Omar Figueroa Jr. opens up about his mental health struggles 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 bouts.  (Francisco Perez/First Boxing Champion)

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

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. spoke casually to a reporter last week about his mental health diagnoses. One of the most entertaining fighters in boxing, Figueroa opened up about his mental health struggles with Adrien Broner at Showtime in Hollywood, Fla. on the day ahead of a scheduled super easy fight.

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

“It’s something that 90 percent of people go through, but everyone, when they’re having troubles, seems to think it’s just themselves,” Figueroa said.

Little did Figueroa know then how prophetic his words would be. On Monday, Broner released a statement on social media, withdrew from the fight against Figueroa, citing mental health issues. Hours later, Showtime announced that Sergey would replace Lipinet’s broner in Saturday’s main event.

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

On Instagram, Broner wrote:

“Man, I’m going through a lot in my life right now, but I’m not going to give up. I’ve set more goals for myself and I won’t stop until I finish what I started but I’m sorry to say but I’m not fighting #20. August”

Too many people ignore their mental health and don’t seek treatment, so Broner deserves credit for going public with an issue that some people find very difficult to debate.

Figueroa knows all too well what Broner is going through because he has been through it himself. And he has urged his father, Omar Figueroa Sr., to seek help because he believes his father also has Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

However, he decided to seek help himself while watching the gymnastics competition during the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.

“Watching the Olympics is something I grew up with,” Figueroa told Yahoo Sports. “It was huge in our family. We always had the Olympics at our house 24/7. And I saw Simone Biles decide to withdraw from the Olympics, despite being one of the top stars and perhaps the most scrutinized athlete at those games. She had the courage to do what was right for her and her mental health.

“That got me thinking. I’m not discrediting gymnasts, but they don’t get smacked on the head and smacked on their brains like we do [as boxers]. I said to myself, “Why don’t I do this? Because I’ve been struggling for 20 years, why don’t I have the courage to get treated like them? That got the ball rolling for me.”

First, he searched YouTube for videos about mental health, which convinced him to see a doctor.

“Knowledge [you have a mental health disorder] is really half the battle,” said Figueroa. “After I was diagnosed, I went to a therapist and — how do I say this? – it acquitted me of many things. I was raised pretty rough as a kid. A lot of things happened that I thought were my fault.

“I really suffered a lot. My father was really strict and many of the little quirks that come with ADHD were not soothing to him. He’s a great guy, but he has this old-school Mexican machismo mentality and he feels like he has to be tough all the time. He’s lived a tough life too, and there’s this thing in Mexican culture about how a real man is supposed to behave. That was tough for him and for me.”

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - MAY 1: Omar Figueroa Jr. reacts as he hits his during a sixth round KO loss to Abel Ramos during a welterweight bout at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 1, 2021 in Carson, California corner returns.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Omar Figueroa Jr. reacts as he returns to his corner during a sixth round KO loss to Abel Ramos during a welterweight bout at Dignity Health Sports Park on May 1, 2021 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Figueroa said that if his mental health issues surfaced, it would render him unable to do anything that an otherwise healthy man his age could do. He would feel those waves of emotion wash over him. When he was on top of the wave everything was great and he felt invincible. It was unbearable down there.

“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’re feeling this way and all this negativity comes over you and you’re in this horrible mood and it’s taking over your life,” he said he. “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.”

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

But all that success didn’t translate into positive self-esteem.

“I really enjoyed swimming and broke many records,” he said. “I’ve always been one of the best in baseball. As an amateur, I was very successful in boxing from a young age. But I always had this awful feeling because I knew I was doing great things and I was good at what I was doing, but I felt awful about myself far too often.”

Fighters are now more likely to talk about mental health issues. Ryan Garcia took a year off to deal with his problems. Danny Garcia unabashedly cried in the ring after a fight last month as he spoke about his struggles. Broner went public on Monday.

Mental health problems are real and pervasive and will not go away. Figueroa praised Garcia for what he had done and said the best decision he ever made was to seek mental health treatment.

“When I saw what Danny Garcia was doing on national television, 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 man who saw another man trying to kill him and he went and cried his eyes out and blew his heart out on national television. That was beautiful and I applaud Danny for that. I wish I could cry like that on national TV.”

For Figueroa, part of the treatment is understanding that he is not alone.

“I understand now, I’m in charge and my brain isn’t in charge,” he said. “Yes, I am my brain and my brain is me, but I feel like my brain has been in charge for much of my life and now that I’ve had help, I feel like I’m in charge now and that I have tools to deal with the problems I face.”

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