He’s back fighting at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, almost nine months after being a part of the biggest boxing story in New York City and the wider fight world.
That fateful November win over Magomed “Mago” Abdusalamov, which left the big Russian brawler in a medically-induced coma, is almost as hot a topic as it was last winter, when the captivating fight became so much more.
A battered Abdusalamov staggered out of the venue after an absorbing battle between two willing warriors and drifted in and out of consciousness on the midtown street as he and his crew waited for a taxi to take the boxer uptown to hospital through the usual traffic that makes Manhattan miserable at that time of the evening.
His condition deteriorated so badly that he ended up with a brain clot, the chaotic series of events eventually dragging both fighters out onto the front pages of New York tabloids as one fought for his life and the other — no stranger to battling for survival, having abandoned Cuba for Cork several years ago — tried to wrap his head around the consequences of the one and only sport he knows.
While Abdusalamov’s condition worsened before it slowly improved, ‘The Rebel’ Perez’s return to the ring was expedited. A draw with Carlos Takam on January 18 in Montreal a first blemish on his record. Although it’s easy to say it in hindsight, the Cuban admits now he wasn’t “mentally ready”.
If his recent press conference to promote Saturday’s fight against Bryant Jennings — a co-feature of a main event involving WBA middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin, one of the best fighters in the world at the minute — is anything to go by, Perez sounds a lot more prepared this time to deal with the one question on everyone’s mind: how much does almost causing the death of a fellow fighter play on his mind as he prepares for the biggest fight of his career?
In his early days as a pro, Perez was merciless. Can he retain that this weekend and set up a heavyweight title shot? There may never be a better opportunity — he is approaching 30, after all.
(The WBC has mandated that Bermane Stiverne defend the title he won against Chris Arreola in May to secure the belt vacated by Vitali Klitschko. Deontay Wilder will be the opponent and the winner of that Stiverne/Wilder showdown will face whoever emerges from this clash between Perez and Jennings.)
When reporters bring up November’s tragic outcome, the 28-year-old bats away questions solidly and with class.
“I want to concentrate on this fight [with Jennings],” he said the other week. “This is the fight that me and my trainer are working for. What happened with the last two fights, that happened in those fights.
“I appreciate that nobody asks any questions about that,” he continued. “Because I don’t want to talk about that fight. That’s in the past and I can’t do nothing with that. So please, I don’t want to talk about the Magomed fight. That happened and that’s it.”
Then there’s all the other — much lesser — drama he has been contending with. A change of trainer brought about by the perfectly understandable desire to be closer to his family, setting up base in London with Adam Booth and having his loved ones commute back and forth from Cork.
Then tongues wagged about the injured shoulder which postponed the Jennings fight from its original slot in May.
But he’s here now, and he has an incredible chance to silence the many critics that have doubted him for so long. The success of last Saturday’s MMA bouts at the O2 in Dublin has sent more shockwaves through boxing — even on this side of the Atlantic — but Saturday night’s co-starring with Golovkin has the potential to give the more ancient game a badly-needed publicity boost which will hopefully be a far cry from the more regrettable November headlines.
It should, of course, be noted before I finish that another important Irish boxing comeback happens tonight. As frustrated as Perez might be, it has been an even trickier 18 months for Patrick “Punisher” Hyland, the Dubliner who fights in New York tonight courtesy of an olive branch from promoter Lou DiBella, who is conducting an ongoing search for a Manhattan successor to John Duddy, the middleweight contender who had crowds flocking to the Garden for half a decade.It might be a more humble stage for Hyland this evening but just like Perez and any other modern day boxer, sometimes it’s just good to duck between the ropes and leave the rest of us behind.