By David A. Avila
Southern California reinforces its place as a bastion for world championship caliber prizefighting when New Jersey’s Michael “The Artist” Perez (pictured) meets Russia’s Petr “Zar” Petrov in an elimination bout for a top spot in the lightweight rankings on Friday.
It’s further proof that regardless of nationality or location, Southern California is a melting pot to forge champions. Aside from Mexico, the Golden State has seen its gyms fill up with fighters from around the world.
Both Perez (24-1-2) and Petrov (37-4-2) moved their home base to Southern California and meet at Fantasy Springs Casino on Sept. 30, in Indio, Calif. Golden Boy Promotions will also televise the card on RingTVLive.com and on Estrella TV.
In relation to Petrov, he actually moved from Spain to Southern California. He was born in Russia but moved to Spain as a youngster. He speaks Spanish fluently. Recently, he moved to Santa Fe Springs and works with trainer Danny Zamora. In that gym you’ll find Cubans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Mexicans and local Californians working side by side.
Petrov is promoted by Banner Promotions and Thompson Boxing Promotions and decided to move from Madrid, Spain to the suburban city of Santa Fe Springs that’s situated near Norwalk and Whittier.
“For me the US is the Mecca of boxing. I want to achieve my dream of being a world champion so I came here,” said Petrov, 33, who spent 13 years fighting out of Spain. “I see what fighters like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Vasyl Lomachenko from the former Soviet countries are doing and I want to be like them. I’m willing to spend the time in training and be on the top like them.”
Petrov’s last ring affair was a bloody skirmish with Tijuana’s Marvin Quintero in a ring set up outside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on the eve of the Canelo-Khan fight. Both traded tremendous blows and exhibited a skill level not often seen until the fight was stopped due to a savage cut on the Mexican fighter. It was one of the better fights of the year.
Now, the Russian lightweight Petrov, who won the Boxcino lightweight tourney in 2014, faces Puerto Rican fighter Perez.
“Michael Perez is a very good fighter, a very technical fighter and he likes to control the ring but I plan to win,” says Petrov.
New Jersey’s Perez also moved his camp from the East Coast to the West Coast and now calls Riverside, Calif. his headquarters. The Puerto Rican stylist says the move was by design.
“I just wanted a change from the environment. There were too many distractions and I just wanted to get away. I wanted to change everything around me and it’s been just a blessing,” said Perez, 26. “And now I’m fighting for a title eliminator.”
Though Perez was raised in the city he’s more comfortable in the countryside.
“I like Riverside. It’s secluded. I trained in Oxnard and its more city life, there is more to do. But Riverside is more “rancho,” it’s like a ranch. We got horses in the back and chickens,” says Perez who likes roaming the Riverside area. “I’m Puerto Rican. I used to spend three months at a time in Puerto Rico. Every summer I would spend it in Puerto Rico. I’m straight ‘campo.’ I’m used to it. I like it. It makes me feel at home and I like it.”
The Boricua has been training at Robert Garcia Boxing Academy for more than a year and credits the ultra-strong sparring for an uptick in his own style.
“It most definitely gives me an advantage because you’re in there with top athletes and you make yourself better, I believe,” said Perez, who lives on the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy compound along with several other prizefighters in the hills of Riverside. “I spar with Mikey (Garcia) and guys like Jonathan Navarro.”
Ironically, Navarro is on the card too.
Perez’s only loss came to former world champion Omar Figueroa four years ago. Since then, the amiable prizefighter has a built a solid resume with wins over Miguel Acosta, Luis Sanchez and Martin Honorio. In each fight Perez has been able to seem the stronger man inside the ropes. He credits the sparring he gets with his own team.
“The system of training obviously works when you have four world champs walking around as proof. Just being around these guys gives me motivation and keeps my plays sharp,” Perez said.
Several other prized prospects are performing on the Golden Boy card.
Jonathan Navarro (6-0, 5 KOs), who is originally from East L.A. but lives and trains in Riverside, will be fighting outside the L.A. county limits for the first time. The welterweight slugger has been improving upon his already heavy-handed power. He faces Farkhad Sharipov (4-8) in a six round bout.
“Boxing wise I’m sitting more on my punches. Not going crazy if I hurt the opponent,” said Navarro, 20, whose family lives in Boyle Heights. “You learn a lot of stuff working with Mikey Garcia.”
Others on the card are Santa Ana’s Alexis Rocha (4-0) meeting Colbert Lozoya (7-13) in another six round bout. San Diego’s Genaro Gamez (2-0) faces Vernon Alston (8-6-1) in a featherweight clash and super middleweight Bastie Samir (14-0-1) counters Sijuola Ade Shabazz (6-1) in a six round clash. Two other fights are scheduled.
Doors open at 5p.m. For more information call (800) 827-2946.
Former middleweight and light heavyweight world champion Iran “The Blade” Barkley who defeated Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns twice and fought Roberto Duran, will be available for photos and autographs at Fantasy Springs Casino during the fight card.