“I started at 14 and a year later, I was competing as an amateur at a national level,” said Perez. “When I saw that I could do that, I stuck with it. I kept with it and eventually went to the Olympics.”
As he improved as a fighter and began going to national tournaments, Perez learned that not only did he have this hidden talent for boxing but that this sport could become a way out from the crime-ridden streets of his neighborhood. Hailing from the rough area known as San Pedro de Uraba, Colombia, Perez understands the violence the drug wars and political unrest in Colombia can wreak on its citizens. Getting his family out through boxing seemed feasible.
“I came from a rough neighborhood. A lot of violence, a lot of drugs, everything that was happening in Colombia was very heated in my neighborhood,” he explained. “And when I started boxing and got good to where I was fighting for the National team, I noticed that it took me out of that area. They took me to other states and I realized that this could get me out of here as well as my family.”
Perez would stick with the Colombian National team for four years, training hard and moving up the ladder. It was here he met former bantamweight champion Yonnhy Perez. When Yonnhy turned pro, he would return to Colombia between fights and would regale the team with tales of fighting in the U.S. as a pro (working with Thompson Boxing and Gary Shaw Productions, who both now handle Darley’s career).
“I knew Yonnhy Perez in the amateurs. He was also on the National team,” explained Perez. “I followed his career. He was always talking to the guys on the team. He’d tell us where he was training and where he was at. That was three years ago before I came [to the U.S.] so I already had an idea of what to expect. When Gary Shaw and Thompson Promotions came looking for more Colombian fighters, I already had an idea of where I was going to go. I was already more comfortable coming to a place that had Yonnhy Perez. I had a lot of confidence in what Yonnhy had told me. It felt better knowing somebody and not coming from over here alone.”
Perez competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing. He would win in the first round but lost to eventual lightweight gold medal winner Aleksei Tishchenko in the quarterfinals. Following that, Perez turned pro in Colombia in 2009, under the guidance of trainer Orlando Pineda, and ran his record to 19-0 (15) before Shaw and Thompson signed him in June of 2011.
“The biggest difference [between fighting in Colombia and the U.S.] is the level of boxing and the love the people have for boxing [in the U.S.]” Perez said. “Anywhere you go, it could be a small-time show, four-rounders and six-rounders, and it just gets crowded. Even just the competition level of the sparring is a big difference here. They really get me prepared. And just the life; it’s a little more relaxed. I can be more concentrated here. My wife and my child are back home [in Colombia] but these are the sacrifices that you have to make to better your life for your family.”
A natural counterpuncher, Perez also trains under the auspices of Danny Zamora, who worked with Yonnhy Perez throughout his career. Because of Yonnhy’s comfort level with Zamora (Yonnhy lived with Zamora’s parents while he stayed in the U.S.], Darley felt safe working with the trainer, who explained that Pineda is the head coach of the team.
Zamora speaks highly of Perez’s abilities in the ring as well as his work ethic outside of it.
“I believe he is ready for a title shot,” said Zamora. “He is such a calm boxer inside the ring. He trains hard. I feel like he is there. His work ethic is comparable [to Yonnhy Perez’s]. [Both men] have a different mentality [than U.S fighters]. They know what they are here for. They are here to better their life and their family, not just their immediate family, nieces, nephews, cousins, everything. They know why they are here. You don’t have to tell them to run or anything. They call me the night before and ask, ‘Are we going to spar?’ OK, we aren’t. Then I am going to run in the morning.’ They are [responsible] when it comes to their conditioning. You don’t have to go looking for them. It’s just a whole other mentality [even if they have different styles in the ring].”
In Mamadjonov, Perez is facing a bit of an unknown quantity. At 5’7” with a 68 ½” reach, the right-handed Perez is tough match-up with his patient counterpunching style. Hailing from Uzbekistan, Mamadjonov is a southpaw who generally competes as a junior welterweight.
“I’ve only seen three rounds of him,” said Zamora. “He comes from Uzbekistan; they are tough fighters. They are right in front of you. He hits hard. It’s going to be a good fight. He looks very strong but I feel we are very prepared and we are going to win this fight.”
Perez was originally slated to face Michael Katsidis, a right-hander who would surely come forward all night. However, a knee injury forced “The Great” to drop out of the fight. The late change doesn’t seem to have fazed Perez in the least.
“I am ready,” said Perez. “I prepared myself mentally for all fights. It could be a lefty or an orthodox fighter. Even if it’s two weeks’ notice or four or five months, I am still going to have a difficult time with a lefty. We sparred lefties so I feel prepared for this fight.”
Should he win on Friday, where Perez goes from here is hard to say. What a win will do for him is garner more exposure. It is up to Perez to seize the moment and prove to the fans and the world that he is indeed ready for the next level. For now, he waits for that first bell and thinks of the future.
“I feel ready to fight for a world title,” said Perez. “I think I am there and am just waiting for my shot.”
Time will tell if Darley Perez’s patience pays off.
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.