By: Jenypher Lanthier of MTiL
Most of you maybe do not know who Michael Perez is. He has been silently but steadily on the rise for a number of years. Beginning Muay Thai fifteen years ago at the age of fifteen he has been dedicating most of his time to honing his craft. A Toronto native, Mikey grew up loving two main things: martial arts and chess and is very talented in both areas. In 2009 the ball started rolling with him earning the 2009 TBA-SA Featherweight Championship Title. The momentum continued when he defeated Mike Stone of 8 Limbs Muay Thai for the 2009 CMTC-A Canadian Championship. He rounded out the year in November impressively winning the 2009 IFMA Featherweight Gold Medal by defeating a tough competitor from the Ukraine.
Getting to know Kru Michael Perez
JL: Thank you for allowing me to interview you Mikey.
MP: Sawadeekhup, thank you for the opportunity.
JL: Mikey Perez you have a big fight on Saturday March 2nd. I had a couple of questions for you about that fight. I also want to get some background on you as you are relatively unknown to the community in America. So let’s start with where you are from?
MP: Originally I am from the Philippines but I was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario.
JL: How did you get started in Muay Thai?
MP: Oh wow, I started many years ago, about fifteen years ago. I joined a club called Ultimate Martial Arts here in Scarborough run Kru Paul Minhas. Through the years slowly but surely I found my way to Ajahn Suchart and here I am today.
JL: How and when did you connect with Ajahn Suchart?
MP: Actually, it was from you Kru Jenypher. You introduced me to him in I think 2007. Since then we have had a close relationship and he is now my Ajahn.
JL: Awesome. What was your first fight like?
MP: My first fight wow, I think it was in 2000. I fought Stephen Strotmeyer current coach of Mark Deluca on a USMTA Amateur card in Philadelphia.
JL: Excellent. What is your current day job?
MP: My day job well I am a part time programmer but other than that I am here at the gym six days a week.
JL: When did you open SouthSide Muay Thai?
MP: We established SouthSide in 2007 and we have been running for six years and it is doing great.
JL: Running a gym is not easy and although many people wish to run their own gyms it proves to be much more difficult than most expect. What made you want to take that leap and open your own school?
MP: Well, I decided to run the gym other than having a coding job. I felt it was more satisfying and more helpful to the community in terms of developing the youth as they are our future. You know I would rather stay in the trenches with the kids rather than sitting in an office.
JL: It is better than any other job. (laughs) In 2009 you won an IFMA gold medal. That is a huge accomplishment. In some ways it viewed as a gateway to professional fighting. How was that experience?
MP: That was probably one of the most challenging competitive experiences I’ve had in my Muay Thai career. I was up against some of the best amateur fighters across the world. Many of them put up the hardest challenges in the ring for me. That was one real big milestone for my competitive experience that is for sure.
JL: Typically for the fighters coming from Canada going to IFMA our experience level is quite a bit lower in comparison to the other fighters from other countries. I know Simon Marcus and Matt Embree have also won gold and all three of you had pretty young records but you were fighting guys with triple the experience. How do you think you were able to overcome that big gap of experience?
MP: Well that was something I guess Ajahn pulled out of his bag of tricks. I was fortunate to have Ajahn Suchart in my corner throughout that tournament. It proved to be probably one of the biggest advantages and he just said the right things at the right moments. Round after round we progressed until the finals. It was a fantastic outcome and the last bout we fought Ukraine, a very tough fighter. Ajahn just gave me the advice to grind forward, and exposed some openings I was not exactly aware of. It helped and proved to be the big difference in the match.
JL: So who inspires you the most to do what you do everyday?
MP: I guess that goes without saying Ajahn Suchart is an amazing leader. He helps guide the community here in Ontario. He has provided me with many opportunities and bouts as well as for my students and member here. For the rest of clubs here in Ontario we get lots of support from Ajahn.
JL: He definitely is a phenomenal trainer. Have you trained in Thailand or abroad? What camps did you visit and what was the experience like?
MP: Yea I have been to Thailand a few times now. We’ve trained at several clubs. Kaewsamrit was one in Bangkok, Sitsongpeenong, Sidyotong, Fairtex we tried Fairtex a bit. Sor Vorapin was another club. We visited so many clubs in Thailand.
JL: On a sadder note. You were recently in Thailand and you had the privilege of training with Ajahn Yodtong and what was that like for you?
MP: Ajahn was actually the one who helped me for the IFMA tournament in 2009. I trained there for that tournament. It was sad. He was still giving me advice just this past December 2012. It was a really big shock to the whole Muay Thai community.
JL: So for this particular bout who is your trainer?
MP: Well normally I train with my students, a lot of them help me, they hold pads for me, help me with clinching, rounds, drills. I also have some friends from neighbouring clubs, Kru Steve from Redemption and Kru Justin from Undisputed. Primarily, I have Ajahn as it is a higher caliber match so I decided to go with the best of the best. So we have Ajahn training me, it is going well right now.
JL: We live quite close to a fellow Canadian Champion Matt Embree who is close to your weight class. Have you guys ever thought about fighting each other?
MP: (Laughs) Uhh no, Matt would kick my butt. He is a bit big right now. But we are good friends, he is always down to help me and looking out for me all the time. Actually for this fight he gave me some training and some advice. So, yea, maybe one day.
JL: What do you have lined up for 2013?
MP: There are quite a bit of matches. Ajahn has lined me up for something in April, May and June. The dates are still tentative so we will wait for that to come out.
JL: This is your first time on a card this big. How do you feel about that?
MP: It’s ok. I am used to the pressure. I am usually the underdog. For the IFMA tournaments for most of the tournaments, I come in with the least amount of experience. I rely on my training, I train hard and I work with some of the best and that usually proves to be the advantage.
JL: Are you the type to study your fighters? Do you watch tape on them?
MP: I like to look up some things about the fighters. Normally you can’t really rely much on what you see because many fighters are versatile and they change their game often. I try to just get an idea of what I am up against. Look for some of the strength and weaknesses. To me, Martial Arts, mainly Muay Thai is very similar to a chess match. There is a lot of thinking going on so we try to incorporate that into our training.
JL: Who are your favourite fighters that you look up to or like to watch?
MP: I like watching the Canadian fighters. I enjoy watching Simon Marcus and Matt Embree. There are many Canadian fighters up on the rise, Joseph Valtellini, very good fighter as well. Shane Campbell is good friend and good fighter. For the Thai’s I like to watch Samart and obviously I like Saenchai.
JL: You were speaking about some of the talent that Canada has and you are absolutely correct right now there are so many Canadians coming on these big cards that are relatively unheard of that are sort of taking American Muay Thai by storm. What do you think it is that the Canadians have that is bringing out this high level?
MP: I think many factors affect the progress of Canadian fighters. I think one major thing that we have over a lot of other places is that we really work well as a community. Many of the gyms they work together, sparring, clinching, and workshops etc. This all helps us grow and the stronger links help the weaker links and we all rise together. One thing we have here in Ontario is a very strong Muay Thai community lead by Ajahn.
JL: So getting into the gym that you own. In recent years SouthSide Muay Thai has been really taking tournaments by storm. WMA, CMTC, IKF and the TBA Classic. In the TBA Classic last year you returned home with 10 belts, you won the Team trophy, so what is your secret?
MP: I think there really is no secret. I think sometimes as coaches we are lucky and blessed to have really dedicated and respectful students. I think one factor that really helped out was the force of a team. We try to instill that practice so that everyone works together. Any day, anytime someone doesn’t feel right we are there to push each other and I think that really goes a long way especially for team tournaments and big events like that.
JL: What is your philosophy for training?
MP: I believe in hard work and dedication, something that all martial artists should instill in their students and especially for growing athletes and young ones. We try our best to love each other, love our sport, respect one another as well as our opponents and believe in what we do. With hard work many times you are able to achieve what everyone else wants. I just try my best to give them good care, like a family and hope for the best for the guys.
JL: Thank you so much for meeting me and taking time out of your busy day to chat with me.
Michael has his work cut out for him this Saturday on the Push Kick Promotions card as he takes on Neungsiam Samphusri. Good luck to both fighters.
A special thank you goes out to Kru Steven Lee of Redemption Muay Thai and Raul Rojas of SouthSide Muay Thai for the photos and Michael Perez for giving up his time for me.
Photo credits: Steven Lee & Raul Rojas.