Forgive the repetition of the message but it bears repeating, time and again, because the opposition to the sport is so sustained. Please pay heed when fighter O’Shaquie Foster tells you that “boxing is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
But of course, we should all know that this sport is no direct line to wealth, serenity and success…We now know better that the human brain isn’t quite the resilient cell mass we thought, that brain trauma can leave a dark mark in one’s gray matter and leave one wishing he’d taken better care of himself and protected one’s head against hard knocks. However we also know this world rewards those who take risks and work with maniacal dedication to their crafts, be them computer programmers, widget salesmen or pugilists.
Where Foster grew up in Orange, Texas, one had to squint his eyes and look hard to find the goodness. Oh for sure, there was not a deficit of kind-hearted people, soldiering on to live a decent life, walk a path of morality and decency, but many of them stayed inside as much as they could because, in the streets, immorality ran rampant.
“It was a rough neighborhood,” the 130-pound hitter (14-2, 8 knockouts) told me via a phone session set up by adviser Keith Mills. “There was a lot of fighting, a lot of violence. There was drug dealing around me. It was a bad setting. There was nothing down there.”
Foster’s mom died when he was 12 and dad wasn’t present enough, so he lived with his grandma. Boxing was there to welcome him, in typical rugged fashion. Boxing welcomes one and all but not with a warm hug. It’s a tougher brand of love and affection but it suited this kid in Texas, as it does in pockets around this nation and the world. Boxing gyms function as less preachy and often more functional churches, where younger folks or those spiritually adrift can watch and learn from people who have more so mastered the art of living in an oft-inhospitable world. “It was in me; I knew what I wanted to do. Now I’m the only boxer really from Orange. We had a guy, a light heavy, Chris Henry.”
Foster is 25 years old and trains in Houston under young gun sage Bobby Benton, who also imparts his knowledge to rising 140-pound technician Regis Prograis. On September 21, Foster announced himself as a player in the junior lightweight sphere, when he decisioned Jon Fernandez, who entered at 16-0, on “ShoBox.” He’s on a four-fight win streak, after losing to 12-1-1 Rolando Chinea in 2016.
“I’m feeling great, in the best condition, and I’m kind of relieved that everyone could see what I could do. I’m looking forward to keep improving and getting back in the ring,” said Foster. “We have no date yet, hopefully in January. In the Fernandez fight, the key was staying smart, being smart, using what I’ve been doing my whole life, just boxing. I thought going in I was the better skilled…I saw in him decent power. I didn’t see one-punch power. I just knew he had slow feet.”
He shared what he had learned from his first loss, in 2015, to then-6-1 Samuel Teah, “I learned a lot from it, that I didn’t have a team I built around me. It wasn’t the right time for me to take that fight. I learned to have the right people on my team and take the right fight at the right time. I learned you need to stick to the game plan.” Lessons learned and, as per usual, the way most of us learn them – after getting kicked in the groin. Before the latest loss, family issues were bubbling up and Foster wasn’t in top form mentally. Maybe he should have waited to take a bout so he could get better fit mentally but he’s lived and is learning.
The reaction to the win earned over Fernandez, a highly-touted Spanish prospect, has him buzzed still. “There were a lot of relieved reactions. Everyone knew I had it in me; I just never displayed it. Everyone was excited for me. I never lost confidence though,” Foster said. “I changed trainers after the second loss. I didn’t lose any confidence; I knew the situation. I took the bad just like I took the good. I felt like it was a learning experience. My team now wants to see me win, be better in the future. I see the losses as a push in the back to get me going…My mind was not locked in like it was supposed to be.”
So where does he see himself now? Prospect graduated to contender?
“I know I’m a contender right now. I think…No, I know! But I’m not trying to be overconfident! I know I’m one of the most talented guys that ever came through boxing and currently in boxing. I’m just doing what I’m doing, training hard and the results are gonna come. Do I see high-level fights soon? There are a lot of names, everybody at the top, everyone at 130, the Tevin Farmers, Gervonta Davises, all great names, great match-ups. Everyone there, I feel I can adjust! Also Jason Sosa, guys like that, marquee names, gatekeepers who’ve been in world title fights.”
So if this kid is now on your watch list, what sort of style should you expect to see? “A boxer-puncher who can also mix it up…more of a thinker…If you are a counterpuncher, I can adjust, come to you, box you…I can do that, box first half, then walk you down the second half. I’m a thinker-boxer-puncher!”
We’ll take adviser Keith Mills’ – now living in northern Virginia after being a New York guy – take with half a grain of salt, since he’s invested in Fosters’ success. However I got the sense his zeal for the kid’s skill set is authentically high. “In the last fight, Mike, we saw what we know and see every day. We pick an opponent and we know exactly what will happen. And we haven’t seen half of what we will see. We have a lot in the works, every day different things, promoters, sponsors. We’re not tied to one promoter but we’ve talked to all the big names. I want to make sure we make the best possible moves with him. We’re never in a rush.”
Foster puts in the work, in the meantime, at the gym in Houston owned by ex-heavyweight contender Lou Savarese. He bangs with Prograis and will work with guys who weigh up to 160 pounds.
We’ll finish with insights from a guy who saw Foster up close recently in the Fernandez fight. ShoBox analyst Steve Farhood shares his assessment of the thinker-boxer-puncher.
“Let me start by saying that Foster’s performance against Fernandez was brilliant – the perfect game plan and execution against a more powerful but much slower opponent. When Foster debuted on ShoBox against Sam Teah, hopes were high because he had been such an accomplished amateur. But he froze that night in Las Vegas – fitting because it was an outdoor fight at the D (Hotel & Casino) and it was freezing! He’s looked so much better since. The key for him is focus – in and out of the ring. He’s not a big puncher but if he stays the course, he’s going to make a lot of stronger fighters look pretty bad. Can he go all the way? That’s asking a lot but the fact that we’re posing that question at all shows how far he’s come after the type of loss to ShoBox that could’ve disqualified him forever.”