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A Friend in Need

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Growing up in Oxnard, Danny Perez, Fernando Vargas and Robert Garcia were known at the La Colonia Boxing Club as “The Three Amigos.” Two of them, Vargas and Garcia, used La Colonia as a refuge from gangs and a springboard to world titles.

And the third amigo?

After relocating to El Cajon at 15, Perez has gone on to win the Texas, California, North American Boxing Assn. and North American Boxing Federation welterweight titles. But he is still searching for a world title, which might be why he is sometimes the forgotten amigo.

Perez, however, doesn’t appear bothered by the lack of attention. In fact, he doesn’t seem to mind taking a slow climb up the world rankings and letting Vargas and Garcia share the spotlight.

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“I’m a little shy,” Perez said. “I’m not the talkers those guys are. For now, I’m happy with the NABF belt. Without that, I wouldn’t be ranked in the top 10 in the world.”

If Perez (21-2, 14 knockouts) defeats 29-year-old Jose Luis Zaragoza (17-3, eight knockouts) of Vera Cruz, Mexico, tonight in the main event at the Arrowhead Pond, he should continue his rise up the world rankings.

If he loses? Perez would still defend his NABF title in March against an unnamed opponent. But . . .

“It would look bad,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen.”

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Perez has spent the last year putting himself in position for a world title by winning the California, NABA and NABF belts.

Perez, 24, won the California welterweight belt in May with a 10-round unanimous decision over Raul Franco of Long Beach. It was Perez’s first fight after nine months of rehabilitation from minor knee surgery.

In July, Perez captured the NABA belt with a third-round knockout of Orlando Hollis in Dallas. In October, he knocked out Sam Garr in the second round to win the NABF title in Fort Worth, Texas.

After the victory over Garr, the various world boxing organizations began to take notice. Perez is ranked seventh by the World Boxing Council and the International Boxing Federation and 10th by the World Boxing Assn.

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His last loss came in June of 1999 on a split decision to Antonio Margarito. In that fight, Perez was without trainer/manager Tom DeFrancesco for the first time in his pro career. DeFrancesco had to leave just before the fight to be with his daughter, who had an emergency appendectomy.

“That was a tough fight, a good learning experience,” DeFrancesco said. “He fought Margarito’s fight. He stayed in there slugging with him. He’s not a slugger. He’s a puncher-boxer.”

But judging by his last two fights, Perez’s punches now have a little more power behind them. In preparing for his bout with Zaragoza, Perez has been sparring with promising middleweight prospect Sergio Mora of Montebello.

“He’s bigger than me, but he’s really fast,” Perez said. “I know I’ve got to be quicker, more heavy-handed. I want to begin using my speed and my power together.”

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Perez is hoping that combination takes him to the top of the WBC rankings by the end of the year. He is also hoping the current champion, Shane Mosely, leaves the division to pursue a big-money fight at a higher weight class.

“No matter what, I’d fight Mosely,” Perez said. “But I wouldn’t be too disappointed if he moved on.”

It’s been nine years since Perez moved on, leaving behind La Colonia, Vargas, Garcia and a lot of friends. But if he hadn’t moved, Perez doubts he would be talking about fighting for a world title.

“I was hanging with the wrong crowd in Oxnard,” he said. “I was pretty close to getting into trouble.”

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Among those encouraging Perez is his brother, Moses. “My brother always tells me to reach for the top . . . be somebody,” Perez said. “I told him I’m trying.”

Notes

Sergio Mora (2-0), Perez’s sparring partner, will fight the featured bout on the undercard against Charles Blake (5-0) of Escondido. Super middleweight Librado Andrade (6-0) of La Habra and super lightweight Mike Anchondo (8-0) of La Puente are also on the card. The five-bout undercard begins at 7:30.


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