A former amateur boxing champion himself, Dungeon Boxing Club trainer Mario Olivera was just a face in the crowd the night Jeremy Bethea first stepped in the ring back in 2006. What Olivera saw that night was a young, focused fighter with a world full of potential waiting to be unlocked, and when Bethea’s hand was raised, Olivera jumped at the chance to introduce himself.
That was six years ago. Since that time, Bethea has absorbed a wealth of experience under Olivera’s tutelage, but after a disappointing start to his professional career in 2008 (0-2), Bethea hung up the gloves for nearly four years.
So it was deja vu in a sense when Olivera sat just behind Bethea’s corner on July 15th of this year, when Bethea made his return to boxing after his lengthy hiatus. Though the 135-pound Bethea was a few years removed from his debut, the outcome of his comeback fight was eerily similar to that night back in 2006: a first-round knockout.
And seeing his protégé prove victorious in front of the dozens of Laurinburg residents cheering him on, Olivera knew immediately that there was plenty of fight left in Bethea.
“It takes a special person to walk away from the sport of boxing, then find the fire within themselves to get back in the shape needed to make a return,” Olivera said. “Jeremy is that person, and I’m just thrilled to see that look of determination back on his face.”
It wasn’t nerves or butterflies that buzzed inside Bethea when he stood opposite opponent Deshawn Autry that June 15th night in Charlotte. It was his strategy and the faith he had in his God-given ability that consumed Bethea as he prepared for the opening bell.
“Going into the fight I felt pretty good, even though I didn’t know much about who I was facing,” Bethea said. “I just stuck to the game-plan that coach Olivera provided, which was to work off my jab.”
Right from the start, Bethea knew he had an advantage over his opponent. After spending the first few moments of the match sizing up Autry and studying gaps in his defense, Bethea connected with a left cross that noticeably hurt Autry, who attempted to mask the damage.
But Bethea knew better.
“I saw how much my left hand bothered him so I just took it from there,” Bethea said. “When I staggered him with my left hand, I closed in on his face and cut the ring off from him. After that it was left hand city.”
At the 2:08 mark in the first round, referee Bill Clancy forced himself in between the two fighters to signal the match was over. And just like that, Bethea was back on the map.
Though it was only one fight, Bethea says that the interest that once surrounded his name has sparked up again, with manager Carlette Ewell (who is arguably the top heavyweight women’s fighter in the world) receiving many phone calls inquiring about Bethea’s availability.
“It was so crazy because while it was a fight in Charlotte, my coach and manager were getting calls from as far as New Jersey asking about me,” Bethea said. “Mostly all of the calls were about how happy these promoters and trainers were to see me back on the scene. I had no idea that my name had traveled so far in the past, much less was being talked about right after my return to the ring.”
The whirlwind that surrounding his name after his first fight in four years notwithstanding, Bethea knew that even in victory he had to mount his comeback one step at a time. His next fight is tentatively set for August despite promoters clamoring to get him back in the ring sooner. But in addition to maintaining a career and family life, Bethea wants to recoup after what he calls a “grueling workout schedule” to get back in fighting shape.
But one thing is certain to Bethea: The spectacle and thrill he experienced after his June 15th first-round knockout is an addiction that he needs to fulfill again. By any means necessary.
“I could get used to that feeling of winning, and I think there’s much more where that came from,” Bethea said. “But at the same time I’m not going to take it for granted because there’s way more work to be done before I get to the level I’m capable of reaching.”
And considering the toughness that Bethea displayed to overcome self-doubt and ring rust to make his grand return, Olivera has no doubt that Bethea can take boxing as far as he wants.
“It’s going to be hard to keep this kid away from the ring now that he’s got his focus back,” Olivera said. “There’s a power inside Jeremy, and I think that he’s thought really hard about what he wants out of life. I believe he has a future inside of the ring.”