Bryan Vera has overcome professional setbacks, such as his TKO loss to James Kirkland (right) in 2008, and overindulgence between fights to get back on Friday Night Fights where a victory could earn him an HBO date.
As if his brutal fights haven’t been difficult enough, Bryan Vera has been battling himself for the majority of his career.
The middleweight fringe contender has constantly been clawing back from setbacks, trying to remain relevant. There was the knockout loss on The Contender TV series, a trio of losses in succession during a two-year span. Then there was the fight with real life, the battle to eschew the extracurricular fun that a professional fighter unfortunately has to dodge.
“There were some rocky times when I’d get distracted. Running around, having fun. Staying out of the gym, messing around and stuff. Drinking a little bit, hanging out with girls, stuff like that,” Vera told RingTV.com.
“Stuff that I knew better than to be doing. Nothing bad, nothing anybody else doesn’t do.”
The major struggles came on the heels of the biggest night of his career, a 2008 upset over Andy Lee on ESPN—one he wasn’t able to truly capitalize on.
“Even then, to be honest with you, I wasn’t really 100 percent before the Andy Lee fight. I went down to Philadelphia for seven weeks, sparring with Lajuan Simon and stuff. I worked hard and saw what I could do if I really dedicated myself. But then I didn’t get a fight for another eight months. I messed around too much in between that time. Didn’t stay in the gym, didn’t do what I was supposed to,” said Vera.
Though he’d suffered four losses since the Lee triumph, the victory did afford him the opportunity to take part in a rematch with Lee on HBO, in which he was soundly outboxed. Now a six-loss fighter, it was hard to fathom him getting another crack at a premium cable slot.
But lo and behold, that’s exactly what might be on the line for him on Friday night, when he faces former junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk in the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights.
In April of 2012, Vera linked up with star trainer Ronnie Shields. The two Texans had interacted plenty, as Vera sparred with many of Shields’ fighters throughout the years, most notably Erislandy Lara. Shields got Vera back on his feet with a tune-up win over Taronze Washington, and then a majority decision over Sergio Mora in August of last year.
“He’s got my confidence up. He’s got my defense looking real sharp, moving my head, just being comfortable on the inside and not just taking shots and trading shots,” said Vera of the changes Shields has made to his approach. “You can’t get by on being tough forever.”
Late in 2012, Vera’s name came up in negotiations to face WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin on HBO. That spot eventually went to Gabriel Rosado, and Vera and his manager David Watson left with the impression that the network needed to see him win once more before they’d consider him again.
That turned out to be the case, as Watson claims they have been contacted again about the possibility of facing Golovkin on HBO, provided he snags a victory over Dzinziruk.
As Vera was watching Golovkin pummel Rosado from his home in Austin, he got the feeling he could be more than just a sacrifice for the feared champion.
“Rosado looked a bit intimidated,” said Vera (21-6, 12 knockouts). “Somebody who stands there in the pocket with him and pushes him back a bit, that’s the guy who’s gonna give him trouble. I think I could sit in the pocket with him, and definitely make him second guess what he’s doing. He’s been having his way too much, not having to worry about anything.”
The 31 year old isn’t just a serendipitous fellow who gets opportunities in spite of his admitted shortcomings outside of the ring, though. That HBO and ESPN continue to consider featuring him has to do with the fact that however hard he’s worked in the gym in the past, he is a hardnosed, high-workrate brawler inside the ring.
Being able to draw a spoiling pacifist such as Mora into two entertaining scraps is conclusive evidence of how hard he works inside the ring. He is perhaps the most reliable action fighter in the 160-pound division.
It was a recent meeting with Hall of Famer Curtis Cokes that put his situation firmly in perspective. Following his illustrious career, Cokes began training fighters, including Vera’s father, Gilbert Vera Sr., a heavyweight banger who retired with a record of 8-2-1 (8 KOs).
Perhaps sensing a pattern, or that the younger man needed motivation, Cokes offered some sage advice.
“I guess my dad could have been something at some time, but he didn’t take it seriously, so he got up out of the sport a little bit early. He basically said don’t do what your dad did,” said Vera.
With a new perspective and a new repertoire, if Vera’s going to be knocked off the middleweight map, he won’t be the one dealing the blows.
“If it’s gonna end, it’s gonna end because I really can’t do it anymore,” said Vera.
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman