By Lance Edwards
Cuban Olympic wrestler Maikel Perez (5-1) is hotly tipped to be a future star of MMA. At LFA 37, he has his fifth fight for the promotion when he faces Sid Bice (8-1) for the vacant flyweight title. Although Perez is relatively new to the sport of MMA, he brings a champion mindset and tenacity that few can equal. In MMA, wrestling is often seen as one of the most dominant components. If you have good wrestling, you can keep the fight on your feet or take it to the ground. Many years have gone in to Perez’s mastery of the discipline.
“I started training at seven years old in Cuba. We trained five or six days a week, but not on Sundays. There were only two months off a year, all the rest of the time we were training. I wrestled in all the international events including the 2008 Beijing Olympics.”
It was also through competing that Perez had the opportunity to defect.
“I came to America in 2015, when I was at the world cup in Los Angeles. It was a two-day event and I defected the first night. I knew ahead of time I was going to do it and got a taxi. In Cuba now, people are aware of MMA. I didn’t have any other option other than competing in MMA.”
The first place Perez started training was at American Top Team in Florida.
“There are a few American Top Team gyms there. I was training at [Yoel] Romero’s. Then I came back to California, and have been at Kings MMA for the last two and a half years.”
The transition to MMA took a little adjustment.
“I was hard at first. Wrestling is stiff. For striking, you have to be loose. It was hard at first. On the other hand, it was also easy because in wrestling you need good coordination. It was easy other things and also because of my athleticism.”
To date, Perez has fought six fights. His first was in RFA, with his only loss being his third fight at LFA 10 to Adam Martinez (5-1). Most fighters find that they learn from their first losses, either due to discovering weak areas or a deficit in training. For Perez, the answer is simpler.
“I didn’t learn much from the loss. The fight was on two-week’s notice. I hadn’t been doing any conditioning. It was the opportunity I needed to get into LFA, so I took the fight. I don’t have a favorite fight, I liked them all.”
Since that loss, Perez has strung together three victories in LFA and earned himself a title shot. The fight with Martinez was also his last at bantamweight (135 lb).
“125 lb is a hard weight to make, but I feel stronger at 125 lb. I cut 15 lb or so. It is tough, as I’m a lean guy.”
LFA title holders have a history of spring boarding their career to the UFC, so the title is an important stepping stone for Perez.
“After this, it is whatever God wants. Either I will defend the title or go to the UFC. I don’t want to go to Bellator or anywhere else. I want to be in the UFC ultimately.”
As a fighter, Perez doesn’t see himself as a wrestler. For him, it is more his mindset and approach to fighting that defines him.
“I see myself as a street fighter, straight from the street. I wouldn’t describe myself as an MMA fighter.”
Despite that description, Perez is a disciplined athlete who incorporates a lot of strength and conditioning into his training routine to help himself perform at a high level. Athletes who have performed at a high level in other sports often make dramatic improvements between fights.
“I don’t really know how I have improved the most recently. My conditioning has got a lot better in between fights. Otherwise, I don’t know. You will see when I fight!”