All you need to know about the impact combat sports has on a Hispanic household can be found in a quote from UFC flyweight contender Alex Perez, who, when asked if fighting was a part of the culture in his family as he grew up, said, “I didn't start watching fighting until a little bit later, fifth or sixth grade.”
Most would say fifth or sixth grade is pretty early to be checking out the fights on TV.
“Not the people I know,” laughed Perez. “Some of those guys were watching fighting forever.”
So maybe Perez was a late bloomer when it came to checking out Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya and the other staples of Mexican-American fight fans’ Saturday night viewing, but once the budding wrestler got the bug, he was hooked. In fact, he started out boxing before moving to MMA, even training in the same gym with future Olympian and current junior welterweight champion Jose Ramirez.
“He was from a town over and seeing him come from a smaller town than I'm from and go to the Olympics, it was kind of crazy,” said Perez, who also found inspiration in the form of a mixed martial arts champion – Frankie Edgar.
“He wasn’t the biggest guy and he went to a smaller college,” said Perez of the New Jersey native. “I went to a smaller college, too, and he was one of the guys I looked up to. I was like, 'Hey, I can probably do this.'”
Perez was right, and though he liked boxing and was planning to get some amateur fights in, MMA was digging its hooks in.
“I think it was the whole wrestling thing,” he said. “I was like, 'Man, I want to be able to take someone down eventually.' (Laughs) So I was planning to do some amateur boxing fights, but the way we trained wasn't an amateur style. It was more like a pro style of boxing. It wasn't pitter-patter. We were going in there and you might hit me 400 times but they're not gonna hurt; I'm gonna hit you three times and you're gonna feel every punch. So I was debating then, and since I was doing MMA at the same gym, I ended up transferring over because of the whole takedown aspect.”
It was apparently a good call, as the 28-year-old veteran has won 24 of 29 pro bouts, with six of those wins coming in the UFC, putting Perez in the number four spot at 125 pounds. And now, just like he looked at fighters like Chavez, De La Hoya, Ramirez and Edgar, there’s some young fighter out there looking at Perez and saying, “Yeah, I can probably do this.”
“It's crazy because a lot of us don't go into a sport to be a role model,” he said. “We like to compete; we like to do something that probably got us out of trouble. But whatever you're going into the sport for, whether it's the money, the competition, or the fighting, you're gonna be a role model and you've got to remember that there are always gonna be eyes on you, whether it's for five minutes or your whole career. There's always someone watching, as crazy as that sounds, trying to make sure you're doing something right.”