Youthful Perez brothers already giving back

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When the doors open at 3 p.m. every week day at Perez Fighting Systems, located at 809 Bernard St. in Belen, kids of all shapes, sizes and ages come ready for a two-hour workout.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Fledgling Professional boxers Derek Perez, left, and his brother, Gene, right, spar at their new business, Perez Fighting Systems, in Belen. The brothers not only train for their careers, but offer help to youth in Belen through weight training and the fighting disciplines of boxing and MMA.

The owners of the new gym, brothers Gene and Derek Perez, have just started their professional boxing careers. Both lost their initial fights in December on a card that featured Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holms.

But for Gene, 22, and Derek, 20, those doors open every day not so that they can train, but so they can give something back to the community.

At such a young age, the two professional boxers have not lost sight of where they came from, learning the sports of boxing and mixed-martial arts in garages.

They are driven and insistent that no other Belen area child should have to learn on the streets or in a garage. They insist that there is a better way for kids to stay out of trouble and get in the gym.

“We are trying to make it so that kids have something to do in the community,” said Gene. “We don’t want kids going around and getting into trouble. We don’t want them to go to jail. We want them to see that they can better themselves.”

Gene’s girlfriend, Ashley Horton, brings some business expertise, having helped her father run Cornerstone Plumbing.

But having worked in a counseling environment, her passion for helping the kids goes even beyond the training.

“We started as a regular business,” said Horton, “But I noticed that a lot of the local kids couldn’t pay.”

Perez Fighting Systems offered a free three-session trail. Most of the kids could not come back after the three workouts, due to financial reasons.

It broke Ashley’s heart.

“Ultimately, my goal is to have anyone under 18 to be able to come here for free,” she said. “Right now, there is an application process and we have scholarships.”

An application for non-profit status is going forward this week, which will help the business apply for grants. They are already getting help from the United Way to seek additional funding.

Until then, they are having bake sales to keep on the lights and pay the rent, along with some scholarships provided by local businesses.

“We want to try and make them better people, not just better fighters,” said Derek, echoing the motivation for the gym.

Derek explained that boxing is a release of a physical nature under control. It teaches discipline and a correct way to use and release anger. He noted that all sports are physical, even basketball and baseball.

“It is not about aggression, it is about having fun,” he said. “It is a sport to enjoy. The physical aspect is always there.”

Koyote Patnode weighed 208 pounds at age 11. That was two years ago. According to his mother, Cora Kydd, Koyote was in a desperate health situation.

“He needed some outlet,” said Kydd of the help the Perez brothers gave to her son. “He had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-diabetic. Now, he walks with a big pride about himself.”

Koyote is now down to 165 pounds. He delivers powerful forward kicks over his head. He has already had one amateur MMA bout.

“The training and eating right have made a difference,” said Koyote. “I have already fought once. I lost, but it was fun.”

Koyote is at the gym every day. But more than that, Gene has taken an intense interest in his well-being, going the extra step to help Koyote.

“Gene started taking time on the weekends,” said Ashley. “He would go to his house and get him up and take him for a run.”

Koyote wants to train instead of play video games or watch TV.

“I want to go all the way up to professional fighter,” said Koyote, with admiration for his trainer and friend, Gene. “I will have to train hard and get a lot of amateur fights. Just seeing all of the other guys here and that have done it and watching them fight makes me know that I can do it.”

His mom is thrilled at the blossoming of her son.

“All the health issues he had are gone,” said Kydd. “He has this whole sense of team. It is like the most awesome thing that my kid has ever done in my life.

“It has changed him for the better. I never thought I would see him at this point. He knows he wants to be a professional fighter.”

Derek noted that that kind of bond is something that a lot of kids who are getting into trouble on the streets just don’t have.

“They want to be like their idols,” he said. “They want to be like us, instead of getting out on the streets.”

Gene agreed.

“Anyone can fight, really,” he said. “In this kind of sport you learn how to control it and how to use it. It is not like out on the streets, where you use it to hurt someone else. It is not worth it. It is better to learn it in a sport.”

A scholarship at Perez Fighting Systems means more than all-the-time access to the gym and training with the Perez brothers. Most gyms limit the time a kid can spend, depending on the price of the membership.

It means support in life areas, too. Horton checks grades on the kids every two weeks. If they are struggling, they get help.

“Our fighters are volunteering their time to help tutor the kids,” said Horton. “I help them with reading and science, but I am not so good at math. Gene is really good at math, so he picks up with those kids.”

The help comes for kids that have dropped out of school, too.

“I have a few teenagers that are not in school, they have dropped out,” said Horton. “I am helping them get ready for their GED. Anyone who is on a scholarship is working toward some kind of schooling and making progress.”

Horton said that part of the effect of coming to the gym shows in the behavior changes in some of the kids.

“I have kids that come in that their behavior has improved at home and at school, because they know they can’t come here if they don’t act right,” said Horton. “It is kind of a reward system to that the parents can use it negotiate behavior with the kids.”

The kids learn to channel their release of aggression in a positive way.

“It is an anger control issue, too,” said Horton. “If they have had a bad day and are upset, they can come here and hit the bag, instead of being angry and hitting someone else.”

Perez Fighting Systems will have a couple of important fights coming up. On Saturday, Kenny Harding will face Dorian Dixon of Rosales Kickbocking, in Peralta, in a cage fight that could have title belt implications.

On April 5 in Las Cruces, Derek will get his second professional boxing bout against fellow Valencia County resident Shaun Henson (1-1, 1 knockout).

Derek is training and doing extra sessions at the gym to get ready.

“We have to listen more to our coaches and train our asses off,” said Derek. “It is work. We have to work hard.”

Gene hopes his second fight will come soon. He continues to work, not only in preparation, but for his own health.

“The biggest part of it is being healthy and being in shape,” said Gene. “My dad had a heart attack at a young age and they say it runs in the family.”

But most of all, for the brothers and everyone associated with Perez Fighting Systems, they are in it for the kids.

“It looks really busy and there are a lot of people coming here, but there is not a lot of money,” said Horton, noting that they are carrying about 18 unpaid scholarships. “It is really stressful, but it is something we are all committed to do.”


-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.