life and mindset after dedicating 25 years to the Sweet Science.
The next morning was tough. It always is the day after a fight.
Omar Figueroa Jr. twisted out of bed. Every part of him ached. His knees and elbows were tender. He scoffed to himself that even his eyelids hurt. Figueroa shuffled his way to the bathroom and was greeted by a surprise—the reflection of a bruised, swollen smiling face. This time, it wasn’t the result of winning the previous night.
This time was different. This time was liberating. He had peace and quiet. The years of sacrifice, the morning runs, the constant dieting, and the mental dances were over.
Figueroa decided to retire from boxing.
The former WBC lightweight world champion fought for the last time, suffering an eight-round stoppage loss to former IBF 140-pound champion Sergey Lipinets on August 20 in a Premier Boxing Champions event on SHOWTIME from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Figueroa (28-3-1, 19 KOs) walks away clean, with no regrets.
The 32-year-old had been boxing ever since he was five, for 27 years; almost three decades.
“I remember looking at myself in the mirror the next day and it gave me a little glimpse at the rest of my life,” said Figueroa, recalling the day after the Lipinets setback when he announced his ring retirement. “I had the peace and quiet I wanted away from boxing. It was time to move on. My father (Omar Sr.) was good with me retiring. My family accepted it. It was sad because we put in a lot of work for that fight. I’m the oldest and the one who started my family into boxing. I got the love from my family afterwards and they were sad for me.
“But it was liberating the next day. I need to take order in my life. I have five kids, with my daughter, Dahlia, being born the day of the fight, on August 20. My oldest is going to be 10 in October and now I have Dahlia. It’s why my mental health is so important to me and why I’m going to continue being an advocate for mental health and mental health issues, because it really affects everyone, and everyone around you. I have a responsibility to be a good father to my children. Being a good father means being a healthy father, and that starts with my mental health.”
Months before the Lipinets fight, Figueroa Jr. bravely spoke out about the mental health anguish that he’s had to endure. His goal in retirement is to continue helping others recognize and address their mental health issues. Before facing Lipinets, it took strength to admit, as a former world champion boxer, that it was okay to be vulnerable. It took courage for Figueroa to be transparent about his past mental health concerns.
That is not going to change. He’s not going to be fighting with gloves on his fists anymore, though it doesn’t mean he’s going to stop fighting for the mental health community. He’s very proud of his advocacy.
He says he used to kid with himself that he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was under the impression PTSD was a mental health diagnosis only soldiers could have. He was unaware regular people can be afflicted, too. He researched YouTube videos on PDSD and began relating too much to what he saw. So, Figueroa thought he would click on another thumbnail video regarding deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which he thought only occurred with children. He found a grown man in his 40s talking about being diagnosed and that got him thinking.
He sought medical care. In August 2021, he was diagnosed, and a variety of mental health issues surfaced, like ADHD, and bipolar disorder. He also discovered that ADHD was hereditary. It answered a lot of questions.
“ In the past, it was me in my own mind. Now, it’s just me. ” Former WBC World Lightweight Champion - Omar Figueroa Jr.
“As long as I’m given the platform, I’m going to keep pushing for mental health and normalizing what is essentially being human,” Figueroa said. “I had to learn how to think differently and recognize that I do. Life makes a lot more sense. You realize that we’re all on this crazy, random trip on this floating, blue rock and no one really knows what the hell they’re doing.
“There are a lot of people who fake it well (laughs). We all improvise. The best thing for me is knowing no one has their stuff together. Some have their stuff together more than others, and we all like to pretend that we know what we’re doing. But at the end of the day, in reality, no one really does. Being from the Mexican American background I come from, my father (Omar Figueroa Sr.), for example, believes me, but he didn’t fully understand when I told him I was having a bad mental health day. It seemed like you were making excuses when you weren’t.
“Hey, I tried my best in the Lipinets fight. I could have peace of mind in moving on. I won a world title. I did some great things in the ring. I could walk away without having to look back. In the end, you have to do what’s best for you, not what you think is best for those around you. Mentally, for the first time ever, I can relate to different things and see things differently. I know how my brain functions. I know now that my brain is really different.”
Figueroa equated the way he used to think was like being on a crowded elevator with everyone talking simultaneously. He’s learned to limit the number of voices. He says the voices will always be there. He’s become more adept at tuning them out.
For years, he never gave himself credit for anything. His new self-awareness has aided him in continuing to evolve. Now that he doesn’t have to make weight anymore, one of his biggest joys will be eating. He loves cooking and dealing with food. His mother taught him how to cook when he was six. He’s thinking about going to culinary school, or traveling and tasting varying cuisines, which he would eventually use to open his own restaurant in his hometown of Weslaco, Texas.
He wants some separation, right now, with boxing. He does, however, realize that boxing is a part of him. The sport helped shape him as to who he is.
“In time, I’ll miss boxing,” Figueroa said. “There is a connection with me and boxing. I can see myself doing some commentating in the future. I want to experience the good side of boxing, because what I experienced was the bad side of boxing, the daily grind that the sport took out of me. I put my body through all kinds of hell. My dad put me through a lot that made boxing more a job than a love. I loved competing and touching someone and getting touched back. That was the maximum. My dad made boxing something horrible to do. It became torture. I’m better at processing things. I’m better at thinking things out. I can relate to people and situations better. I’m hoping one day my dad and me can get together and be father and son, rather than trainer and fighter.
“For years, I used to beat myself up. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve learned to like myself. In the past, it was me in my own mind.
“Now, it’s just me.”
For a closer look at Omar Figueroa Jr., check out his fighter page.
- Omar Figueroa Jr.