Try an experiment for me.
If you ask Colombians anywhere from Bogota to Miami who the top Colombian athletes are competing today in any sport, you're likely to get one of two responses: automotive racing's Juan Pablo Montoya or golf's Camilo Villegas. Montoya has long been a fixture on both the Formula 1 and stock car scene. Villegas, an accomplished PGA tour golfer, has achieved iconic status as much for his play as his lantern jaw and Abercrombie sensibilities.
Now, do a quick search on the website for El Tiempo, Colombia's largest newspaper, for 'Yonnhy Perez'. You'll find wrap-up pieces and a few articles about his 2009 wins over Silence Mabuza or Joseph Agbeko. There are also a few 2010 pieces monitoring his activity, but nothing in depth. There isn't even a single article written about him in 2011. Villegas? 86 mentions in 2011 alone.
Boxing has traditional value, but is not a top sporting priority for Colombia. Then again, neither is stock car racing nor golf. What accounts for the difference in coverage? A few factors, probably, but most notably Perez's ascetic and simple lifestyle. He denies the media the material Montoya or Villegas use to make their mouths water: the ability to window shop into the glamorous lives of modern Colombian aristocracy. But if the Colombian media were interested in, well, Colombian athletes, no one from the country on par with the athletic caliber of Perez has a relationship as interwoven with national identity as he.
So Colombian is Perez that he's refused to leave it despite earning his living in the United States, often at great personal cost (Villegas, by the way, calls Florida home). His family, wife and children not only reside in his country, but in the very same city he's called home for years: Cartagena.
I recently spoke to Perez. I wanted to get a sense of why nationality was central to his self-identification. Moreover, for an athlete that hoists the Colombian flag so frequently, I was curious to know how he felt being somewhat overlooked by Colombian media and even his own countrymen.
I found that Perez is cognizant that he's discounted, but ultimately unconcerned. Media validation about his Colombian credentials or boxing achievements wouldn't hurt, but isn't a first concern. For Perez, life's priorities aren't hard to distill. It's family first, family now and Colombia forever.
Before we talk about anything else, let's back up. First, how did you get started in boxing?
Perez: It all started when I was 8 in Colombia. My dad has been always a huge boxing fan, and used to take us (my brother and me) to the "veladas boxísticas" (club boxing matches in Cartagena). One morning, I woke up and told my dad that I wanted to fight. In the beginning he didnt like my idea, but he still took me to the gym and I started training. Now, my dream has come true. I became a worldwide champion at least once.
You have entered the ring before to Vallenato music, which makes sense being from Cartagena. Colombia. Who is your favorite Vallenato artist and why?
Perez: (LAUGHS) Well, my favorite Vallenato singer is the iconic Diomedez Diaz " El Cacique de la Junta" (roughly translates as king or boss of his town, La Junta) and my favorite song "Everything Is For You".
Have you always entered the ring to Vallenato?
Perez: Oh yeah, I have always walked into the ring with music by Diomedez Diaz.
How much of a priority is it for you to represent Colombia? There aren't many boxers or Colombian athletes competing in the States. Are you looking to put more of a face to Colombian athletics?
Perez: I really want to show people in the United States and all around the world that we Colombians are very charismatic people and have lots of good this to offer. Yes, we have amazing athletes, but moreover great people. It's not all about the bad international image that we have. We have good, actually great people.
And is it fair to say boxing is more popular in Colombia outside of Bogota?
Perez: Yes, normally boxing in Colombia is huge in the coastal zone, places like Cartagena, Barranquilla. That is especially true in Cartagena, which is my hometown.
Even after getting a late start in professional boxing, you're one of the top bantamweights in the world. Yet, it's not obvious many Colombians know about your achievements. Do you believe the Colombian media could do a better job covering your career?
Perez: Yes, I definitely think that "important" media people and journalists in Colombia could do a better job highlighting the achievements of boxers. Like I told you before, there are other talents and great athletes like in my case that are taking the Colombian name to high and very important places in the international sphere.
You've existed in two worlds and yet flew under the radar in both: the U.S. and Colombia. Do you think living and training in Colombia will help change that?
Perez: Sure, thanks to my promoters, my manager Frankie Espinoza's support and guidance, l have achieved all those successes here in the US. All the experience that I have achieved and the elements learned in Colombia, will be key components for my victory and also Colombia's victory in the boxing world.
I'm not sure if you saw, but Showtime aired the fighter meeting before the Joseph Agbeko rematch where you understandably broke down talking about how hard it was to be away from your family. That earned you some publicity. Other boxers even said how moved they were. How much were you emotionally suffering heading into that rematch with Agbeko? Was that rock bottom?
Perez: Well, I can't deny that I have missed my sons, my wife, my family so much, you know? Family is the most important treasure that a human being can have. Yes, I missed them a lot, but for my next fight I made the decision to train and prepare myself back home, so I had my family really close at all times.
I don't want to blame anything else for my previous performance (against Agbeko), but I can't really deny the fact that being away from my family had a profound effect on me.
After the jump, Perez talks about preparing for Vic Darchinyan in Colombia, whether he'll ever train in the U.S. again, his thoughts on Nonito Donaire vs. Fernando Montiel and more.
Is it fair to say you aren't feeling that way anymore?
Perez: Sure, this time I trained in my country with my loved ones by my side. I'm here in the United States right now, ready in the final stage before my next fight. I came here recharged and with all the strength, support and enthusiasm that my country and family gave me while being there.
Talk about the differences between training in the States and this time in your home country.
Perez: Yes, there are some differences. While training is equally hard and arduous in both places, everybody knows that here in the US it's 100 percent about the sport. In Colombia, we honestly lack of lots of things, you know? So some athletes, have to work on side jobs to support their families, then train. Here it's not the same. Here it's all about the sport and the high level is undeniable.
Wait, so do you have a job right now other than boxing?
Perez: No, no. I was just helping building my sons' house. I have been purchasing all the materials at the warehouse, then the construction workers took it from there. I just bought and brought the construction supplies. That's it.
What's been the best thing about being home? Give me one example, it doesn't matter how small it is.
Perez: It's going to sound repetitive, but what I love the most about me being in Colombia, is being around my family, my sons, my wife, my mother, my brother, my father. My entire family mainly. Also, the day-to-day living. Even in harsh circumstances, the quality of life is completely different. I wouldn't change my Colombia for anything.
Now that you trained in Colombia and you seem to have enjoyed the experience, will you ever train in the States again?
Perez: Of course. All my fights are here. I can't be but thankful to God and this country for all the opportunities and all the doors that have opened for me here. The United States and God have helped me to achieve all the accomplishments that I've been dreaming about.
You brought your trainers from the United States to Colombia, but what about sparring partners? To the boxing critics, what would you say about the quality of your partners?
Perez: I have been training with top-notch boxers from the Colombian National Boxing Team and worldwide renowned fighters, like Jonathan "El Momo" Romero. And as you said before, my trainer Danny Zamora traveled all the way from the U.S. to Cartagena.
Let's talk about Vic Darchinyan. If my research is right and if you win, you'll be the first Colombian boxer to defeat him. He's faced both Irene Pacheco and Jair Jimenez. He beat them both. Were you aware of that?
Perez: Yes, yes I knew. I think in every fight there has to be a winner, and a loser, but it's about time he fights a third Colombian that is going to turn the results around and change history.
Does it bother you that Darchinyan is a cocky fighter? Does that clash with your personality rub you the wrong way at all?
Perez: Not really. That is how he is and that's it. Everybody has their own personality and way to do things. Vic Darchinyan is Vic Darchinyan and Yohnny Perez is Yohnny Perez
Have you watched tape on Darchinyan?
Perez: No, I don't watch any videos. In fact, I don't like watching videos. Vic Darchinyan is a boxer that I know pretty well, I know that he is really tough and that he throws crazy punches, He is also a dirty fighter. We have been working on every single detail, so we are very well prepared to mitigate his attacks.
Have your trainers watched tape on Vic?
Perez: No, they don't watch tape either.
So, how do you beat Darchinyan? If I'm fighting him and you're my trainer and cornerman, what do you tell me?
Perez: Preparation and training, we all know how hard boxing is and the best defense is throwing punches. But, how do you throw effective punches? Preparation and hard work and training.
You're going to have almost a five-inch reach advantage. Is it too simplistic to say you'll need the jab to win and he'll have to make it a rough fight on the inside?
Perez: Yes, and we have been training to take advantage of the reach. But we're going to win this fight no matter what. We are completely ready for anything that can happen.
Is there any issue with Darchinyan being southpaw, especially since his left is particuarly powerful?
Perez: Not really. It will be a little uncomfortable, but like I told you before, we already addressed all these issues in training and we are ready. We are focusing in each and every single aspect that can alter the outcome of the fight.
Let's say things go well. What do you want out of a win over Darchinyan? A shot against Nonito Donaire? Money? To be more of a household name?
Perez: At this point, my main goal is to just win this fight. Then, my promoters, manager and me will sit down and discuss my boxing future. For now, and completely focused in my victory against Vic Darchynian
As an aside, let's talk about others in boxing. Were you surprised at the way Nonito Donaire was able to beat Fernando Montiel so devastatingly?
Perez: Well, with this fight only the winner knows what he did right and the loser what he lacked. Honestly, I can't really give my opinion, only they know what went right or wrong. Not me.
If Pacquiao fought Mayweather, who would win?
Perez: Well, both of them are extremely fantastic fighters and perfect rivals, but my favorite is Floyd Mayweather.
If you could talk to Colombians, both here in the United States and in Colombia, who've never seen you compete about your fight against Vic Darchinyan, what would tell you them? Why should they pay attention to you?
Perez: I would like to tell them that when we come to this country, we come with dreams of a better life for our families and us, looking for opportunities and growth, something that unfortunately we lack in parts of our homeland. We have to take advantage of every single chance that have (and be thankful with God), and give everything from us, in order to achieve all the goals that we set and moreover, provide a better future to our families and children.
I asked this before, but I want to ask another way. It's one thing to be a Colombian icon for selfish reasons and another for matters of national pride. In terms of the latter, why is that something you care about?
Perez: This is really important because Colombians have something of a negative image around the world. I'm very glad that I'm known as 'The Colombian' because because that way I can show that in Colombia there are great talents, athletes and more importantly, loving and caring human beings.
I'm glad you brought that up. You're known as ‘El Colombiano'. How did you get that nickname?
Perez: When I started fighting in the US, I was wearing the Colombian flag colors (yellow, blue and red) and these colors are really bright and stand out. So, people asked me about my nationality. I told them, "I'm Colombian". Then they just called me that. I like to be called "El Colombiano". I like to be known as the good Colombian that I believe I am.
People in Colombia often have multiple nicknames, so do you? Do you have any other nicknames?
Perez: My name! Yonnhy Enrrique "El Papuchi".
Ha, and why El Papuchi?
Perez: (LAUGHS) My mom used to call me El Papuchi, then eventually I guess I just became my wife's Papuchi (LAUGHS).
Yonnhy Perez faces Vic Darchinyan in the consolation bout of the Showtime bantamweight tournament on April 23rd, live on Showtime.
Luke Thomas is the Senior Editor for Combat Sports at SBNation.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @MMANation.