Sergio Perez, alongside his brother, were raised by a single mother who needed to find a way to keep her boys active, so they didn’t get into trouble. Sergio’s brother excelled in football but Sergio’s lack of height at 5’ 5″ did not allow many opportunities on the gridiron like his sibling. However, he did find success on the wrestling mats, where his height and weight didn’t matter.
“You can be 105 pounds and still go out there and wrestle and show you are just as good as other athletes in other sports,” said Perez.
As young as 14 years old, Perez was taking his wrestling career seriously. He joined a high-level wrestling gym called SK Golden Boys. It was there that he started working with elite athletes such as a young Aaron Pico, the Alessio brothers who wrestled at Arizona State and Morgan Macintosh. The reputation of the gym also attracted MMA fighters such as Manny Gamburyan, Karen (Darabedyan) and Sevak (Megakian) who used the gym to prepare for their fights. It was through them and the gym that Perez learned to be tough.
“Every Friday they would show up and kick my ass, I was like 14, 15, 16 and they were grown ass men. It’s that mentality, that mindset, it got instilled in me, you gotta be tough, you know, you gotta be tough.”
During his high school career, Perez won City three times and went to states. He went on a few recruitment visits to schools who wanted him as a wrestler but he didn’t want to leave Los Angeles where he was born and raised. Instead, he returned home and decided to focus on freestyle wrestling and doing open tournaments.
During that time, Perez didn’t forget about his education, which has always come natural to him. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and most recently finishing his masters degree in health administration. He naturally gravitated towards the field since his mom is a nurse and his wife is a nurse as well, though administration is more his speed since blood is ironically not something he likes to deal with.
“I can’t do bedside, ironically blood and all that stuff. I don’t mind seeing it when I’m fighting it or training or whatever.”
Around the same time he was in school, at the age of 21 (now 27) started to get an interest in MMA and grappling. Naturally, he followed his wrestling training partners to the gym they trained out of, the legendary Hayastan Academy, home of Gene LeBell and Gokor Chivichyan.
Having legends and veterans in his corner has helped give Perez the confidence he has today in his skills and about pursuing such a tough career.
“It’s awesome having those guys around, Manny, Sevan, Karin, just for the mere fact you have these people who have been there, done that and they’ve experienced all of it. It comes back to experience.”
“If there’s something that is truly bothering me or if something is giving me a bad vibe or vice versa, if I’m feeling really good, I can express those feelings to Manny or Karen or Sensei Gokor or anyone of those guys and they’ll be like “oh ok” and they’ll give their opinion and it’s something that I value.”
Gene LeBell is a legend of the sport and is in the gym constantly and according to Perez, he’s still got it.
“He’ll offer some tips, some OG tips on how to finish on takeaway moves, he’ll get into details and let me tell you man, they hurt, he goes into, full, full force. He’s like let me show you, and it’s like oh man. He got me in this weird double wrist lock thing standing and he’ll go on and show you. You transfer like that it just opens up and you open to that and you latch onto that and you latch onto that.”
Sensei LeBell and Sensei Gokor aren’t the only legends Perez has had the opportunity to work with. When he was at SK Golden Boys, Ronda Rousey would make appearances, this was very early on in her career, around the time she was taking her first few fights and no one knew her name. Perez only has fond memories of working with one of the most legendary athletes to enter a cage.
“It was awesome, at the time, I was a lot younger, same, more or less the same, she was a lot older than me. It was fun rolls.”
“Anytime I had any time I had any encounters with her she was cool, awesome. She was all about working drilling, anything you’d expect from a high-quality athlete.”
Perez has taken those lessons and become a high-quality athlete himself, winning an amateur title and now as a professional, he has a 4-1 record. When he first started competing, he did not make any proclamations of turning professional, he wanted to take it fight by fight. But at the same time, he set goals for himself to be the best when he competed. Now he works a side job to pay the bills but his goal is to make it to the top in fighting.
“When I decided to go pro, I couldn’t stop me, I couldn’t stop fighting. Then right now, I’m on a nice little win streak and I’m like why not? You’re at that point where you cross that bridge where you’re like why not me, this is something I love to do, why not?”
“I got into amateur fighting with the goal to be the best amateur fighter. Then after that, when I turned pro, I had the same mentality, I’m not going to turn pro to turn pro. I turned pro because I wanted to be the best pro, be the best to my ability, reach my full potential.”
To help him reach his full potential, Perez has been competing in grappling tournaments, not just local tournaments but tournaments such as the Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) to keep honing his skills. That experience he says, has helped him grow his skills and becoming comfortable on big stages.
“Performing on that platform, it gives me that edge.”
“People ask, do you get nervous when you fight? I’m like no man, I’ve done EBI other tournaments, it’s just another fight, another event. The EBI, being where it is at now, kinda contributed to that mindset.”
With his experience, it’s predictable that Perez feels comfortable grappling and it’s obvious in his fights. Perez has impressed with his chain wrestling and submissions. The majority of his fights see him taking the fight to the ground fairly quickly, and when he doesn’t get a takedown it’s followed by a different type of takedown. As noted by his record, his abilities have led to much success. He doesn’t deny that that’s the truth, but he thinks people will be surprised with his stand up skills if they can stop his ground attack.
“That’s where I feel the best, the most comfortable but, I remember saying that back in the U of MMA days (amateurs) no one’s been able to stop the takedowns. So, when they do and when they force me to get into the fight, people are going to find out that’s not what I’m all about. But I do prefer that, there’s no secret about that. My preference is definitely on the ground. I don’t feel like a lot of people can handle the pressure that I bring, it’s a big strength.”
His ground game does differ from many as it’s not based in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
“Catch wrestling, grappling, it’s something you don’t see a lot, usually the grappling is more geared towards Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”
To work on his striking, Perez has been working with Sensei Benny “The Jet” and Roman Karmazin who was an IBF light middleweight champion.
“In sparring you’re able to see that but in fights, if I take you down, usually that’s my round. Again, that’s where I feel most comfortable, but I don’t care, we can stand up and we can bang, I’m down with that too.”
On October 20, his stand up might be tested when he faces A.J. Bryant for the CXF featherweight title. Perez has fought at featherweight for the majority of his career but recently had a catchweight matchup at 140 pounds. He believes his future is at bantamweight but because of his success at featherweight, he was happy to accept the fight.
“I’ve never had issues fighting at 45, I’ve never felt like I’ve been overpowered at 45 or anything like that. The reason we wanted to go 35 was because of my height, my reach and stuff like that, at the next level, that would be ideal.”
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Every champion starts somewhere. I started this journey a long time ago, and here we are! October 20th, if you fuck with me, than I wanna vibe off your emotions as I go for my first professional title for the best promotion in so cal @cxf_mma 🙏🏽 if you know me, you know I got nothing but respect for AJs grind. It’s my time, and I wanna see all of yall there! #teamperez #cxf #champion #mainevent #titlefight #danawhite #cxf #ufc #bellator #hayastan
Perez and his opponent do have a history together, they fought the majority of their amateur fights at the same promotion (the University of MMA) and got to know each other there and developed a mutual respect for each other. Bryant is a student under Josh Barnett and has an impressive record at 9-2 to earn his title shot. Though he has a lot of respect for Bryant, Perez does see himself finishing the fight against his friend.
“I do see it going to the ground, I see myself getting the finish definitely, and being the next 45 champ.”