He says all the right things, he sounds sincere, and I believe him. But we won't know until the night of Jan. 18 if Mike Perez has been greatly affected by what happened the night of Nov. 2, 2013.
Perez is the 28-year-old Cuban heavyweight who was in a pick 'em fight with Russian heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov on the undercard of the Gennady Golovkin-topped card at the Madison Square Garden Theater. This clash between two heavies looking to make the leap from prospect to full-fledged contender ended with a UD win for Perez. The joy of victory, however, was totally muted by a post-fight development.
After absorbing loads of punishment from Perez over the course of ten rounds, Abdusalamov was taken to a NYC hospital and underwent emergency surgery to relieve swelling in his brain. He was comatose and today is housed at an upstate rehab facility, where he's working to regain the ability to walk and talk.
Perez (20-0 with 12 KOs), who opened eyeballs with a skilled and committed performance against Mago, gloves up against 33-year-old Cameroonian Carlos Takam (29-1 with 23 KOs) on an HBO card topped by a Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute bout in Montreal in two weeks.
I chatted via phone with Perez, who lives in Ireland and trains in California with Abel Sanchez, the tutor for the hottest boxer on the planet today, Gennady Golovkin. Perez sounded to me like the Mago tragedy hasn't messed up his equilibrium.
I asked him directly if he's been impacted by the tragic event. "I'm OK, and I thank all the people who believe in me, and have been telling me great things," he said. "I feel very sorry for Mago, and I'm happy to dedicate this fight to him. Life keeps going, I have to put that behind me."
Perez said he prays for Mago and his family, but he's had no problem, in sparring anyway, sitting down on his shots and trying to unload with maximum velocity and impact. "I want to hurt them, not them to hurt me," he said. "I was doing my job on Nov. 2, and it could have been me. I thank God it wasn't me. I hope Mago gets better soon."
Essentially, Perez says he can sleep well at night because he was doing his job against Mago, and he didn't intend to do such damage.
"I expect to be the same on Jan. 18, and do what I do best," he stated. He's thinking a title crack will come shortly. It may be against the man who is the only one better than him in the whole division, Wladimir Klitschko. Klitschko also happens to be the head of the company which promotes Perez, K2, along with his brother Vitali, who has left boxing for politics.
How would Perez do better than the others who have thought they could solve the Klitschko puzzle? "Fight," he said, simply. "I think most of them fight scared."
He doesn't seem phased by the skill set of Takam, who he admits he hasn't seen in person or even a tiny bit on tape.
It might sound cold to some, but Perez told me he is settled on continuing to win and make a living for his fiancee and three daughters, ages 12, 2 and 1. "I'm doing something to make life better for my girls."