Friday, March 24, 2023  |



Perez is a dangerous and familiar foe for Mares


Abner Mares (left) will face the most dangerous foe of his pro career when he battles Yonnhy Perez (right) for his amateur rival's bantamweight title on May 22. Photo / Tom Casino-SHOWTIME

When Yonnhy Perez says he knows how to beat Abner Mares, you can believe him.

The two RING-rated bantamweights will fight for Perez’s 118-pound title in the much-anticipated co-feature to Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez IV at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, but it won’t be the first time they’ve met or shared a boxing ring.

They fought three times in the amateur ranks, where they became friends. At one time they lived together and trained at the same gym, where they sparred many rounds.

So Perez knows from first-hand experience how fast, versatile and strong-willed Mares is.

He knows he doesn’t possess the raw talent that Mares does, but what the Colombian lacks in speed, footwork and athleticism, he more than makes up for in technique, durability and incredible conditioning.

So when Perez (20-0, 14 knockouts) tells you that he’s going to win his Showtime-televised showdown with Mares (20-0, 13 KOs), you better believe he means it.

“Mares is faster than me and he’s very aggressive,” Perez told through interpreter Alex Camponovo. “He’s a very talented fighter who is not without skill, but if we’re really going to talk about technique, I think I have much better technique than he does. There’s a lot of things I can do better than he does, but some of the obvious things to my advantage are my height and reach. I’m the taller fighter with the longer reach. And I have much more power than Abner.

“I’m ready for him, and I’ll be able to compensate for whatever he does with what I bring to the table. There’s no way he can beat me.”

That might sound like typical boxer bravado to those who are unfamiliar with Perez, but the 31-year-old titleholder is not an average fighter.

Anyone who saw his 12-round barnburner with Joseph Agbeko last October knows that Perez is the real deal. Perez, a 3-to-1 underdog going into the Showtime-televised fight, outboxed and outhustled the brave Ghanaian to a thrilling unanimous decision that many observers considered a Fight of the Year candidate.

Agbeko, a once-beaten beltholder who was coming off an impressive decision victory over Vic Darchinyan, was game throughout the fight but simply couldn’t match Perez’s inhuman punch output down the stretch of the fight.

Perez, who wore down Silence Mazbuza to a 12th-round stoppage in the formidable two-time title challenger’s native South Africa to earn his shot against Agbeko, was also technically sharper than the odds favorite but few noticed because of his amazing work rate.

Perez, who compiled a 230-17 amateur record and was a seven-time national champ in Colombia, is an underrated boxer but he doesn’t mind being known for his volume punching in the pro ranks. In fact, his superb conditioning is a point of pride with him.

“Everything I do in the ring is predicated on my preparation,” Perez said. “My conditioning enables me to beat any style. When I go up into the ring, I will give my all because I prepare myself to do that. I go in thinking that if I win or lose, it’s because of me, because of what I do, not my opponent.”

Perez’s opponent on Saturday is well aware of his subtle technique, awesome stamina and winning attitude.

“I knew Yonnhy would be a champion one day,” said Mares, whose father, Ismael, signed Perez to a managerial contract and helped bring the Colombian to Southern California, where the two prospects once shared the same house and gym.

“We brought him over here because we knew how talented he was. To be honest, I thought I would win a world title before he did but he beat me to it because of his hard work and his hunger.”

Perez’s trainer, Danny Zamora, says he’s never seen a fighter as dedicated as the lanky Colombian.

“He’s in training 10 months out of the year whether he’s got a fight scheduled or not,” Zamora said. “He’ll take two months off to visit his family back in Colombia and come back to the States weighing no more than 126 pounds. He fought at bantamweight in the amateurs and at 31 he can still make the weight. He weighs at or below 118 pounds two weeks before every fight. He’s amazing.”

Camponovo, of Thompson Boxing Promotions, the Southern California-based promotional company that signed Perez as a 6-0 prospect in late 2006, wasn’t completely sold on the Colombian amateur standout at first but quickly became a believer once he saw him in action.

“I was impressed with Yonnhy before I ever saw him fight because you don’t see a lot of Colombian prospects make their way to Los Angeles,” said Camponovo, who serves as general manager and matchmaker for Thompson Boxing Promotions. “Generally, Colombian fighters will go to the Miami area or just stay in Colombia, but Yonnhy was different. He made the sacrifice to move to Southern California, where the best sparring is and where he knew he would be tested in all of his fights as he climbed the ladder.”

Despite Perez’s extensive amateur background and obvious work ethic, he was still viewed as a bit of risk because he turned pro in his mid-20s due to a stint with the Colombian army, where he served as an infantry sergeant. However, Perez proved to be worth the investment with his first fight on a Thompson Boxing show.

“Before we signed him, we gave him a trial run on one of our cards in Corona (Calif.),” Camponovo said. “I put him in with a tough guy named Larry Olvera. Larry was a good amateur who never panned out as a pro because he did some jail time, but he was a dangerous journeyman. He had blasted a couple of our fighters before the Perez fight, but Yonnhy handled him with no problem. He kept Olvera at bay with his jab and broke him down to a sixth-round stoppage. That’s when I knew he was something special, and we signed him before his next fight.”

Perez showed Camponovo a little more with each fight as Thompson Boxing quickly developed him from a regional prospect to a world-rated contender, eventually co-promoted by Gary Shaw, on their monthly club shows.

“Bit by bit, Yonnhy showed us that he could do it all,” Camponovo said. “He can box tall and utilize a strong jab or he can fight on the inside. He’s an accurate puncher with good technique. He’s got a great chin. You never know if he’s hurt. If he is, he hides it well. And, of course, he throws (punches) like I’ve never seen before. He throws as many punches in the late rounds as he does at the start of the fight.

“Honestly, I don’t see how Mares is going to beat him.”

Those who are picking Mares to win believe he is simply the more talented boxer and figure the 24-year-old Mexico-born contender must have a blueprint for defeating Perez since he won two of their three amateur fights.

Perez begs to differ with the Mares supporters.

“I understand that Abner is talented, maybe more than I am, but that’s where my experience comes into play,” he said. “(Experience) is a huge advantage for me. I fought a No. 1 contender and a world champ in my last two fights. He’s never fought anyone like Agbeko or Mabuza. He’s never been in a 12-round war. I have.”

Perez also warns fans about reading too much into their amateur fights.

“I faced him three times in the amateurs and if Colombia had as much influence as Mexico did, I would have won two out of three,” Perez said. “The first time we fought was at the Central-American Games in San Salvador (El Salvador). There was a tie 17-17. There was a controversy (immediately after the bout), for five minutes there was no decision, and somehow, somewhere, out of the hat, they pulled an extra point (for him) and he beat me on that one. He had to see the doctor 10 times during the fight but (he) still beat me by one point.

“The second time we faced each other was at the Batalla De Carabobo tournament in Venezuela and I beat him on points there. The third time was at the Pan-American Games, which was the qualifier for the (2004) Olympics, he beat me on that one too, but again, it was very close. So as far as our amateur history goes, it’s basically a draw and one (victory) each.”

Perez says their pro matchup will be just as hotly contested as their amateur trilogy was.

“I expect a fast-paced fight,” he said. “I know he’s aggressive and he’s going to bring a lot of fire into the ring, but I do the same thing. So I’m going to throw a lot of punches like I always do and be very precise in how I attack him.

“It’s not going to boring whatsoever because of our styles, but I know that I will be victorious.”