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Bengal Bouts: Perez goes for historic fourth consecutive championship

Bill Brink | Friday, February 27, 2009

The name Kris Perez elicits different responses depending on who you talk to.

The kid who knocks people out. The YouTube kid. The best pound-for-pound boxer in Bengal Bouts. The undefeated three-time champion.

But to those that train with him, Perez, a senior captain, personifies dedication, work ethic, leadership by example and willingness to help others at all costs.

“I don’t know any other boxer on the team that works as hard as he does or brings his focus and work ethic every day, day in and day out to practice,” senior Bengal Bouts captain Mark Weber said. “That’s what makes him a leader.”

Perez’ leadership started when he played soccer in high school. A four-year varsity player in Corsicana, Tex., Perez was a captain his junior and senior years. He also kicked for his football team. He always liked boxing, but there were no gyms nearby, so he started when he arrived at Notre Dame to stay in shape.

“It was a different experience,” Perez said. “This is not like anything I’ve experienced before. It tested me at a different level.”

Before his first fight, Perez was scared, but he said the training kicked in once he entered the ring and shoved all apprehension aside.

“Basically just muscle memory took over,” he said.

As Perez worked his way to a championship freshman year, his ring antics caught other people’s attention. Senior captain Mike Lee, a two-time champion who transferred to Notre Dame before his sophomore year, heard about Perez when he joined Bengal Bouts because of Perez’s power in the ring. Law student Will Burroughs, the heavyweight champion the past two years, had a similar experience.

“There’s a rumor, that’s the kid from YouTube,” Burroughs said. “I had no idea what that meant.”

It meant that his sophomore year Perez threw an overhand right that knocked his opponent unconscious before he hit the canvas and that a video of the fight (the first result when you search “Bengal Bouts”) had been watched 8,500 times.

Perez downplays the knockout.

“I just caught him with a good punch, and he went down,” he said. “I like that people like to see my fights but I don’t like that it’s at the expense of someone else.”

Weber said that attitude defines Perez.

“He’s humble. You never see him running his mouth despite the fact that he’s one of the best boxers on the team, if not the best,” Weber said.

All three of them point to Perez’s willingness to work with other boxers as what makes him captain material. He’ll stay after workouts to practice with another boxer, offer advice when they spar and lead by example with his unshakeable work ethic.

“I never felt that I know more than someone else or the things I do know are enough to make a person better,” he said. “If someone’s willing to ask me a question I feel obligated to tell them what I do know.”

He won again in his sophomore year, beating Chris Hartstein in the finals of the 140-pound weight class. Junior year, he wanted a challenge. So he and Lawrence “Sully” Sullivan, a senior Marine ROTC member and former champion, decided to arrange a fight. Sully would cut weight, Perez would pack it on and they would meet in the middle.

“He could have stuck to his weight in the low 130s and won a championship,” Lee said. “The night before weigh-ins he was at Subway eating a foot-long sub. He decided to move up a weight class to fight a past champion and a senior and one of the best fighters in the program hands down.”

Sully and Perez worked their way through the 149-pound weight class. When they met in the finals, the lights in the Joyce Center dimmed and the crowd went bonkers. The two of them let each other have it. Perez came out on top.

“Fortunately it was my night and I got the victory, but you fight any other night and Sully could have won it,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be one of the memories I take from the Bengal Bouts experience.”

Ask why Perez mows down opponents and you get a variety of answers, all of them dangerous enough in themselves but deadly when combined. Quickness, footwork, power, vision, defense, everything you don’t want to face in a boxing opponent. Take it from Burroughs, a 6-foot-2, 230-plus pound former football player for Brown as an undergraduate, who sometimes practices with Perez: when Perez hits you, it hurts.

“I told him the other day, he may be tiny, smaller than some of the guys that I fight, but he’s hitting me harder than some of the guys I spar against who are 200 pounds,” Burroughs said. “It hurts. He can throw a punch, that’s for sure.”

Weber, who has sparred Perez, said Perez can hit opponents from anywhere and slips away before his opponents can retaliate. But all three agreed on two aspects of Perez’ fighting style that makes him so tough to fight: his amazing vision, and the fact that you can’t see his punches.

“You don’t see it coming,” Burroughs said. “It’s annoying to practice with him because I think there’s no way he can hit me from where he’s at, and he still lands ridiculous punches.”

Perez agrees and said his ability to read opponents and stay focused in the ring helps him attack.

“I find I’m always thinking,” he said. “I’m always trying to see what my opponent’s doing so I can capitalize on that.”

Since he’s undefeated, Perez admitted that staying motivated to work hard became a challenge at times. But, he said, that’s not an excuse to slack off, especially if he wants to follow through with his plans to box after graduation.

He wants to fight as a pro, he said, but first will try to fight as an amateur in the Golden Gloves program for six months to a year. He said he has to drop to the 122-pound weight class (he’s currently fighting 140). But before he can worry about that, he has to focus on winning the tournament.

“If I lose in the tournament, my chances of having a successful career outside of Bengal Bouts do not seem too promising,” he said.

Whether he goes on to fight or not, Perez said Bengal Bouts will stick with him after graduation.

“The workouts in general are different compared to any other sport I’ve been involved in,” Perez said. “And I’m really going to miss that bond, that brotherhood that you develop through all the workouts.”