Best I Faced: Raul ‘Jibaro’ Perez
Mexican boxer-puncher Raul Perez was one of the premier bantamweights and junior featherweights of the late-1980s and early-’90s. During that time, he won world titles in both weight classes.
Perez was born in Tijuana on February 14, 1967. He came from a big family and his father left when he was just two years old. The family lived in poverty and his mother worked several jobs to keep her family’s head above the water.
“My mom worked as a housekeeper and seamstress to feed her eight kids,” Perez told The Ring through Pepe Sulaiman. “As a child, I was very restless. I was not lazy. I did not go to school but life taught me everything. I do not want to remember those times that for me were very hard.”
As a youngster, Perez sold myriad things on the streets of the tough border town to help earn some money for his family.
“Jibaro” (meaning “skinny one”) was difficult for his mother to handle, so his older brother Hugo took him to the gym when he was eight years old.
“I realized that in boxing, they paid money,” Perez said. “I told myself, ‘I will be world champion because I want to buy a house for my mother.'”
The fourth grade dropout focused his attention on boxing and enjoyed a good amateur career, winning the Tijuana Golden Gloves. He also fought in other states.
“I loved fighting. I fought, at times, three times per week,” he explained. “I enjoyed my time as an amateur.”
Just after his 17th birthday, Perez turned professional, having gone 101-7 in the unpaid ranks. He was very busy and moved to 25-0, fighting almost exclusively in his hometown before tasting defeat for the first time.
To his credit, Perez bounced, back winning 15 out of 16 – the blemish was a technical draw – before stepping up against future three-division titlist Wilfredo Vazquez, in August of 1988.
Perez out-boxed the Puerto Rican at the Great Western Forum, in Los Angeles, to earn a shot at well-respected WBC 118-pound beltholder Miguel Lora, on the undercard of Julio Cesar Chavez-Jose Luis Ramirez, in Las Vegas. Perez won a hard-fought unanimous decision over the Colombian nearly three months later.
The memory is still fresh in the memory despite being 30 years ago.
“My proudest moment was when I was crowned WBC bantamweight world champion,” he said. “I have it in my mind like a movie. I wish time would have stopped there, that beautiful night.”
Perez reeled off seven successful defenses over the next two-and-a-half years, including a bloodbath decision over Lucio Lopez, an impressive stoppage win over Cardencio Ulloa, in Chile, and a wide decision over respected Gaby Canizales at his home away from home, the Forum. Perez also stopped unbeaten Gerardo Martinez in nine rounds there.
His reign ended when super-slick Greg Richardson came to the Forum and pick-pocketed him in February, 1991.
Perez stepped up to junior featherweight and, in his first fight, he edged another Colombian, Luis Mendoza, to win the WBA title by close split decision.
In his first defense, he was beaten by old rival Vazquez, in three rounds. He claims it is his biggest disappointment in boxing.
“The worst day of my career was when Wilfredo Vazquez defeated me at the Palace of Sports in Mexico,” Perez said. “I made the mistake of sitting my wife and daughter in the front row and when they knocked me down my daughter Tania started shouting, “Don’t hit my daddy” I have that recorded in my mind.
“It was not hard for me when I defeated him in (our first fight in) Los Angeles. He was a very normal boxer. When he defeated me in Mexico City (in the rematch), I was not well prepared. That’s why he won. I did not train for that commitment.”
At 5-feet-11, Perez was extremely tall for 118 and 122-pounds, holding physical gifts over all his opponents. He elected to bypass 126 and go up to 130 when he was offered the opportunity to face WBA kingpin Genaro Hernandez in April of 1993.
Within the first 30 seconds, the two clashed heads, leaving Perez heavily bleeding and the fight was halted before it had began. The contest was declared a no decision. The two met in a rematch two months later and Hernandez, the more natural 130-pounder, had his way en route to an eighth round stoppage.
Perez took a 21-month hiatus before returning to the ring. He fought on and off for the remainder of the decade before retiring, after losing to Hector Velazquez in August 2000, with a record of (61-6-3, 42 knockouts).
Perez was able to achieve his main objective in boxing.
“When I started earning money, the first thing I did was to buy my mom’s house,” he said proudly. “Even now she lives there.”
Perez, now 52, is married to Hilda Castañeda; the couple live in Tijuana. They have a son and Perez has three other children from a previous marriage. He has worked at a Sports Complex helping children in the area for 15 years and also has a small promotional company called Jibaro’s Boxing Promotions.
“The most important thing in my life are my children,” he said. “I thank God for giving me another chance to live my life. Four years ago, I had kidney cancer. It was a very hard time for me and my wife Hilda. Thank God they removed my right kidney, in which I had a very large tumor. Now we are very well and at ease.”
The ex-champion graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Genaro Hernandez: I could never get him to fight me. He always kept me busy with his jab.
Miguel “Happy” Lora: I was always throwing combinations and there were few that connected with him. That’s a fighter with good defense.
Greg Richardson: He was the one who took away my WBC bantamweight world championship. I could never see his hands; they were so fast.
Lora: He was very quick with his legs.
Lucio Lopez: A very strong man physically. He was ripped.
Lora: I could never connect with him solidly because he had very fast movement with his hands and feet.
Hernandez: He hit very hard. This is a very strong fighter but I came from a small boy raised from junior featherweight to junior lightweight and I felt the difference of punching power but that does not take away the great merit to Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez, the great champion. His liver punches always hurt me.
Hernandez: I hit him and hit him and he did not move.
BEST BOXING SKILLS
Lora: A very intelligent boxer in the ring. It was very difficult to hit him. He had very good leg movement that prevented me from hitting him.
Hernandez: He was a boxer with whom I had to used everything I learned and could not beat him.
Pepe Sulaiman helped translate this feature. The Ring appreciates his assistance.
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