Sparring sessions with Thurman inspire rising knockout artist Perrella

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The nature of the game is such that boxers usually aren’t prone to fear—or at least they rarely express it. Bryant Perrella, though, readily cops to an incident in which he was literally running scared in the ring.

Bryant Perrella and Patrick Boozer

Bryant Perrella lands an uppercut during his fight against Patrick Boozer last September. The Florida native won by fifth-round TKO, one of his 11 consecutive stoppage victories. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

It was in late 2012 when Perrella—then two fights and two knockouts into his pro career—was recruited to spar with eventual 147-pound champion Keith Thurman, who at the time was 18-0 with 17 KOs.

Both fighters are Florida natives—Thurman from Clearwater, Perrella from Fort Myers—and “One Time” was looking to get in some quality work against a left-hander ahead of his fight against southpaw ex-champ Carlos Quintana.

However, when Thurman stepped through the ropes, he immediately sensed trepidation in his sparring partner standing across the ring.

“Bryant was behaving like a scared fighter—[he was] so intimidated that he was literally running away,” says the 27-year-old Thurman, who is just 4½ months older than Perrella. “I would pull my right hand back taunting him, showing it to him as a reason to run.

“I made him deal with the power, swinging wide to make him block it. That was very uncomfortable for him.”

Perrella doesn’t mince words in recalling the experience.

“I was scared to death of Keith,” he says. “I’m like, ‘This man is going to crush me.’”

Perrella, of course, survived the sparring session and came out of it with a sense of what it would take to compete on Thurman’s level.

Nearly four years later, Bryant Perrella (14-0, 13 KOs) is on the right path, as he’ll carry an 11-fight stoppage streak into his showdown Tuesday night against Cuba native Yordenis Ugas (16-3, 7 KOs). The 147-pound clash headlines a card at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).

I was scared to death of Keith. I’m like, ‘This man is going to crush me.' Bryant Perrella on his first sparring session with Keith Thurman

Perrella’s current run of knockouts—seven of which have come inside of two rounds—began with a first-round wipeout of Roberto Crespo in April 2014. It was his first 147-pound bout after weighing between 151 and 156 pounds for his first three contests.

“Starting off as a junior middleweight (154 pounds), I didn’t have the same discipline that I have now,” Perrella says. “I was scared I’d be weak or dehydrated by going to 147, but I rededicated myself and dropped down.

“It’s a big advantage dropping down [in weight], with my size, stature, skills and strength making me a force to be reckoned with.”

The 6-foot southpaw acknowledges he had “a dramatic mind shift and change in mentality” following a four-round majority decision over Isaac Holder in February 2013, which was his third career fight and first after working out with Thurman. Perrella took the Holder bout on two days’ notice, and after his lackluster showing—“I was partying and not dedicated,” he admits—he took 14 months off before facing Crespo.

Two big keys to Perrella’s success that began with the Crespo fight? He hooked up with trainer Mike Nowling, and during training he stepped back in the ring against Thurman.

Needless to say, Round 2 with Thurman went much better than Round 1.

“The second sparring session was the turning point in my career,” Perrella says. “It lit the flame, made things click and really changed everything for the Crespo fight.”

Perrella has been particularly destructive of late. His past three opponents entered the ring with a cumulative record of 54-10-1, but lasted fewer than five combined rounds. That includes previously unbeaten David Grayton, whom Perrella defeated by second-round TKO on June 4.

Now Perrella runs up against the steel-chinned Ugas, who has never been knocked out and who ended a 27-month hiatus on August 12 with a convincing 10-round unanimous decision over undefeated Jamal James.

Count Thurman’s trainer among those who believe Ugas will have his hands full with the “Goodfella.”

“Bryant has quickness, power, can lead, counter or work inside,” says Dan Birmingham, who was responsible for bringing Perrella into camp. “He’s tough as nails and thinks in the ring.”

Thurman, now 27-0 with 22 KOs and three successful defenses of his 147-pound championship, has noticed a big change in Perrella—so much so that he acknowledges the sparring partner he once frightened and almost kicked out of camp could “actually rise in the division and challenge me for the world title one day.”

If nothing else, Perrella got Thurman’s respect in their second workout.

“Bryant had me on the ropes once and hit me with a body shot that would have dropped anybody else,” Thurman says. “Those were sparring gloves, which made me question if that punch, with a 10-ounce glove, would be good enough to knock me down.”

For complete coverage of Perrella vs Ugas, hit up our fight page.

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