By Jake Donovan
The greatest honor of carrying the name of a historical figure is the homage paid to the legacy that person led.
The greatest pressure of carrying such a name is finding the best way to live up to it.
Michael Angelo Perez was probably facing an uphill battle had he attempted to reach for the nearest brush and begin painting. Instead, the Newark product chose a different type of canvas on which to portray his masterpieces.
So far, the results produced suggest that he made the right career choice.
It’s certainly enough to have captured the attention of network executives. Frequent appearances on Telefutura’s Solo Boxeo series have introduced the 21-year young lightweight to North American audiences in the past several years.
This Friday, he advances to the Showtime level, as Perez is slated for his biggest test to date when he faces Omar Figueroa in the type of bout that defines the spirit of the prospect-based Shobox series.
“It’s another step in the game, moving up to Showtime,” Perez (15-0-1, 9KO) says of his Shobox debut. “It’s the same atmosphere as far as the crowd goes, just a different camera. It shouldn’t be any different to me.”
As far as Perez is concerned, a ring is a ring no matter where he’s at. That mentality dates back to his pre-teen days in the gym when he first took up the sport. It showed as early as age 13, when he won the 2003 Silver Gloves Championship. The honors kept rolling in, including claiming the National Golden Gloves championship in towards the tail end of his amateur career in 2008.
Perhaps the lone upset in his young career was his decision to turn pro in a year when most gifted amateurs were seeking a spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing squad. Rather than attempt to join the 2008 squad that became best known for the nation’s worst showing in more than 50 years, he instead sough to make a name for himself in a medium he felt best suited his talents.
“It’s every amateur’s dream to make it to the Olympics. But as an amateur, I always had a pro style” insists Perez, who compiled an amateur record of 102-10 before turning pro in Oct. ‘08. “I always had that pro mentality. I’m doing better in the pros than I did in the amateurs.”
The biggest reason for Perez’ success in the land of smaller gloves and no headgear is his desire to set up a knockout blow, rather than constantly throw and land pitty-pat punches. All four of Perez’ ring appearances in 2011 ended in knockout, none of which came about due to constant activity.
Instead, it was the ability to sit back and observe, seeking for and targeting that one opening that can lead to something big. The perfect knockout is the portrait that Perez prefers to paint, a luxury he wasn’t afforded as a teenager in the non-pay ranks.
“It’s more about the points system in the amateurs, whereas in the pros you actually get to hurt people without worrying about judges giving you a point for it. The transition from amateur to pro was easy for me, and I like the pros even better.”
Clearly the fans like the pro version as well.
All too often, prospects find themselves stuck on undercards of big fights, which sounds good in theory but in reality often result to near-empty crowds as fans of such shows normally wait until closer to the main event before bothering to show up. Perez has appeared on a few of these cards, but such showings came early in his career and only in a stay-busy capacity.
The past couple of years have seen the Jersey boy headline his own shows, playing to rabid crowds in the New York/New Jersey area, as well as boxing-crazed Puerto Rico, from where his family hails. Four of Perez’ past five fights have taken place on ‘La Isla Encanta’ (The Enchanted Island), each time in front of larger and more passionate crowds.
The secret to Perez’ success is his ability to connect with his audience, both in and out of his ring.
“Michael is an entertainer by nature,” states Jesus Perez, Michael’s father and manager. “But he also understands that it’s the fans who pay his bills and put money in his pocket. With each fight, more fans know who he is, and he’s signing more and more autographs. His last trip to Puerto Rico, there was a huge crowd at the airport chanting ‘El Artista,’ the moment they spotted him. His fans love him and he loves to please his fans.”
His past several performances have given his fans much reason to show plenty of love, and are also clear indications that Perez isn’t just a fighter, but that he knows how to fight.
Each of his past four knockouts have come as the result of a different fight ending blow, but one common theme is carried in each – the knack for slowing his opponent down and setting up the knockout. A dedicated body attack is always on display in any given Perez fight, along the understanding of the importance in setting up everything with the jab.
Tyrone Harris attempted to show Perez a variety of looks in their fight last October. The veteran trialhorse stalked early and kept flipping between southpaw and conventional stance, believing it would throw Perez off track and disrupt his rhythm.
Perez instead exuded another trait rarely shown these days – patience. The concept of not wasting any punches has led to his always being in position to score with a big shot, or at least cut off the ring to prevent his opponents from turning fights into track meets.
The Jersey-bred Puerto Rican has also offered the ability to end a fight early or late, instances coming in back to back fights last year.
Marcos Herrera attempted to take the young upstart into deep waters, but was eventually drowned with less than 90 seconds to go in their eight-round fight. The bout came two months after he went the full eight-round distance, barely outlasting serviceable lightweight Jose Hernandez.
Showing that he can go deep, Perez decided to go the explosive route in his next fight, scoring a pair of body shots to drop and stop Miguel Rodriguez inside of a minute in their Telefutura-televised bout.
The opposition level in his past several fights leads Perez and his handlers to believe that he’s more than ready for Figueroa, who is also unbeaten but not quite as experienced. Figueroa (13-0-1, 10KO) did manage to get rid of Marcos Herrera much quicker (two rounds) than was the case for Perez, but a performance that came on the heels of the journeyman having lost four straight going in.
Still, it – and his overall body of work – is enough for Perez to take him seriously. So serious that he gave up quality time with the family during the holidays in order to maintain peak physical condition.
“It’s all part of the game,” Perez insists matter-of-factly. “It’s the career that I chose. There’s no sacrifices for glory. I did what I had to do to get ready for Friday.”
Such dedication, he and his team believes, spells trouble for whoever is standing in the opposite corner.
“My son, when he’s on his A-game, is too much for anyone,” states Jesus Perez. “We’re taking Omar Figueroa very serious, but at the same time this kid hasn’t faced the fighters as Michael.”
The only thing not truly in Perez’ favor is the fight location. With Luis Ramos in the main event, promoter Golden Boy Promotions chose to stage the show in Indio, California.
Therein lies the next challenge – expanding his horizons and making new fans wherever he goes.
“It’s a little lonely at times. I don’t have as many fans over there,” Perez says of his experience fighting on the West Coast, having previously fought in California and Vegas. “But as times go by I hope everyone in the US embraces me with open arms.”
That will never be a problem as long as he continues to fight like a man living up to – and perhaps one day surpassing – the greatness carried in his name.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]