By Monica Cane
When Richard Perez was in his early 30s, he sensed a message from God, telling him that he needed to change the harmful direction of his life or he would find his kids were no longer a part of his life. This shook Richard, yet he found it difficult to comply. He wasn’t ready to pull away from the road of destruction he’d been on since his teen years.
At age 13 Richard began experiencing epilepsy, which his father believed was from the devil. Wanting nothing to do with the illness, Richard’s dad drove him to a hotel a year later and left him there to fend for himself. With little money, no home, and no family support, Richard’s options were scarce. He quickly dropped out of school and looked to the streets to subsist.
Angry, scared, and alone, Richard began hanging with the wrong crowd and took to alcohol and drugs as a means of coping. With statistics of survival not in his favor, his future looked grim. But fortunately Richard had one positive outlet that his father happened to introduce him to prior to abandoning him—boxing.
Hanging around a local gym, Richard found pummeling speed bags, beating mitts, pounding heavy bags, sparring, and training for strength and endurance helped to release the mounting pressure he carried on his young shoulders. Richard continued to pursue boxing as he grew into adulthood. He developed a keen eye for technique and began coaching others. Although his life improved some, he was still caught up in a lifestyle of alcohol and drugs as a way of coping.
By the time Richard felt God’s push to straighten out his life, Richard was at a loss. Other than boxing, a carousing lifestyle was all he knew. But when God gave Richard the exact same message a second time but with much more intensity, Richard could no longer ignore it. He heard God’s message loud and clear. It was time to straighten up.
Richard discovered that despite his past, God had a future in mind for him. He began attending church, reading his Bible, praying, and allowing God full access to his life.
When he became a believer, Richard’s passion for boxing took on a whole new meaning. It wasn’t just a personal outlet—it was a potential ministry. Richard became a professional boxing trainer, training fighters such as light middleweight champion Rodney Jones and Mixed Martial Arts Ultimate Fighting Championship brothers Nate and Nick Diaz.
Richard uses all of his knowledge of the sport to develop the skill set of amateur and pro fighters. At the same time he is learning to be a man of God. This has created many unique opportunities for Richard to share his faith in simple yet significant ways.
“Once the fighters get to know me, they respect me,” said Richard. “Whenever we go out to eat, I tell them I’m going to pray. They respect that, and it opens the door for conversation. They know I’m a Christian and know where I stand.”
During the past 15 years as Richard had trained top fighters at various gyms and even out of his own garage, the same question was asked over and over: When would Richard open his own gym?
Working for the school district for many years during the day and training champions like Jones and the Diaz brothers at night, Richard never had the time to pursue the dream. But now all that has changed. Retiring from his day job a few years ago, Richard now has the time and more importantly an open door from God to make his dream come true.
On May 17, 2014, Richard and his wife, Martha, opened Richard Perez Boxing in Manteca, California. Thankful to God for the opportunity to pursue this dream, he confessed, “It’s a business, but it is also a ministry.”
Never forgetting his turbulent years, Richard makes it a point to bring in kids from the community who are in need of discipline and guidance. He teaches the kids boxing techniques while planting seeds of faith, just as he does with everyone that he trains.
Sharing an example of his business ministry, Richard shared this story: “I have a young girl who comes to the gym and who lives in a group home. One day when we were training, I told her she was doing a good job. She got really upset and didn’t believe me. She thought I was lying to her and told me that I shouldn’t lie. I walked away for a few minutes then came back with a video recorder. I taped her while she was training so she could see how good she really was. When I showed her the video, a smile crossed her face. She then asked me why I’m always happy. I was able to tell her that it is because I have God in my life. Now that girl follows me everywhere. She wants me to put on her wraps and gloves and teach her everything. She is here all the time. It just makes me so happy.”
While the name Richard Perez is typically associated with famous fighters, Richard and his wife see how God is working through them to help kids in the community who may be experiencing a rough start to life as Richard once did.
“I cry just thinking about these kids,” said Richard. “I didn’t realize it would be like this. As a pro trainer, I knew I would get guys who were famous to come to the gym, but it’s so much more than that. It’s all about the kids. They are the famous ones.”
As part of his training, Richard teaches beginners young and old how to correctly put on their wraps and gloves, how to hit the bags, shadow box, and jump rope for endurance, along with a plethora of defense and offense skills. The higher the skill set, the more intense the training becomes.
Being sought after by elite fighters for his boxing and coaching abilities brings excitement to the pro trainer just as much as being a good example to those he trains. “You can’t just go out and preach to everyone. You have to be a good example; that’s where it starts. Actions speak louder than words. If I have good actions, doing things the right way, not cussing, staying calm, being consistent (especially in the boxing world), it opens doors to share my faith while developing strong fighters.”
Richard Perez Boxing is not only a place for champions to train and beginners to learn, but a safe haven for those in need of help and hope, whether in the ring or out. The idea of combining business and ministry, faith and fighting, may seem impossible to some, but because of what God has done in his life, Richard knows and believes the truth of Matthew 19:26: “With God all things are possible.”
Monica Cane is a freelance writer from Northern California.