Heavyweight title eliminator could put Perez in position

By Rich Mancuso

Mike Perez is aware what awaits him Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The 26-year old undefeated heavyweight, who defected from Cuba six years ago, has an opportunity to be a heavyweight champion when he meets the undefeated Bryant Jennings. And in a division that is in need of the right face, Perez wants to be in position to take it forward in the WBC title eliminator.

The HBO telecast undercard fight, precedes the 12-round main event of Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale for the WBA/IBO middleweight title. If Perez prevails he gets an opportunity to fight for the WBC title that Vitali Klitschko vacated when he retired from the sport in December. 

Except, Jennings, (18-0- 10 KO’s) will be no easy match. The Philadelphia fighter has speed and Perez may not be able to keep up with the jab. More so, this is a premier fight in the Garden main arena, something that is rare in a building where the heavyweight title fight was always a main attraction.

 The heavyweight division, which has been dominated for a decade by Vitali and his brother Wladimir, either way, will eventually have a new and exciting face. Perez, though, has been living in Ireland where his management team is based, but not like the Klitschko plan over the years he prefers to fight in America.

“This is a dream come true. It opens the doors for me to be who I am,” Perez said Tuesday afternoon when he met the media at the Mendez Boxing Gym in New York City. “I’m from Cuba and people will be supporting me.”  He knows the exposure that Cuban fighters have been receiving, and expects many will be watching in his homeland.

There is the suspense as to how Perez, 20-0-1, 12 Kos) will adapt to the speed of Jennings.

 “I believe I trained hard,” he commented. “This is going to be my fight. I look forward to this opportunity. I got it for me and my family in Cuba and for my family in Ireland and for the people who support me.”

 He has become accustomed to talking and was relatively unknown until a fatal fight at the Garden Theatre, the smaller venue adjacent to the main arena. The night of November 2, 2013, Perez went punch-for-punch against Magomed Abdusalamov, a 10-round unanimous decision win of sorts.

But Perez getting his hands raised became a psychological battle. Afterwards, Abdusalamov had an injury, and a stroke from brain damage after surgery for a blood clot to the brain, the result I paralysis on the right side from a blood clot to the brain. The New York State Athletic Commission and doctors present were sued for negligence and once again boxing was in a dark cloud.

Abdusalamov is recovering in upstate New York and the fight is something that Perez will not discuss. He just went in the ring and did his job and had no decision making as to why the fight was not stopped earlier.

 No fighter, in the heat of a battle wants to see that result over an opponent, and Perez still gets his moments and is very distraught about the outcome. This will be is his second fight since then, his last, a majority draw in January up in Montreal over Carlos Takam in which Perez admits was not his best.

He remained distracted over the result of that night in the Garden. And though he has been in contact with the Abdusalamov family, it will be a night that this fighter can never forget. Every fight, he has said, is for the betterment of boxing and safety of the fighter and most of all dedicated to his fallen opponent.   

 Perez discussed the Takam fight and admiited he thought he would go to the hospital, “The last fight it was a very hard fight in every way. Emotionally, I didn’t want to fight. He hit me in the head, he cut my eyes. After that I was in like a different place. I might go into the hospital. I was thinking a lot of stupid things. It was my hardest fight.”

As for Jennings, Perez knows what is at stake and his opponent has a height advantage, not much but for a heavyweight fight that can be a determining factor.  Jennings has vowed to be victorious and said, “He (Perez) has a great story coming from Cuba. I have a great story coming from Philly.”

 Indeed this fight has the makings of a good one, and the heavyweight division is thirsting for some excitement. Both fighters have the ability to change the face of this division Saturday night at the Garden.  But, Perez knows this is his moment. 

“I want to add my name to the champions who have fought there,” he said.

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