Danny Perez (right) surprised Julio Cesar Garcia when he won a one-sided unanimous decision in September. Photo / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com
Danny Perez was burned out. He had been boxing since he was 12, had 60-plus amateur and 36 professional fights, had some issues with his handlers and had felt listless in his last fight, a loss to David Lopez in May 2005.
The fighter who had once pushed Antonio Margarito to the limit had had enough at 28.
So for three years he worked as a fitness trainer in the San Diego area, taught children how to box and spent time with his wife and two kids. As he put it, “I took some time to enjoy life.”
However, like so many before him, he couldn’t stay away. Rejuvenated from the time off, he resurrected his boxing career in July with the help of new trainer Mark Diaz, evolved from a slugger into a boxer-puncher, won three straight fights and has never been more enthusiastic about boxing.
Perez (34-5, 17 knockouts) faces Carlos Molina (16-4-1, 5 KOs) in a 10-round junior middleweight fight on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” this Friday from Miami.
“I just got the itch again,” Perez said over the phone Thursday. “I wasn’t fighting but I was still around boxing because I had my little stable of fighters. I just missed it, missed it so much. I watched some of my friends fight and I’d think, ‘You feel good, you still have it.’
“And that was it. I thought, ‘Let’s do it again.’”
Perez had a nice run the first time around.
He was 16-1 when he met a tough, 21-year Mexican brawler named Antonio Margarito in 1999 in Indio, Calif. He put Margarito down in the first round but lost a split decision.
The two would meet again three year later for Margarito’s WBO welterweight title in Anaheim, Calif. Margarito went down again in the first round but this time dominated the rest of the fight to win a one-sided unanimous decision.
Perez would never get another title shot.
“I was disappointed,” said Perez, reflected on the first part of his career. “I was frustrated. I looked back and thought, ‘Wow. I could’ve done more than I did. We learn from our mistakes and move on, though. I took three years off and I feel good. I’m not burned out now, I’m not banged up.
“I’m glad I did it, to tell you the truth.”
Perez had never taken a severe beating but the time off allowed his body time to heal from 16 years of constant pounding. It also allowed him time to mature. He’s a partier-turned-family man, which is more conducive to boxing.
And he has clicked with Diaz, who has emphasized fundamentals. Thus, a fighter whose instincts were to stand toe-to-toe has become a moving target that has learned to throw the left jab with regularity.
The result: points victories over Daniel Stanislavjevic and highly regarded Julio Cesar Garcia and a win by disqualification over Eric Mitchell (for excessive holding) with a mark on his face, as well as the invitation to fight on national television. He was scheduled to face former titleholder Carlos Quintana but Quintana pulled out.
“I used to be a slugger,” Perez said. “Mark has taught me a whole different ballgame, to be smarter, use the whole ring. With him, I move around, slip punches, use my jab a lot. And I love it, I really do. Of course I get a few lumps here and there; that’s a part of boxing. But I don’t come out all banged up.”
Perez has quickly established himself as a contender in his comeback.
He’s ranked No. 14 by the WBO and No. 15 by the IBF. Now, if he can get big-name fighters to actually climb through the ropes, it might not be long before his second opportunity to fight for a major title.
Diaz said Perez had a deal to meet then-unbeaten Alfredo Angulo a few months ago, which might’ve been a significant career boost, but Angulo decided to go another direction. Then Quintana pulled out of Friday's fight.
Still, Perez and Diaz couldn’t be more optimistic.
“We’re just worrying about today,” Diaz said. “Danny has come a long way in a short time by staying focused, staying positive and staying in the gym. He works very hard. And he’s doing awesome. I think he’s ready for a shot at a title. One possibility is facing (Cory) Spinks for the IBF title.
“We’ll see. People don’t seem to want to fight him. Someone will step up, though. And Danny will get his title.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at RingTVeditor@yahoo.com