A COVID-enforced lay-off was a nightmare for most fighters but Wollongong middlweight Mark Lucas credits the spell with recharging the batteries as he prepares to make his return to the ring.
The 31-year-old admittedly toyed with retirement, for the second and final time, but will instead take on rising 8-0 puncher Issac Hardman in Canberra on Saturday week.
It will be his first bout since claiming a convincing unanimous decision win over former world-title contender Renold Quinlan in Wollongong in October 2019. - a virtual shut-out most consider his best performance as a pro.
It looked like it would open the door to some more big fights but, as has often been the case, it didn't turn out that way. He wasn't sure if Quinlan would be his last fight but, having stared down the possibility of it being so, he'd have been happy to leave it that way.
"The COVID break was good and I was pretty contentedly retired to be honest," Lucas said.
"I went through the whole [retirement] process and actually felt OK with it. I've been doing this for a really long time now and all my identity and worth was attached to me being a boxer.
"I enjoyed life for 10-11 months and the time let me find myself a little bit away from the sport. I thought I still have a little bit of unfinished business.
"I wanted to do it without needing to do it anymore which is a different place to come at it from. I've realised I do love the sport and I can come back and do it on my own terms."
The latter factor is key, with the lay-off revealing he hadn't grown tired of the sport, just the politics that inevitably goes along with it.
"When I finished the fight with Ren and thought it was a job well done and I definitely had more levels in me but it was the same old cycle of things," he said.
"My body was beat up but it was my mind that was tired from all the political nonsense. It felt like I was constantly headbutting a wall. I had to ask if I was doing it for the right reasons or was I just doing it because it's what I know.
"I always had an eye on the future and what was next. Now, I couldn't care less about what's next, I'm just taking one fight at a time. I want the big challenges just for my own legacy.
"I'm here to do it and challenge myself and I get contentment through that process. That's why I'm back."
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In a significant shift, Lucas will head into the bout for the first time without long-time trainer Nudge Mieli in his corner. The pair still share a familial bond, but Lucas said it was simply time for a change after 14 years through amateurs to the professional ranks.
"I needed seperation from the personal and the boxing side of things and I just wanted to seperate our personal relationship from our working one," Lucas said.
"After 14 years together I probably needed a fresh outlook. I'm working with Mitch Brisbane and Fightworks and a good coach in Jake Freeman from up in the Hawkesbury. I work with them as a duo.
"It's a new environment, a new energy. They're both young coaches and I'm probably the most experienced and accomplished athlete they've worked with at this point.
"I've gotten rid of [my own] gym and it's not the same old environment. There's a fresh set of eyes and a different vibe around camp and it's been really refreshing."
Hardman is an impressive 8-0 with six KO's and is forging a repution as a fearsome puncher. He's also unlikely to want to leave anything in the hands of the judges after eeking out a controversial majority decision win over Tej Singh in his last outing.
"Tej Singh was the first sturdy opponent he fought," Lucas said.
"Jamie Weetch is a good fighter, but he was a lot smaller. Tej is a tough guy, but he's technically very limited and he exposed a lot of things. Obviously [Hardman] can punch a bit, he comes from and MMA background and he was chinning everyone there.
"He's chinned a few smaller guys on the way up in the boxing game. It's a genric phrase that gets thrown around a lot but there are levels to this game and people get carried away from where they actually are in the sport.
"We'll see, he can punch a bit but I'm not worried about that, I'm looking forward to the challenge. He's a good prospect and he probably will go on to be a good fighter but the timing is all wrong for him on this one."