Omar Figueroa Jr. opens up on his mental health issues and how Simone Biles inspired him to seek treatment

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Omar Figueroa Jr. opens up on his mental health issues and how Simone Biles inspired him to seek treatment

After a 28-0-1 start to his boxing career, former WBC lightweight champion Omar Figueroa Jr. is 0-2 in his last two fights. (Francisco Perez/Premier Boxing Champions)

Editor’s note: If you or someone you love is in emotional distress, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988.

Omar Figueroa Jr. was speaking casually with a reporter last week about his mental health diagnoses. Figueroa is one of the most entertaining fighters in boxing, and on this day he was discussing his mental health issues prior to a planned super lightweight bout with Adrien Broner on Showtime in Hollywood, Florida.

Figueroa had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, depression and PTSD.

“This is something that 90 percent of the people go through, but everyone seems when they’re having problems to think it’s just them,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa couldn’t have known at the time how prophetic his words would turn out to be. On Monday, Broner released a statement via social media, pulling out of the bout against Figueroa, citing mental health issues. Hours later, Showtime announced that Sergey Lipinets would replace Broner in Saturday’s main event.

Broner has long been known for unusual and often outlandish behavior. During this training camp, he did interviews from his bed. But on Monday, he finally sought help by saying he couldn’t fight in the head space he’s in.

On Instagram, Broner wrote:

“Man I’m going thru a lot at this moment in my life but I ain’t go give up I set some more goals and I ain’t stopping until I finish what I started but sorry to say this, but I’m not fighting #August20th”

Too many people ignore their mental health and don’t seek out treatment, so Broner deserves kudos for going public with what some people is a very difficult issue to discuss.

Figueroa knows all too well what Broner is going through because he’s been going through it himself. And he’s urged his father, Omar Figueroa Sr., to seek help because he said he believes his father also has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

He decided to seek help for himself, though, while watching the gymnastics competition during the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Watching the Olympics is something I grew up doing,” Figueroa told Yahoo Sports. “It was huge in our family. We had the Olympics on 24-7 at our house, always. And I saw Simone Biles decide to pull out of the Olympics despite the fact that she was one of the top stars and maybe the athlete who was the most under the microscope at those Games. She had the guts to do what was right for her and for her mental health.

“That got me thinking. I’m not discrediting gymnasts, but they’re not getting punched in the head and having their brains beaten on like we do [as boxers]. I said to myself, ‘Why am I not doing that? Why don’t I have the courage to seek the treatment like she did, because I have had issues for 20 years?’ That got the ball rolling for me.”

He first sought out videos about mental health on YouTube which convinced him to seek out a doctor for care.

“Knowing [you have a mental health disorder] is really half the battle,” Figueroa said. “After I was diagnosed, I went to talk to a therapist and — how do I say this? — it absolved me of a lot. I had a pretty rough upbringing as a child. There were a lot of things that happened that I thought were my fault.

“I really suffered a lot. My Dad was really strict and a lot of the little quirks that come with having ADHD weren’t appeasing to him. He is a great guy, but he has this old-school machismo Mexican mentality and he feels like he has to be tough all the time. He’s lived a tough life, too, and there is this thing in Mexican culture about how a real man’s supposed to act. That’s been hard on him, and on me.”

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - MAY 01: Omar Figueroa Jr. reacts as he heads back to his corner during a sixth round knockout loss to Abel Ramos during a welterweight bout at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 01, 2021 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Omar Figueroa Jr. reacts as he heads back to his corner during a sixth round knockout loss to Abel Ramos during a welterweight bout at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 01, 2021 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Figueroa said that when his mental health problems would arise, it would render him unable to do anything, an otherwise healthy man of his age could do. He would feel these waves of emotion come upon him. When he was at the top of the wave, everything was great and he felt invincible. At the bottom, it was unbearable.

“You get to the bottom of the wave and you don’t really know you’re at the bottom and you don’t know why you feel like this and you have all this negativity coming upon you and you’re in this horrible mood and it’s taking over your life,” he said. “You feel like you’re not good enough to do anything. When I was at those points, all I wanted to do was cry and be alone.”

He was a great athlete as a boy, he said. He was an elite swimmer and a quality baseball player, as well as a star boxer.

But all of that success did not translate into positive feelings of self-worth.

“I enjoyed swimming a lot and I broke a lo of records,” he said. “In baseball, I was always one of the best. I was very successful at boxing as an amateur from a young age. But I always had this horrible feeling knowing I was doing great things and was good at what I did, but I felt horrible about myself far too often.”

Fighters are now more often speaking of mental health issues. Ryan Garcia took a year off to deal with his problems. Danny Garcia cried unabashedly in the ring after a fight last month while discussing his issues with him. Broner went public on Monday.

Mental health issues are real, and pervasive and aren’t going away. Figueroa praised Garcia for what he did and said the best decision he’d ever made was to seek mental health treatment.

“Seeing what Danny Garcia did on national TV, I loved it and I think that moment helped normalize mental health issues for so many people,” Figueroa said. “This guy just won a boxing match. He’s a grown-ass man who had another man in front of him trying to kill him and he went and bawled his eyes out and poured his heart out on national TV. That was beautiful and I applaud Danny for doing that. I wish I could cry on national TV like that.”

For Figueroa, part of the treatment is trying to understand he’s not alone.

“I understand now, I’m in charge and my brain’s not in charge,” he said. “Yeah, I am my brain and my brain is me, but I feel like for a lot of my life, my brain was in charge and now that I have gotten help, I feel like I’m now in charge and I have the tools to deal with the issues I face.”

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