By Keith Idec
Jeremy Bryan’s handlers had high hopes for the accomplished amateur before he was stopped twice in 2010.
After that second defeat, a sixth-round technical knockout loss to rugged Ronald Cruz, Bryan took an extended break from boxing and wasn’t sure he’d even return to the ring. If the Paterson, N.J., native beats undefeated prospect Amir Imam on Friday night, however, Bryan will have rejuvenated his once-promising career.
Imam, of Albany, N.Y., is 8-0 and has knocked out seven of his opponents, but Bryan (16-2, 7 KOs) is by far the toughest foe of his brief, 17-month pro career. Their eight-round, 140-pound bout will be broadcast by Showtime as the co-feature of a “ShoBox: The New Generation” telecast from Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET/PT; delayed on the West Coast).
“If Jeremy beats this kid, he’s right back in business in the junior welterweight division,” said Sal Alessi, Bryan’s co-manager. “It’s a tough fight, but I like everything I’ve seen and heard from Jeremy recently. It’s like he’s a totally different guy from when he lost to Ronald Cruz and Vincent Arroyo. None of the TV guys wanted anything to do with him off those two losses, but once he won that last fight [against Yuri Ramanau] he was able to get this fight. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Bryan beat Belarus’ Ramanau (22-3, 14 KOs) by majority decision in his last fight, a non-televised, eight-rounder Jan. 4 in Miami. His victory over Ramanau marked the most noteworthy win of a five-year career that appeared destroyed two years earlier.
The 27-year-old Bryan was handling Cruz with ease through four rounds in their October 2010 fight in Atlantic City, but a determined, resilient Cruz (17-1, 12 KOs) wore down Bryan. Bryan hit the canvas twice in the fifth round and once in the sixth round before the fight was stopped.
That marked the two-time national Golden Gloves champion’s second loss in six months. He was winning by wide margins against Arroyo in their April 2010 fight in Atlantic City, but Arroyo hurt him against the ropes in the eighth and final round, and Bryan took a knee. Arroyo (12-1, 7 KOs) seemingly hit Bryan when he was down, but referee Samuel Viruet ruled that it was a legal punch and Bryan wasn’t able to continue.
“After I lost two fights,” Bryan said, “I took a long time off. But I learned a lot about myself during that time and came back more committed physically and mentally than ever.”
The 22-year-old Imam admitted Bryan is much better than anyone he has fought.
Imam’s last opponent, Alejandro Lebron, entered their March 9 fight in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with a 4-45-3 record. Lebron declined to continue after the second round, in which he was dropped for a third time in the scheduled six-round fight.
His previous opponent, Franklin Frias, came into their Feb. 16 fight in Santo Domingo with a 3-20-3 record. Imam stopped Frias in the second round.
“I’ve had eight fights and my opponent has had 18,” Imam said, “so this is a definite step up in class. He’s a smart, good fighter who throws awkward punches. I’m not taking him lightly and know I have to be careful.
“But I’ve had great sparring with guys as good as him, so I’m ready and excited to put on a show on Showtime. I definitely want to make an impression.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.