The last time Yathomas Riley stepped through a crowd and into a boxing ring was more than three years ago. The blows he received that day at a Connecticut casino seemed real; the bruises too painful to doubt. But they were child's play compared to the hit he would take two months later. No amount of shadowboxing could prepare him for hell.
Riley, an undefeated light heavyweight from Florida City, was arrested on June 10, 2010, and accused of trying to murder his ex-girlfriend. He was only released two years later thanks to a series of New Times articles that shed doubt on the state's case against him. Tomorrow night Riley will be stepping back into the ring to fight for the first time in upstate New York. But does he still have what it takes?
"I'm a knockout artist," he says. "So you can't say nothing until that day you see me take a loss."
Floyd Mayweather stunned boxing commentators by handily winning his comeback bout last weekend after spending two months in jail.
Riley spent two years behind bars. Like Mayweather, however, the boxer nicknamed "The Beast" believes that his stint inside has only made him better.
"I think I got faster and more powerful," he says. "Now we've got to see if that statement is really true."
"My hand speed really got faster from shadowboxing in jail," something he would do for hours at a time in his cell on the edge of the Everglades, Riley says. "Kids just do it for the warm up. But I do it for 30-40 minutes. Now I take it to the extreme because I know how important it is."
Riley says boxing -- and his fiance Lisa Amodio -- has been his bridge over the chasm of his incarceration.
But things haven't been easy since his August 17 release. His oldest brother, Wendell Lester, recently died of a suspected cocaine overdose. He was only 36 years old.
"He was one of the people that I used to talk to at night before a fight," Riley says. "He died at some girl's house. She said he was alive when she went to work and when she came home, he was dead."
Riley hasn't been able to forget the night everything wrong, either. He has hired an attorney who is currently crafting a lawsuit against Miami-Dade County over his wrongful imprisonment (His case had yet to go to trial when he was released).
He says he is "taking things more seriously" now than before his arrest. The first thing Riley will have to take seriously is his opponent, Lionell Thompson (13-2-0). Thompson has only lost twice and should be a stiff first challenge.
"I'm taking every little thing that I thought wasn't important and making it important," Riley says of his training.
Instead of putting boxing in perspective, his ordeal has made him double-down on the sport.
"This is what I do for a living," Riley says. "This is how I eat. This is how my family is going to eat."
It sounds like The Beast is back and hungrier than ever.
Yathomas Riley fights Saturday night, May 11, at the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, New York.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.