When you come from Orange, Texas, you learn how to bounce back from even the worst disasters.
The town that O’Shaquie Foster calls home has suffered its fair share of misfortune. During both World War I and II, thanks to its deep water port into the Gulf of Mexico, Orange became a hub for ship construction, nearly doubling its population both times. But as wartime industrial booms tend to go, when the war was over, many people left. Over the last several years, Orange’s population has hovered just above 19,000. But its proximity to water, the very thing that its economy relies upon and has made it a boom town in the past, has threatened its livability time and time again. It was hit directly by Hurricane Rita, then Hurricane Ike, then Hurricane Harvey. In the case of Ike and Harvey, most residents had to evacuate completely before returning to reconstruct their world. Three weeks ago, a tornado wiped out power for over 16,000 residents, and destroyed 100 homes completely, including one couple who went viral for narrowly escaping their RV at the Country Livin’ RV Park and diving into a ditch as the twister touched down.
The 29-year old Foster has had to start from scratch again and again, in every facet of his life. After winning eight national amateur championships and landing a spot as an Olympic alternate in 2012, Foster turned pro without much fanfare, he said, in part because he was from a small town. Fighters without major backing often have to traverse tougher terrain in the early stages of their career, and Foster suffered a pair of losses in 2015 and 2016 on ShoBox. Around this time, King’s Gym, the only boxing facility in Orange, closed down, leaving Foster to “do it on his own.” During this time, Foster says that he was “still in the streets,” and relying on talent alone. Inside the ring, it caught up to him at the wrong times, on Showtime telecasts. Outside of the ring, it caught up with him as well.
Foster spent four months in prison for aggravated assault, a time period that overlapped with Hurricane Harvey. While 6,000 inmates in Texas were transferred, Foster was one of more than 100,000 who were not. Inmates sometimes had water up to their knees, and Foster describes a week and a half period during which the powerless facility was so dark that he couldn’t see his own hands. He ultimately found the light, literally and figuratively, on the common area television. With electricity returned, inmates in the Orange correctional facility were watching Terence Crawford’s bout against Julius Indongo. On the screen, Foster saw a fighter in Crawford whom he felt he could mimic skill-wise, and it occurred to him that he should be on the screen rather than where he was.
As they do in Orange, he took matters into his own hands and rebuilt himself.
“All I had was the streets. I figured out that I didn't have too much of a path other than boxing, so if I wanted to be great, I needed to push it,” said Foster in a Showtime feature produced in 2023.
As Orange recovered from Harvey, Foster went 113 miles up the highway to Houston, focusing entirely on his craft with trainer Bobby Benton and manager Keith Mills. By Texas standards--and Orange standards—the home of Exit 880, the highest numbered highway exit in North America--Houston is close to home.
Foster rattled off nine straight victories after his 2016 loss to Ronaldo Chinea. During his 2018 win over Jon Fernandez, Showtime commentator Steve Farhood said “I don't think it's an overstatement to suggest that we're seeing the resurrection of a career,” and Barry Tompkins described it as “a coming-of-age fight, clearly.”
Overnight, Foster went from a fighter with unrealized potential to a dangerous risk-reward equation for potential opponents, a fighter whose potential matchmakers likely weren’t keen on him realizing against their charge. He used the only tool available to him and fighters of his ilk, playing the sanctioning body game, working his way up and positioning himself as the WBC’s mandatory contender at 130 pounds after Shakur Stevenson vacated his title.
On Saturday night, his chance finally came. He was now the man on the television fighting for a world title, just as he suggested, no doubt to disbelieving ears that he could be. Foster faced Rey Vargas, the two-division world champion moving up to super featherweight, for the WBC’s 130-pound title. Over twelve rounds, Foster mostly befuddled a fighter who had been one of the trickiest propositions in the sport at 122 and 126. He outlanded and outworked Vargas, coming within two punches of holding Vargas to the vaunted double digit connect count in a championship fight. Foster’s natural size at 130 played a major role, of course, but so did the skills he boasted about in the common area in 2017.
When it looked as though Vargas was starting to come on, throwing his right hand with more conviction and desperation, Foster was unwilling to let this one thing be taken away from him. In the championship rounds, Foster stepped on the pedal just a little bit more and crossed the finish line with a comfortable lead. Although Vargas protested the validity of the decision, official scores were 116-112, 117-111, and 119-109 in favor of Foster, with online consensus being somewhere between the two latter scores.
Being from Orange necessitates bouncing back from statistically improbable circumstances in even more improbable ways. No town should be ravaged as often, as thoroughly as Orange has, much less be able to bounce back the way it does, often with little more than the financial aid of generous local NFL players and the resilience of the residents. Homes are back standing, even after the storms. Even after years of oil and lumber industries taking from the earth, flowers and plants still bloom in the Shangri La Botanical Gardens, perhaps the state’s finest.
Foster rose from that same mud, maybe the only type that could fertilize someone in such a way that they could withstand the storm that’s been his life.
“I can’t put it into words (what this means),” Foster said in the ring afterward. “I know my mom, my uncle, my grandpa, they are all looking down on me.”