By Eric “Sugar Foot” Duran
As high school student’s return to school and high school football teams prepare for their homecoming games, one of Colorado’s most beloved sons returns home to the comfort of his loyal fans. Manny Perez’ roots and blood trace back to the islands of Hawaii, but his heart will forever lay in the beautiful lands of Colorado, “I love fighting at home, I don’t get to as often as I would like so I’m very thankful for the opportunity.” Manny Perez had a respectable amateur career, amassing around 100 bouts while winning around 75 of those bouts. During that span, Perez won many state and regional titles, including the Ringside Nationals in 2003.
At the age of 20, a young and enthusiastic Perez would venture into the world of professional boxing, “I remember as a young fighter it was all about precise footwork and boxing skills, establishing my jab and creating angles.” He debuted in fashion, stopping Omar Vega in the 2nd round. He quickly ran his record to 6-0, culminating with an impressive victory over local prospect and ex-stable mate, Feliciano Rios. The Rios fight and events leading up to the fight, was a prelude of what was to come for Perez’ career.
Leading up the Rios fight, Perez had brought on local fight reporter Chris Morris as his adviser, brought on up and coming trainer, Trevor Wittman as well as Jake Ramos. Wittman broke Perez down to the bone, molding him from an offensive fighter into a defensive solider. For the Rios fight, Perez would jump 2 weight classes, believing that his skills and new style would carry him to victory.
For the first 5 rounds, Perez boxed beautifully, staying behind his defense while frustrating the heavy handed Rios with effective counter-punching. In round 6, for the first time in Perez’ career, his chin and heart were taken and tested as he was dropped, hard. Perez rose and finished the fight strong, winning an 8 round split decision. But it was what happened after the knock down that forever changed the fighting spirit of Perez, “I love to fight, it’s not as much about boxing anymore. I honestly believe boxing is a sickness, that mentally if you don’t have it; skills can only carry you so far. You’re going to learn 2 things from boxing when you get hit, either you love it or don’t and I love it.”
After he was floored by Rios, he didn’t look to hold or regain his footing. Instead, in Perez trademark fashion, he dropped his hands, stuck his chin out and invited a happy to oblige Rios in for more action. It would become a scene to expect in a Perez fight from that point on in his career.
A rough stretch followed the Rios bout, as Perez would hit the road, losing his next three bouts in a row. A once promising prospect was now old news, an afterthought. If it wasn’t for the strength of his team, Perez may have walked away into the sunset, “I have an amazing team, they’re more than friends, they’re like brothers.” With Ramos, Wittman and Morris in tow, all Perez needed was a local promoter to see that the talent was still there. Enter Steve Mestas and AirTight Boxing, “I can’t forget about coach Mestas, he’s a huge part of my team and he has had my back since day one.” Equipped to make a run again at stardom, Perez quietly went on a 5 fight winning streak that saw him win the WBC Continental Americas title as well as the WBC Youth World title.
Perez winning streak and crowd friendly fighting style caught the eyes of the powerful promotional company, Top Rank. Not as a client, but as an opponent. Nestled away in the cupboards of Top Rank shelves was fast rising, hard punching prospect, Brandon Rios. What happened next is a fight fans dream bout, the kind of fight we all hope to see one day.
Perez and Rios would battle it out over 10 grueling, hard to stomach rounds. When Perez wasn’t breaking down the body of Rios with vicious body shots, Rios was smashing in the nose and eyes of Perez. When it looked like both fighters couldn’t go on, they decided to stand in the center of the ring, in the middle of a blood bath, “It was fun, the type of battle you love. Until this day I still believe I won the fight.” As gut wrenching as it was for me to watch, I still remember the facial expression of trainer, Robert Garcia, and the nervousness of Top Rank matchmaker, Brad Goodman. Goodman was a sweaty, pale mess, like he had just seen a ghost. After 10 rounds, Perez walked backed to his corner, eyes shut and blood still streaming down his face, his hometown crowd roared when he raised in hand in moral victory.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be his night in the record books, for all the glitter of his beautiful performance, his shine was taken away at the hands of the judges. He walked away with a majority draw, one card for Perez, as Rios walked into the bright lights of stardom.
Although Perez would go 3-3 in his next six bouts following the Rios bout, including a blood thirsty rematch loss to Rios, all wasn’t lost for Perez. His personal life was beginning to become complete; he was deeply in love outside of the ring. Through the ups and downs of his career and personal life, Perez would wed the beautiful, Leann Perez and welcome into this world, another son, “My wife is wonderful, she is my backbone and biggest supporter. I honestly couldn’t do it without her.”
Still hungry to prove his worth, Perez was on the door step to his biggest accomplishment to date. In February, 2012, months after giving recently scrapped Top Rank prospect, Mercito Gesta, a run for his money, Perez stepped into the ring again. This time under the bright lights of ESPN, to face off with Edgar Santana for the NABA Light Welterweight title on ESPN Friday Night Fights. Santana, 26-3, stepped into the ring looking like a legit welterweight, dwarfing the smaller Perez. However, Perez would not be denied his night to shine. Perez boxed beautifully behind an educated jab and graceful footwork, “Pérez, who might be smaller in body; he wasn’t in heart and mind.” Teddy Atlas proclaimed on ESPN. Perez was emotionally overcome with joy when the ring announcer announced, AND NEW!!!!, “I worked so very hard and to fight the fight I fought, knowing the struggles and sweat I put into this craft, it was amazing.”
Perez was finally at peace with his career as the fruit of his labor had finally paid off, “It was a blessing, God has been good to me and my family.” Perez would travel to Cancun, MX in his next outing to defend his title. Matched up against Jose Miguel Cotto, the younger brother of superstar, Miguel Cotto, Perez was no longer the opponent. Once again, he would box beautifully, using pinpoint accuracy and stellar head movement to frustrate Cotto and take a split decision win.
From his hometown of Denver to Delaware to Cancun, MX, Perez once again would take his act on the road, traveling to Belfast, Ireland in the United Kingdom to face Paul McCloskey, for the vacant WBA Inter-Continental light welterweight title. Perez would lose a spirited decision but over the last 7 months, he had traveled the world, something he could never fathom, “Never thought in a million years boxing would bring me to the places I’ve been. I hope for many more to come. ”
Although Perez has had his many shortfalls and bad decisions in this unfair sport, including a horrendous showing by the judges in his most recent performance against Vernon Paris, Perez is still optimistic about his future, “I still have a lot of fights left in me. I want to be a part of as many great fights as I can. I want to put my stamp on boxing in and out of the ring.”
It’s safe to say Perez is in good spirits heading into his homecoming bout, scheduled for September 21st at the Stampede Arena, located in Aurora, CO. He recently celebrated the birthday of his wife, Leann, and youngest son, Sammy, who joins brothers, Cinco and Aiden, “My family is beautiful, my boys are growing every day. My wife is amazing and wonderful, I’m really loving life.”
And finally, Perez is coming home.