But a moment of madness in the 12th round against Bryant Jennings ultimately cost the Cork Cuban a long awaited shot at the world heavyweight title when he was deducted a point for lashing out after the referee got in between the fighters.
Although Perez was adamant after that he won what was a scrappy encounter, it’s fair to say that Jennings shaded this heavyweight eliminator and looked the sharper in the closing rounds after the Cuban dominated the first half of the fight.
At best, Perez was denied a draw and certainly that was the view of the judges.
Had it not been for that final round penalty, judge Glenn Feldman would have scored the encounter 114-114, thus handing Perez his second tie in a row.
Alas, it was the Cuban’s first defeat as a professional but he was philosophical afterwards.
“Yeah it was a tough loss,” Perez told The Irish Examiner. “I let all my team down, the people of Ireland, all Cubans, my girls. But I’ll be back. There are no excuses, (the referee was) just doing his job.”
Almost 9,000 fight fans were gathered at the main arena in Madison Square Garden to watch the two main events, Gennady Golovkin producing a sensational third round knockout to down Australian Daniel Geale in the middleweight encounter that topped the bill. Jennings enjoyed significant support from the crowd for his duel with Perez and the Cuban fighter pointed to that afterwards when reflecting on the decision that went against him.
“(Jennings) knows he got lucky tonight, he knows he didn’t win the fight. But hey, this is America. Boxing is politics and I’m from Cuba living in Ireland — they’re not going to give me s**t. It is what it is. Hopefully we can meet again, we’ll see.”
Perez took advantage of the cagey approach of his opponent and all judges had him 5-1 ahead after six rounds but the fitter, sharper Jennings rode the storm and took it to the Cuban during a frenetic three rounds at the three quarter mark. Jennings regularly exposed his southpaw opponent with a highly effective right cross that often had the Cuban momentarily stunned before quickly taunting with lowered gloves while flashing a smile.
In the final rounds Perez was hanging on as Jennings maintained most of his edge and though both fighters went for the jugular in an exciting final round, ‘The Rebel’ couldn’t quite find the decisive punch and would end up ruing that moment of frustration. “I didn’t want to do much sparring,” Perez pointed out,” because the first sparring I did, he headbutted me above the left eye. I lost a bit of timing after that. I was there but it didn’t work out.”