As for Perez (like his fellow countrymen, is a southpaw), well...not so much.
When you ask him if he wishes he could box like those two, he blurts out, “Oh, hell no.”
Unlike most Cubans, Perez likes to initiate the action and mix it up. It’s always been his natural temperament inside the ring.
“I always fight like that. I love to fight like that,” he said last week at a media gathering inside a Manhattan Beach eatery. “I like it. Even in training, the coaches say, ‘You can do something different,’ but I just fight like that.” Perez admits his style, especially for a Cuban amateur, was highly unusual. “Yeah, pretty much. When I was young and in school, I pretty much fought like that.”
And did Cuban coaches try and alter his style?
“Sometimes, yeah,” he answered, “because I wanted to get more punches. That’s the way I fight.”
But with his insistence on being so offensively inclined, Perez found himself excluded from a few national teams as a Cuban amateur. Simply put, the amateur game was more about gathering points than hurting your opponent and with that, Perez’s style wasn’t ideal at this level. He recalls, “A couple of times, I was the number one fighter on the team and they never put me on.” He remembers being replaced by Yoan Pablo Hernandez for international competitions. “The rules of Cuba, they want, ‘Hit and don’t get hit.’”
This is fine if you’re boxing for trophies and medals. However, there is a reason they call this “prizefighting” at the pro level, where there is a premium on being fan-friendly and entertaining. It was a message Perez’s current trainer, Abel Sanchez wanted to impress upon him as they began working together.
“Lucky for us, we had a role model in Gennady Golovkin,” said Sanchez, who trains both men at The Summit in Big Bear, California, “who at this point, is drawing crowds and selling tickets because of his style. What I tried to explain to Mike is, ‘We’re going to sell tickets here in the United States. The heavyweight division has got a bad rap now because of all the holding and clinching and out-of-shape fighters and if we’re going to be at the level you want to be at, this is how you’re going to have to fight. This is what you’re going to have to do.’ Lucky for me, he came with a style that was aggressive. Now, it’s just a matter of modifying it to suit us and to make sure he doesn’t get hit as much.”
This transition would’ve been much more daunting a task if Perez was the classic Cuban counterpuncher.
Photo © Abel Sanchez
“It would’ve been a difficult job because of 20 years in training in the amateurs and in the pros, it would’ve been extremely difficult because they don’t want to change,” said Sanchez, who finds today’s generations of big men, well, hard to stomach. “Absolutely unwatchable. It’s a wrestling match but the last 20 years have been that. If you watch a heavyweight fight 20 years ago, you might have seen one clinch in a fight. Now you see 10 clinches in a round, so yes, it’s not worth watching.”
As the size of heavyweights has grown, the problem is the skill level hasn’t followed and the Klitschko reign of terror, while effective, isn’t always aesthetically pleasing. At 6’1”, Perez is more or less the size of the traditional heavyweight with the requisite fundamentals to match.
Sanchez says his first impressions of the Cuban were that he was, “very skilled, very technically skilled, real aggressive - to a fault - because he put himself in situations [in which] he was vulnerable. He was apt to get hit a hit a little more than I wanted him to. But I’d rather have an aggressive guy. I’d rather have a guy that wants to fight, that way I can mold him into that technician that I want.”
Exactly what the veteran trainer wants.
“I’m going to be able to sell him. I’m going to be able to put him on TV, have people be interested in watching him. If I make him into too much of a perfect fighter, then he’s going to be boring,” stated Sanchez.
This is the problem facing his compatriots from Cuba. When you ask Perez if he enjoys watching Lara and Rigondeaux, he breaks into a smile that seems to say, “Ehhhhhh…,” at which point, Sanchez comes to the rescue, “Well, they’re his friends, so to a point, yes, you enjoy watching them because they’re your friends. You envy them because they’re technically sound. You enjoy them because they’re in control of everything they’re doing but as a fight fan, you want to see somebody get hit.”
OK, so does Perez prefer watching his stablemate, Golovkin over Rigondeaux (last seen clearing out a ballroom at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City during his bout against Joseph Agbeko back in December)? Again, Perez breaks into another embarrassed smile, hesitating before you get an answer. He said in carefully measured words, “I like to watch both. I watch both. I move too; y’ know. But I prefer to fight.”
It’s interesting that Perez has this style, given the fact that growing up in Cuba, he didn’t get to watch professional boxing and the boxer he admired the most growing up was amateur standout Mario Kindelan - who, in many ways, is/was the amateur Cuban prototype.
Sanchez points out, “He can box too. He’s swift on his feet; he moves well in the ring but unlike those other guys, when he boxes more, he gets hit with more shots. When he’s doing what he wants to do - and he wants to fight - his strength and power keep the other guys from doing what they want to do.”
In other words, Perez’s defense is his offense.
In Perez, age 28 and with a mark of 20-0 (12), Sanchez believes he has a heavyweight with huge upside.
“If [Managing Director of K2 Promotions] Tom Loeffler is able to get him some fights against the marquee names, I think he’ll do well. I think the Klitschkos’ reign is coming to an end and I don’t see anybody 6’6”, 6’7”, 6’8” to be dominant. So I think all the heavyweights are going to be around 6’2”, 6’3”, 6’4” like they used to be and I think because of Mike’s skills and his aggressiveness, he’ll be a very dominant heavyweight.
“It’s just a matter of getting him those fights that he needs to win a title.”
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