An interesting story to tell: Mario Perez interview
Mario Perez told Paul Zanon he had an interesting story to tell - and he wasn't exaggerating...The Mexican-born featherweight talks boxing and a tough upbringing, with occasional interruptions from his pet pig...
Through a chance encounter over social media, a 32-year-old Mex-Tex boxer, by way of Ontario, Canada, dropped me a note. He said, "I’ve got an interesting story to tell."
As a ghostwriter of autobiographies, I hear that line fairly often, but something about his writing style drew me in and led me to respond with: "Let’s catch up over the phone."
A couple of weeks later, I caught up with vegan featherweight boxer, Mario Perez.
(Long international ringtone, which lasts for about five seconds...)
“Mario? It’s Paul Zanon from Boxing Monthly in the United Kingdom.”
Within moments, Perez’s warm voice has pulled me in.
“Yes sir! Thank you for calling. How are you? What’s going on?”
After a few virtual fist pumps, we got down to business and Perez explained the fascinating journey which first led him to lace up the gloves.
“Well, I was born in Mexico City and taken to Conroe, Texas at two years of age," he began. "Just my mother, sister and I. My biological father was never around. I only met him once when I was 23 years old, so apart from that, it was just me, mom and my sister.
“Back to Conroe. I remember living in a 10x10 [foot] walk-in closet that we rented in someone's apartment. We had no money, no credit, so that was luxury. We had a cooler, like an ice chest, with milk, baloney, ham, mayo and some bread. That’s how we lived."
As Perez grew older, he decided to try his hand at the sporting offerings at school, but with little success.
“I could never make any team in junior high so I joined boxing,” he explained.
With no other family members having boxed before, a 14 year old Perez arrived at the Cut and Shoot boxing gym, run by former USA Texas State Heavyweight Champion, Roy Harris. It’s worth noting that the accomplished Harris beat light heavy great Willie Pastrano and that three of his five career losses came against Sonny Liston, Henry Cooper and Floyd Patterson (the latter for the world heavyweight title). Harris was also Texas Golden Glove champion four years in succession. Now aged 84, he is still a regular at the club and is often seen hitting the heavy bag.
At which point the phone reception starts to make a high-pitched noise and I assume we are about to get cut off.
“Mario? You still there?”
“Sorry Paul. I have a little pig here with me”
“That’s right. I don’t have any kids, but I have lots of pets. Two pigs and two dogs and one of the pigs is with me.”
Nothing like a pig squeal to spice up a conversation!
But back to the Cut and Shoot gym...
"Monty Lane, Roy’s nephew, was the coach," Perez added. "That’s where I learnt most of my boxing. At 14 years old I received the least improved boxing award [in my] first year and changed it the second year to the best improved.
“I competed and won a lot of state tournaments like Golden Gloves, Silver Gloves etc. I competed in 46 amateur fights, lost seven, but I couldn’t compete in as many tournaments as I would have liked to, because I wasn’t a US citizen and was never able to advance further than state in the US, so I quit for a year. What I did pick up during that time, was a lot of ring experience sparring, which is probably what prepared me for my professional career.
“Then I graduated from high school and I was left with the question [what now]? So I spoke to a teacher of mine and she brought boxing back to my attention and told me that I should think about boxing. So I turned pro in 2004 aged 19 and in my first eight fights won seven, drew one and had five knockouts.
"Life couldn't be greater. I was a pro athlete straight out of high school. I was on the right track. But with fame comes money and then ambition. I got involved with the wrong crowd and started selling drugs."
(At which point the pig starts squealing in the background and Perez momentarily loses his thread as he starts to address the pig...)
“Sorry man, where were we?”
“Sorry. Yeah. I got you. So here I am loving the boxing, but get involved with the wrong crowd. I sold some drugs to a cop, not knowing it was a cop. It was a set-up.
“Anyways I got in trouble and went to jail [the Texas Department of Criminal Justice] for two years and my life was over. I had got married at the time to a girl who ended up divorcing me because of my incarceration. Not only was my career and life put on hold, but now I was facing deportation back to Mexico even though my whole life was in Texas.
"The entire time that I was in jail I had one thing on my mind and that was boxing because I knew I didn't have further education and I decided to box rather than school. When I was finally released it was in Mexico I was told to walk across the bridge to Mexico and told not to come back.
“Now I had another obstacle, and that was being in Mexico. I spoke very little Spanish and was in for a ride. Anyway, once I settled, I was able to get a fight within a month and picked up my boxing career once again. The bad thing in Mexico was the pay. It’s a third world country and boxers don't make much money unless you’re a top fighter. Also, you didn’t get the chance to pick and choose who you fought and what weight you fought at.
"I fought about 30 bouts in Mexico, even though my record only says 13. I knocked out some good hometown Mexican fighters, but they didn’t put them on my record. I don’t know how that worked. I was always being asked to take dives, but that was never going to happen.
“I was taking fights on short notice and heavier weight class just to make money. I was even classified for a while as welterweight. I won most of my fights and some were bad hometown decisions but I got by.
“They put me in with a guy called Rodolfo Quintanilla, who was 12-0, with 10 knockouts and came in at 160[lbs]. I beat his ass unanimously, but he broke my jaw in the fourth round of an eight-round fight. But that’s how it worked. In a third world country you fight to eat not for fun.
“Finally I got a break. I was offered a fight in Canada obviously to lose. I was excited, because my time in Mexico was over. I was finally going to a first world country once again. Now I had a plan! Win my fight, get signed by a promoter and get the fuck outta Mexico!
“So here I am in Canada and no one knew I spoke English. I was hearing everything bad they had to say about Mexicans and Mexican fighters including the outcomes of the fights that they seemed to know of already. I was already starting to think about the future.
“Anyway. Back to my first fight in Quebec, Canada in September 2013. I was given seven days' notice to fight a lightweight called Baha Laham, who was unbeaten in 13 fights and I was expected to be a walkover for him. Well, I beat the guy's ass all eight rounds. I pulled it off but the home town judges didn't grant me the win, so they made it a draw.
"Either way, things were great. I made 2,500 bucks, Canadian, even though my promoter took 500 bucks and 30 per cent went to my coach, so I didn’t have a lot, but it was a lot more than [in] Mexico.
“Thankfully, not long after, I took a big money fight and that started my own life in Toronto. I now manage myself, manage professional fighters and match-make. Where they usually bring in a Mexican guy to lose, I bring the Mexican guys in to win! A lot of promoters will try and cut me out, because they don’t like that.
"I’m trying to put on fair fights, with evenly matched fighters, instead of helping pad out fighters' records who have a supposed future. They bring Mexicans over here to see them getting knocked out. I was one of them. I know what it’s like to get seven days' notice and by the time you get to the weigh-in, you’re already fucked up. They do everything they can to make sure you have a bad experience. I do everything to make the opposite."
Perez ends our conversation by reflecting on how far he’s come since living in a closet in Texas.
“I am not supposed to be in the position I'm in now," he admitted. "Once you are deported from a country your life is over, that's why they do that but I kept following my dreams and am still doing it. I want to send a message to people all over the world that it's never over until it's over."
If you are in Toronto and are looking to hook up with Mario Perez for training, promoting or matchmaking, look him up on firstname.lastname@example.org Failing that, his pets seem like a bunch of fun!