|Golden Gloves finalist credits mom for success
by Steve Vedder | The Grand Rapids Press
Saturday May 10, 2008, 1:00 AM
GRAND RAPIDS -- Michael Perez is disappointed he won't see his mother Sunday, but he
has picked out the perfect gift for her. The 18-year-old from Newark, N.J., credits his boxing
success to his selfless mother, who worked two jobs to support her family and now lives in
Texas, hundreds of miles from Perez. Perez might not be able to spend time with his
mother, Elba Lugo, on Mother's Day, but he knows what she would see as the perfect gift:
him winning today's lightweight finals in the National Golden Gloves Tournament of
Champions at DeVos Place. Perez, who moved to New Jersey from Texas two years ago,
said his mother took a special interest in his boxing when he took up the sport 10 years ago.
Lugo worked as a preschool teacher during the day and as a security guard at night.
"I wouldn't be where I am without her," Perez said. "I think of her every single day. Winning
this would be a great present for her; it would make her very happy." His mother's sacrifice
allowed Perez the freedom to pursue a fledging boxer career that has left him in tonight's
finals after decisioning Fidel Maldonado of Colorado-New Mexico in Friday's semifinals.
A junior at Central High School in Newark, Perez's first three tournament wins came on two
5-0 decisions and a third-round stoppage. "I've dedicated this tournament to my mother," he
said. Perez said hard work and a desire to succeed -- a trait instilled in him by his mother --
has left him with a chance of beating Duran Caferro Jr. of the Rocky Mountain club in the
finals. Perez lost in the second round of last year's Golden Gloves nationals, leaving him
seeking more out of himself. He runs four miles a day, six days a week, but it's where Perez
works out that he credits for a new love for running. He changed from simple road work to
running in a park near a home he shares with brother Alex. "I look at the sights and it's
relaxing to me," he said. "I didn't use to like running, but I love it now." Last year's quick exit
also left Perez with a different perspective about the sport. "I'm more experienced, but I'm
also hungrier," he said. Caferro has taken a unique path to the finals. Caferro beat one of
the hottest boxers in the tournament in Eric Fowler of Texas, who had two 5-0 decisions
and a 4-1 win in his three decisions. While Perez's mother has been a major influence,
Caferro said his father back home in Helena, Mont., has been a big part of his career.
"The only sparring in town is my dad," Caferro said. He added his father requires him to do
100 push-ups between rounds of sparring. "I'm the only elite boxer in Montana. That's our
biggest challenge, finding sparring," Perez said. In another anticipated semifinal, Steven
Martinez decisioned Nick Brinson, both of New York. Martinez entered the bout with three
consecutive 5-0 decisions. Brinson had two unanimous decisions and a 3-2 win. Despite
sweeping three decisions, Martinez said he's felt like an underdog all week. A senior at
Kennedy High School in the Bronx, Martinez, 18, formerly won a novice Golden Gloves title,
but was boxing in his first open tournament. "No one knows me, of course I'm an underdog,"
he said. "It's my first open tournament, but I think people are getting to know me. "I'm happy
with what I've done. I'm trying to prove something here and take this home for my family."