Photos by Sumio Yamada
YONNHY PEREZ vs TOMAS ROJAS
Colombian bantamweight prospect Yonnhy Perez was supposed to have had a step-up fight on ShoBox last October but instead it proved to be a rout as he overwhelmed Russias weaker-than-expected Alexander Fedorov in four rounds. On Friday, Perez is back on ShoBox and this time he faces what should be a stern test against Mexican southpaw Tomas Rojas. On paper at least this should be Perezs most demanding fight by far and one that should show whether he truly has world title potential.
Perez is the favourite, of course. He has won 17 fights in a row and he was a four-time Colombian amateur champion and Pan American Games bronze medallist (losing to Mexicos Abner Mares, who is now considered to be heading towards a world title bout). Perezs hopes of boxing in the 2004 Olympics were dashed when he was beaten in each of two qualifying tournaments, one of the losses coming to Argenis Mendez of the Dominican Republic, who is also an unbeaten professional.
So, Perez was a good amateur but not an elite one. As a professional, though, he has done all that could be asked of him, easily winning all his bouts. In his last fight he won a unanimous decision over the always tough Oscar Andrade, a fighter who is much more capable than his record suggests.
Fridays opponent, Rojas, is also much more of a handful than indicated by his record of 28 wins and 11 losses.
Rojas, 28, is one of those boxers who will go anywhere and fight anyone. In the last four years his only losses were to champions or contenders. I thought he was very unlucky to lose to a then-unbeaten Puerto Rican, Jose Nieves, whom he dropped twice. That bout was televised on Azteca America, a network that has dropped out of boxing, and when the decision was announced the commentators exclaimed: No, no!
The only time that Rojas lost inside the distance came when he was dropped by a left hook to the body from Jorge Arce, but he had been clearly beating the colourful Travieso until the sudden ending in the sixth round.
Since then, Rojas has won two fights in Mexico, so he comes into the bout on a positive note. A lanky 5ft 8 1/2 ins, he is taller than Perez, and his southpaw style makes him that much more difficult to beat. If Perez is to move on, though, he has to be able to overcome this type of opponent.
Perez has a pleasing, aggressive style, and so far he has been able to impose his will. Rojas, though, is a tough fighter who is always willing to exchange punches. Each man usually likes to throw a lot of punches. This, then, should be an extremely lively fight.
Rojas is the more experienced man and has fought much tougher opposition than Perez has encountered. Perez, though, is a mature boxer. I believe he spent something like nine years in the military and had about 230 amateur bouts, and the 29-year-old, who now lives in Los Angeles County, is the house fighter on the Gary Shaw/Thompson Boxing show.
As I have remarked before, though, this year has seen an unusually high number of boxers losing unbeaten records. It almost happened again last weekend in Canada when undefeated Oliver Lontchi, of Montreal and Cameroon, was in a life-and-death 10-round draw against Mexicos Eduardo Garcia.
Rojas has seen it all before. He has fought in the Philippines, Panama and Nicaragua and faced world champs Arce, Rosendo Alvarez, Cristian Mijares, Gerry Penalosa and Anselmo Moreno.
I expect Perez to start fast but Rojas is likely to be right with him, punch for punch. Perez is almost certainly going to meet with stiffer resistance than he has ever faced.
The winner, I think, will be the one who can keep fighting his fight and force the other man to become more defensive than he really wants to be.
As with the Lontchi-Garcia fight, I am not making the unbeaten boxer a big favourite. Rojas can fight, and I think he would have beaten Arce had he stayed back and used his height and reach instead of storming in and trying the overwhelm the dangerous veteran. I think that Perez might be the stronger man and the better puncher, but Rojas is battle-tested and a fierce competitor.
If Perez is to win he will have to fight harder and more intensely than he has ever had to fight before. I think he will be able to do it, and if he comes through this test in style we can safely say that he has arrived as a contender.