Niagara Falls native Josh Perez has been boxing on and off for the last 14 years. After taking more than a two-year break to give his body a rest and contemplate his future with the sport, he made his return to the ring at the Buffalo Golden Gloves in January, losing a split-decision.
“I decided to enter because I got the itch to fight again,” Perez said after a recent workout at Casal’s Boxing Club on Maryland Avenue. “I trained for four weeks in total, and I lost by a split decision which is very good. To me, it's very good as it says that I can still hang in there with the guys that are competing on a regular basis.”
The next chapter for Perez starts Saturday, when he steps into the ring for Casal’s Fight Night X.
“I'm 100 percent ready,” he said. “I've been ready to fight for a while now and I'm really grateful for this opportunity.”
Fight Night X will be held at Casal’s Boxing Club, 1767 Maryland Ave. Doors open at 4 p.m., and the fights start at. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.
For Perez, boxing is about more than the proverbial “swing for the fences” mentality. He’s a student of the sweet science, and works on his movement in the ring to make sure he’s ready for whoever is put in front of him.
“I try my best to make them miss and make them pay,” he said, noting that he’s willing to go “toe-to-toe” if the situation calls for it. “It's like a game, basically. You get in there and you have to figure out your opponent. Not every opponent is going to be easy. Not every opponent is going to fight the same way. So it's your job to adjust to whoever you're fighting against.”
Co-headlining the night is heavyweight Nolan Smith, coming fresh off a win in Canada. Smith, who went to the Golden Gloves nationals in Tennessee in April, has an eye toward turning pro as he prepares for Saturday.
“I'm ready to go,” Smith said. “There’s no one who trains harder than me. I'm really meant to be a fighter, it's just how I am. I was born to do this.”
A number of Niagara Falls-based fighters will appear on the card, including Elijah Austin, Casey Costanzo, Mike Vega, Emma Macoretta and Jacob Smith.
Macoretta won her last fight at Casal’s back in November 2018, breaking her opponent’s nose. A nursing student at D’Youville College, she’s hoping to use some of the tips and techniques she’s learned from working out with Costanzo in the ring Saturday. Costanzo is also a nursing student.
“She's like a mentor to me,” Macoretta said in regard to Costanzo. “I'm sparring with her. I'm always learning with her. She kicks my ass, but I learn a lot from her. And it's nice having a female that I can look up to as well.”
For Costanzo, boxing is a way to do something for herself. With the responsibilities of raising a family and finishing school always there, the sweet science provides an opportunity for her to do something she loves.
“This is just for me, this is my selfishness,” she said. “It’s hard to say it out loud, but it's the truth. This is where I'm selfish. I fight for me. Like, I'm not fighting for anybody, just for me. And I think that gives me the drive to prove to myself that I still can.”
Jacob Smith started boxing about a year ago, and Saturday will be his first fight. While the 14-year-old is nervous, he’s also excited to get in the ring. He recalled the first time he was punched in the face sparring. It wasn’t as bad as he expected.
“I love it,” he said, referring to the sport. “I just knew that I would want to keep going after I started the first night.”
For veteran fighter Vega, turning pro is on the horizon after Saturday night. With the responsibilities of being a kitchen manager at a busy hotel in the falls and raising a family, he’d like to start getting paid for being punched in the face.
“It’s hard to get up and go train and run and then have to work 60 hours a week,” he said. “And then go get my faced punched in for free.”
Vega said he’s looking forward to Saturday, as it might be his last amateur fight.
Lockport native Ray Casal, owner and head trainer at Casal’s Boxing Club, said his fighters are ready to go for Saturday. The fights at his gym are always popular and harken back to the glory days of boxing, when weekly club shows were well-attended and the crowds were raucous.
“This probably one of the best camps I've had with these guys in a long time because I've got really advanced fighters now, and they're really helping the younger boxers,” he said. “It should be a great night.”