Thursday, March 19, 2009

Omar Sheika’s Journey on the Road of Life

Omar Sheika will step through the ropes tomorrow night versus Roy Jones, Jr. in the role of challenger against the hometown favorite. But one thing is for certain, Omar Sheika is used to playing the familiar character, and like the song goes - “That’s just the way it is, and some things will never change.”

Sheika has made a career out of fighting on the road and unfortunately he hasn’t found the road to be a very accommodating place. The 32 year-old of Palestinian descent hails from the mean streets of Paterson, New Jersey and during the course of his 12 year professional career he’s only fought in his hometown once.

During the years that Sheika has been punching for pay and living the life of a prizefighter he’s managed to amass a career record of 27-8 (18KO), but the story behind the numbers is that six of those losses have come in the backyard of his opposition.

There was Tony Booth in England, Joe Calzaghe in Wales, Eric Lucas in Montreal, Scott Pemberton (twice) in Connecticut and Markus Beyer in Germany. So as he readies to face-off against Roy Jones, Jr. tomorrow night in Jones’ hometown of Pensacola, Florida inside what will be the unfriendly confines of the Pensacola Civic Center, it doesn’t seem to faze Sheika much.

“This is way better than fighting overseas - that’s for sure,” chuckles Sheika. “I don’t have to go across the pond. It’s here in the U.S., in Florida, so I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully there will be some Pensacola fans who will be backing me up after the fight, too.”

Sheika says that his plan against Jones will be to use his strength, aggressiveness and punching power to upset the betting favorite in front of his hometown fans.

“What I’m going to do is put him in the position where he will have to fight me,” says Sheika of Jones. “Especially with the fight being here in his hometown, I’m sure he also wants to put up a good fight. I’m sure his fans don’t want to see him running around and going in circles. Boxing fans don’t want to see that, they want to see a fight, that’s what they’re looking forward to and that’s what I’m going to make it.”

Sheika and Jones met face-to-face at the Pensacola press conference to announce their upcoming fight.

At one time, Sheika was one of the hottest young prospects in the sport. He used to dazzle national television audiences during the late 1990s’s on the now defunct USA Tuesday Night Fights series. Fighting back then as a super middleweight, he possessed blinding handspeed and electric punching power and he used that natural ability to score highlight reel knockouts. He became a fan favorite while frequently appearing on the marquee at Philadelphia’s famed Blue Horizon. After only three years as a pro he boasted an impressive record of 20-1 (13)KO. In June of 2000 he would narrowly defeat Glen Johnson at the Blue and for all intents and purposes he looked like a sure-fire future world champion.

After the win over Johnson, in what was probably his career highlight, Sheika would literally run head-long into Joe Calzaghe in August 2000 in a fiery scrap for the Welshman’s WBO super middleweight title. The fight was competitive, but it would be stopped on a cut caused by head clashes and after five rounds Sheika’s night would come to an end with him the loser on the scorecards.

Over the next five years, Sheika would fight three times for various 168-pound title belts, but each time he would come up short in dropping unanimous decisions to Eric Lucas, Jeff Lacy and Markus Beyer. The fight against Lacy was closer than the scorecards would lead one to believe and in the fight against Beyer, Sheika suffered a broken right hand.

In his losing effort against Beyer, Sheika suffered a bad break - literally -when he broke his right hand.

But in looking back over Sheika‘s career, it can be said that he was never the same fighter after the loss to Calzaghe. Since that fight his record reads a very mediocre 7-6 (5)KO. He had two fight of the year type wars against Scott “The Sandman” Pemberton in 2003 and 2004, but he came up on the losing end both times in fights that were brutal in their ferocity and intensity.

What would have been his prime years as a fighter went by quickly and in the past 3 ½ years Sheika has fought only once - a fourth round stoppage win over clubfighter Tiwon Taylor in September 2007. It was another fight in which Sheika would break his right hand. He didn’t fight at all in 2006 or 2008, but he says he is eager to face Jones, Jr. who is coming off a one-sided, beat down loss at the hands of - who else? Joe Calzaghe.

So with the fight against Jones only a day away, Sheika sees his chance for some degree of redemption.

“This fight means everything to me,” said Sheika, who has aged over the years and looks much older and heavier than he did when he was a young contender with matinee idol good looks. “To fight a legend like Roy Jones and to be able to go into the ring and hopefully beat him? It really does mean everything to me.”

Certainly a win over Jones, even in his current diminished state, would do wonders to revive what remains of Sheika’s floundering career. If nothing else, it would represent a symbolic victory for a fighter that never realized what everybody once saw as awesome potential and it would place a big win over a big name on his record.

Sheika has always fought on the road and regardless of the locale, he always comes to fight and give the fans their money's worth.

“I really do have a point to prove,” admits Sheika. “Boxing is now all about who you’re in there with and it’s all about big names. It doesn’t get any bigger than Roy Jones. For me, this is like the original ‘Rocky’ movie and I’m here to do the same thing that Rocky did.”

Sheika is eight years younger than Jones and he saw the same weaknesses in Jones when he fought Calzaghe as the rest of the world did. Sheika feels that his opportunity will come in exposing Jones’ age.

“You know, Roy still has some of the same skills now as he did before,” said Sheika. “But I don’t think he has the same skills to the same level that he did before. So what I’m going to do is use that to my advantage. I just have to fight my fight and get myself into the best shape I can possibly get into. I need to go in there and do what I do best and I’m injury free and healthy, so I believe I can walk away with victory easily.”

For the road weary Sheika, tomorrow night could be his one last chance to somehow make amends for all that has gone wrong over the years. His has been a sporadic career, that in some ways, seemed over just as it was really beginning.

“Opportunities happen and things happen in life,” explains a pragmatic Sheika. “Things happen in life and I really do think that things are meant to be and whatever happens - happens for a reason.”

March 2009

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