Richard Quiñones (Journeymen Boxing) – Ernesto “Tito” Perez is what you would call a true soldier in the ring. The native of Vineland, New Jersey has had a very solid amateur career, but has his sights set on turning pro in the near future.
But, what makes his journey more amazing is that the humble Perez, who has been boxing for about 13 years, has already done what many of us have never imagined and that was dealing with real life casualties of war.
The 25-year-old Perez spent four years as a combat medic in the 1-23rd Infantry regiment in Washington.
The experience gave him a whole new outlook on life but gave him a better sense of himself and what he could offer the world. Ironically enough it was his mother that swayed him to join the Army.
“Growing up my mother constantly mentioned to me how she always wanted to join the military and regretted that she couldn’t because at the time she didn’t speak English,” Perez added. “I felt stuck in life and needed a major change or I was going to turn out like everyone else in my neighborhood so I decided to join.”
But what Perez was not prepared for was the mental toll it would take on him, not to mention what his eyes saw on a consistent basis.
“It was a very interesting and difficult lifestyle,” Perez said. “Constantly living in the mud-soaked boats with your body sore, mind exhausted and seemingly never getting enough sleep. Missions were tough as we trained nonstop. As a medic you are trained to kill first and heal second”
Powerful words to understand at a young age.
“We got orders to deploy to Afghanistan and started to get constant news of the unit we were supposed to replace, taking casualty after casualty. So the stress was high. Arriving there was a complete shock. It was a completely different world than here in America,” he added.
That was the not even the worst part for the amateur boxer, who has stepped into the ring close to 30 times during his career, and has taken his share of punches.
“I had to convince myself that this isn’t the real world, it was a like a bad dream. These people had no food or water. The local forces we teamed up with constantly defect with the Taliban. The heat was unbearable and we were always hungry. Bombs and bullets constantly were waking us in the night and it got to the point that if you got three straight hours sleep then you were considered well rested. We were in the middle of Helmand and Pakistan and we were under enemy fire and the area was so dangerous it had to be given up by American forces. I am very fortunate and grateful to be healthy and in once piece.”
Perez pauses for a moment before he continues. His voice in a softer pitch.
“Unfortunately many others can’t say the same thing.”
The guts and heart Perez demonstrated to protect his country were instilled in him at an early age.
“I started boxing at the age of 12. My father and family loved boxing. He would watch it every weekend and my family would have giant parties whenever (Tito) Trinidad got into the ring.”
Perez was a standout athlete in high school.
He wrestled and also has had over 10 mixed rules fights, so he does not lack toughness.
However, he was not able to fight in the Army, but still put in the work as if he was a full-time boxer.
His commitment, desire and drive never wavered.
Traits of a champion.
“Boxing in the Army was very tough. I was not allowed to try out for the Army’s actual team so I had to drag myself into the gym and train after 12 hour plus work days. I was very fortunate to have Robin McWilliams finding time to be in the gym with me. On a few occasions I would spend a week or two in the field get home, rush to the gym to cut weight and fight the next day. Then I was apart of a GRF (Global Response Force) at any point in time we could be thrown into a plane within an hour notice and sent across the planet that needs military invention,” Perez said.
But he never quit making time to train or fight and even risked his military career on several occasions.
“It was difficult and I was left very little time to train. We weren’t allowed to be more than 30 minutes from the base so I would sneak away to go fight in Seattle, Portland, Spokane and other places. If at any point I was called in, I wouldn’t have made the curfew, and would have been thrown out of the military and dishonorably discharged.”
Perez might not say it out loud, but the risk was worth it to him. Wise beyond his years, Perez is always thirsty for a win, but also to learn.
“I love to learn and I go to school full time. I am a Social Science major I just love to expand my knowledge. If you are no longer learning you are no longer living. When I’m not in the gym or at school I spend my time volunteering at St Vincent’s soup kitchen, traveling, watching fights or just hanging out with the people in my life.”
Talk about a well-rounded person.
As far as his aspirations to turn pro. That might be realized sooner then later.
“I am hoping to fight in May, maybe get on the Atlantic City card, May 27th. I would be fighting at 154lbs.
Perez, who trains out of Next Level Boxing, always looks on the bright side of things, but Perez admits he is not sure of the exact date of what would be pro debut.
But like a good soldier he is always ready.
“I’m just staying ready, I’d fight at the Armory or Niagara Falls in New York in May, or maybe June 11th in PA. Anywhere I can get a show,” he concluded.
Where ever he needs to be, he will be for a fight.
Spoken like a true soldier and fighter.