Four times Omar Sheika has entered the ring to fight for a championship belt, and in each instance the Paterson, New Jersey light heavyweight has left with nothing to show for it except a hard-fought loss. In all four fights an injury Sheika suffered in combat compromised his chances. Now, after an 18-month layoff because of multiple hand surgeries, Sheika will return to the ring, but not in the customary tune up. Instead, the 32-year-old fighter will be facing a legend in Roy Jones Jr. on March 21 in Jones' own backyard, Pensacola, Florida. It doesn't get much harder than that. An exciting, all-action fighter, Sheika gives new meaning to that old adage: if at first you don't succeed, try and try again.
What's it like having your hair cut while a film crew is shooting you?
Everybody there was excited. People walking the shop by would stop to look at me having my haircut. That never happened before.
You're returning to the ring after what will be an 18-month layoff. During all that time, did people in the "Little Arabia" section of Paterson write you off as finished?
There are always doubters, people who will write you off. But some are very loyal, and stuck with me through the layoff and the surgeries I had on my hand. The first surgery didn't work so I had to have a second one. The main thing is I never counted myself out. Emotionally it was very, very hard. I like to fight and stay busy. But I'm still young, and I feel good.
You've fought four times for a world title at super middleweight and lost. Two of those chances came following a loss, which is unusual. Why do you think they putting you in championship fights?
It's because of the way I fight. I'm exciting. I want to bring out the fans' emotions like Arturo Gatti. As for the losses, for some reason I have had bad luck with injuries. When I fought Joe Calzaghe (2000) I got hit with a hard head butt. Something like that breaks you down. I was never right in the fight after that. With Eric Lucas (2002) I really thought I would beat him, but then I broke my hand in the first round and went the distance fighting with one hand. With Jeff Lacy (2004) I thought I had won the fight (111-117, 113-115 twice). So did a lot of other people. But at the time I didn't have a promoter and he did. I know I hurt him bad a couple of times. One thing's for sure, I don't want to be known as a fighter who fought four times for the title. I want to be known as someone who won the title.
How do you keep your confidence up after losing so many championship fights?
I stay confident because I know they didn't beat me. My injuries did. When I am at my best I know they can't beat me.
"I can put Paterson on the map the way Kelly Pavlik did for Youngstown."
Your next fight isn't for a championship, but it will be the highest profile bout you've ever had. What does fighting Roy Jones Jr. mean for you?
If I beat Roy Jones, it will be beating an icon in the sport. I can really move forward with a victory over Roy Jones on my resume. If I had my choice I would be fighting a championship next. But beating Roy is bigger to me than beating a champion nobody knows, some guy overseas.
What was your reaction when your advisor, Mike Borao, told you Roy Jones Jr. wanted to fight you?
I was really excited. I don't know why Roy picked me. Maybe it's because he knows I will give him and the fans an exciting fight.
Most boxers coming back from a long layoff take a tune up. They don't fight ring legends. Why didn't you take one?
I didn't want a tune up. I got the opportunity to fight Roy Jones and I had to go for it.
Given the long layoff and Jones' superstar status, what will it take for you to beat him?
The way to beat Roy is to pressure him and make him fight. I can't sit there because he still has good hand speed. I don't think Roy Jones likes to fight really. He prefers to move around the ring. I always thought Roy was a great fighter who didn't like to be hit. He was so fast in his prime and elusive he was able to get away. Nobody back then could pressure him and hit him. I can do that.
Although there have been several good fighters who came out of Paterson, the city is probably best known for a 1950s poet, Alan Ginsburg, who lived there. Do you think a healthy Omar Sheika can change that?
I know I can change that. I can put Paterson on the map the way Kelly Pavlik did for Youngstown.
What lies ahead for you after you finish your career? Will you still live in Paterson?
I don't know. I am taking it day by day. I would like to stay in boxing, maybe on the business end. All I know now is that Roy Jones Jr. is in front of me.
January 26, 2009