HE was fresh of his ninth professional victory but Illawarra boxer Mark ‘Too Sharp’ Lucas knew something wasn’t quite right following his win over Filipino slugger Arnel Tinampay.
The win in August 2017 came at the Fraternity Club in front of a hometown crowd, but the 29-year-old found himself walking around alone in the dark in the aftermath wondering where his love of the sport had gone.
It’s an old adage that you can’t play boxing. In a sport where the worst case scenario is truly as bad as it gets, hunger is everything. Lose it and the consequences can be dire.
It’s where Lucas found himself after nine bouts without defeat. It had little to do with what happened in the ring and everything to do with the politics and dirty tricks that occur out of it.
As fights fell through, including a hyped bout with world title contender Renold Quinlan, and financial returns on years of blood and sweat stayed modest, he finally had enough and called time on his career.
“It wasn’t a decision I made lightly,” Lucas said.
“After the Tinampay fight I was walking along the harbour, I’d won, and I was crying. I was just thinking ‘how could I be winning and still feel like this?’
“Something didn’t feel right through that period of time and then the frustration of this fight and that fight not coming off… I was just fed up with it.
“The long process of the camps, with the Renold fight I did 20 weeks, there were three or four fights that were let down before that. It’s the reality of professional boxing but it just becomes tiring.”
Retirement appeared a drastic step but, for a guy who’s lived and breathed the sport for almost two decades, it was the only way to get some peace.
It was some valuable space that allowed him to recapture his love for the sport, and return wiser for his previous frustrations.
“Boxing’s never leaves my mind, even when I was retired it was hard to switch it off,” he said.
“Without saying ‘this is it, it’s over’ I wouldn’t have have been able to have that rest. I did genuinely think it was time to move on.
“I’m happy with what I’ve done but it would’ve been hard for me to live with and I found that out really quickly. That’s when people fall into those ruts not knowing how to deal with it.
“You find yourself drinking more and those sort of things. I’m just lucky I recognised my mental state. I knew I had to start doing something and that’s what re-ignited the fire and lifted me out of it.”
With the fire burning again, he’ll end a 20-month layoff from the sport when he faces noted puncher Rocky Jerkic at the Hordern Pavilion on February 8.
There’ll be plenty of eyes on his comeback, with the bout coming on the undercard to the much-hyped Paul Gallen-John Hopoate showdown.
Taking on the 16-1 (13 KO’s) Jerkic is hardly easing himself back into the game, but it’s part of a fresh mentality he’s bringing to his career second-coming.
“I want good opponents and good fights,” Lucas said.
“There’s so much bullshit in boxing but I don’t want to elude anyone. I want to beat the best guys or beat the guys on the way up.
“There’s levels in boxing, whether I beat the best guys in the Commonwealth and that’s where my journey ends then that’s OK, at least I’ve done it that way.
“I’m going to take real fights because they are going to elevate me, they are going to make me a better fighter.
“I want to lift, I want the danger and ultimateIy I want the thrill. What’s the point of doing it otherwise.”
Jerkic’s only loss came via split decision to undefeated Anthony Buttiegig in a bout for the Commonwealth junior-middleweight crown.
It’s a stiff test, but Lucas believes his pure boxing skill will be too much for his opponent to handle.
“I’m excited for the challenge and I’m very confident I’ll come out with the win,” he said.
“Rocky’s a good fighter, he’s got a good amateur pedigree, he’s got a lot of experience, he’s sharp and he can box a bit but I think overall I’ve got more skill than him.
“I’m just going to come out, put it on him and take it off him. I’ve given my life to this sport for a very long time and I’m not going to let anyone take it off me.”