Conway boxer Byles sets sights on Olympics

By Tammy Keith Originally Published July 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 17, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Jeremy Byles, 26, a Conway native, dreams of competing as a boxer in the 2016 Olympics in Reno, Nev., and later making it to the professional level in the sport.

He isn’t well-known now, but Jeremy Byles’ dream is that one day his name will ring a bell because of his success in the boxing ring.

Byles, 26, who was born and raised in Conway, said he participated in many sports in high school — basketball, football and track — where he was an all-conference athlete — but it is boxing that he believes is his God-given talent.

“I may not have been the best, but I was the hardest-working person on the team,” he said.

Byles’ goals are to make the 2016 Olympics in Reno, Nev., and later to become a professional boxer.

He started boxing when he was about 12, he said, and an older student picked on him and his friends.

“My dad got me in taekwondo and boxing,” he said. “I didn’t get picked on anymore.”

He did get kicked off the bus once for fighting, but he said he learned to control himself as he got older.

Peyton Hillis of Conway, a professional football player, was one of Byles’ role models.

“I played football with Peyton Hillis. He used to take me home from football,” Byles said. “I used to say, ‘I’m going to keep eating my red meat so I’ll be big like you.’ He accomplished his goals and dreams, so I know I can, also.”

Byles said he learned his work ethic from his father, Nelson Byles of Bryant, who worked at the bus plant in Conway for years, “seeing him have to get up early in the morning.”

Byles’ mother, Ricie Lambert of Pine Bluff, worked at the Conway Human Development Center and Baldwin Piano.

As he continued boxing, Byles said, he knew he had a skill and was gifted.

He quit his job at Tokusen in Conway and moved in with his father in Bryant, and Byles lived off his savings and got a part-time job.

“I started running seven miles a day,” he said.

He saw tractor tires by the side of the road and wondered about flipping them “for my abs,” he said.

He noticed that a nearby building had a sign that advertised baseball and boxing lessons.

The owner, Bob Sanders, took Byles to the ABC Boxing Club in downtown Little Rock.

Byles went in the first time and saw former world middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and trainer Ozell Nelson.

“I tried to keep my composure,” Byles said.

Byles, a 6-foot, 165-pound middleweight fighter, said he started sparring with professional boxers Jonathan Nelson and Rashad Ganaway.

“I learned footwork from him,” he said, referring to Ganaway.

Terry “Troublemaker” Smith, a former heavyweight fighter, also played a role in Byles’ training.

Smith used to pick Byles up in Bryant and take him to train in Little Rock.

“He broke you down to bare wood,” Byles said.

Smith also encouraged Byles to enter the Mohammad Ali Greatness Essay Contest, sponsored by Everlast. Byles’ essay was chosen as one of the top five in the nation.

Another person Byles said has helped him through training and mentoring is Henry Briscoe III, the strength coach for the University of Central Arkansas’ football team.

Briscoe, also a professional bodybuilder, is Byles’ strength and conditioning coach.

He sees great potential in Byles.

“I see a kid that wants to work hard, that’s hungry,” Briscoe said. “I like that attitude.”

He said Byles just got married and works a full-time job.

“The training is very difficult; that’s almost like another job.

“Our strength training consists of everything — he’s flipping 500-pound tires, running in the 50-yard sand pit,” Briscoe said.

Byles, who works at Snap-On Tools in Conway, also trains with a coach at a boxing gym in the Rose City area of North Little Rock.

He has several sponsors.

“Conway’s been good to me,” he said. “I really want to give thanks to all the businesses in Conway.”

His next fight will be in August in Atlanta, Ga., but one of the more important events is the Arkansas Golden Gloves Tournament in March in Little Rock.

Byles said he would like his supporters to attend, and he expects to win the tournament.

He also hopes to get recognized by “word of mouth,” he said, sort of like LeBron James did in high school before becoming a professional basketball player.

Byles described his personality outside the ring as respectful and laid-back.

When he boxes, he said, his personality changes.

“I call it beast mode,” he said.

He has a tattoo of a lion on his chest that he said represents that side of his personality.

“You’re looking at the person [in the boxing ring]. ‘OK, it’s got to be you or him,’” Byles said.

He also has a tattoo of praying hands and the words God Gifted on his left bicep.

“It represents my God-given ability to box,” he said.

Byles’ wife, Amber, said boxing is her husband’s passion — he watches and studies boxing constantly and would live, eat, sleep and breathe it if he could.

“He fights in his sleep,” she said, laughing.

She counters it by placing a pillow between them on his restless nights.

They have three daughters, Deja Bland 12; Aaliyah Bland, 9; and Daianna Byles, 6; and a 5-year-old son, Nathaniel Byles.

“All of them like to spar with Daddy,” Amber said.

Byles said his son already shows talent: “He’s quick.”

Amber said her husband has a following.

“He’s got a lot of believers,” she said.

Her job was among the 500 layoffs announced last week at Hewlett-Packard in Conway, but her fellow employees told her to keep them abreast of her husband’s career.

Byles said it isn’t all about him. He wants to help other youngsters who have a dream.

“After I go to the Olympics and become pro, I want to open a gym, free to kids,” he said. The couple want to have a van pick up kids from schools to take them to his gym.

“It teaches discipline and hard work, and it teaches you patience,” Byles said.

So he’s determined and persistent, but patient, as he takes one fight at a time.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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