Mike Perez is hoping to become the next big thing in the heavyweight division.
The unheralded Cuban native, who defected to Ireland in 2007 before turning professional, made a splash in his HBO debut in November with a strong performance in outlasting fellow unbeaten Magomed Abdusalamov by unanimous decision.
The joy of victory for Perez (20-0, 12 KOs), however, was short-lived after Abdusalamov was taken ill to the hospital and placed in a medically induced coma before suffering a stroke.
But Perez, 28, carries on and will make his next appearance Saturday against Carlos Takam (29-1, 23 KOs) at Bell Centre in Montreal (HBO, 10:15 p.m. ET/PT), where a victory likely sets him up for big things in the division.
How hard was it for you to leave your family behind in Cuba and defect in pursuit of your dream to be a world champion?
That was very hard -- too hard. Nobody can imagine how hard it has been. I have left my mother and my family and everybody down there. I have had to take the risks most people don't have to take to be somebody and make their dream.
Do you worry it will be hard for you to fight with the same intensity considering the injuries sustained by Abdusalamov in your previous fight?
No. I just give thanks to the people who care for me. We put that in the past. I really wish [Abdusalamov] all the best in this rehabilitation and in his life, and everything. My team and I have decided to dedicate this next fight to him. I want to put his name on my trunks and I hope that his family likes that. I am ready to go [against Takam] and everything will be the same. I will be the same fighter. I really hope my opponent, and all of my opponents, fight with the same heart that [Abdusalamov] fought with. We will be able to give the fans a really good fight.
How important was it for you to look good against Abdusalamov, considering the opportunity of being showcased on American television?
That was very important because it was the kind of fight that can open doors for me, for my career and for everything. That was very important. I think I came out and did good.
What do you think you showed the fans in terms of your ability?
I showed them a very good heavyweight, which everyone is looking for one this year and in these times. I think that's what I am and it's time to show the world that I'm another great heavyweight like Mike Tyson, [Muhammad] Ali and Joe [Frazier] and some of the greats of all time.
We got to see a little bit of everything from you against Abdusalamov, including your chin, power and ability to box. How would you describe your style in the ring?
I don't know. I don't think [it's a style]. I fight with a lot of patience and just bring a little of everything, I guess. I can fight any [style]. I can move, I can fight, I can do what I have to do to win the fight. This is the way I describe my style: To win the fight you have to do what you have to do.
You stopped 10 of your first 12 opponents inside of three rounds, but have been taken the distance in six of your past eight bouts. Do you consider yourself the type of fighter who prefers to set up your opponent over a period of rounds?
The more you look for a knockout, you are never going to get it. So I think a knockout is something that happens. I'm never looking for a knockout, I'm just looking to win my fights and that's what I am going to do.
How much do you know about Takam and have you had the chance to see him fight?
No idea. I don't really watch the fighters. I don't think it is important to watch fights [in preparation] because every fight an opponent fights is not the same. If you watch me in my last fight, I did not fight the same that I did in my last fight [before that]. I don't think I can watch him because he's not going to do in his last fights the same things that he is going to do to me. They are different fights.
How close do you believe you are to getting an opportunity to fight for a world title?
Awfully close. I hope I can fight this year some time for a world title. I am ready. Everything is there. I just need the opportunity.