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Mike Perry isn't making the same mistake twice in buildup to Max Griffin fight

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Mike Perry knew where it was all headed. It was obvious to anyone who knew the younger Perry that he was on a path to nowhere, and fast.

Perry was born in Flint, Michigan, one of the country’s poorest cities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, Flint is the second-poorest city in the United States, behind only Reading, Pennsylvania. The median income in Flint is $25,896, according to the data, only $31 more than Reading.

Fighting has saved many a young person, and fighting is what saved Perry. He made a six-month trip to jail in 2011 that saved him from who knows what, though Perry knows it wasn’t good. Perry was fortunate in that he realized what lay ahead if he didn’t make changes in his lifestyle.

“Probably it was jail [that saved me],” Perry said. “I went to jail and realized the path I was on. … As an adult, you know a lot more because you’ve been through it. But when you’re a kid, you don’t even know what consequences are. You just go out there, acting a fool all willy-nilly, but when I went to jail, I’d seen what I didn’t want to do, where I didn’t want to be, what type of life I didn’t want to live.

“I had to go through those consequences and I’m lucky that it wasn’t worse than it was. I could have spent way more time in jail, or I could have went to prison. But the path I was on didn’t go that way. I did a little bit and it was enough to show my hard-headed self that I could do better. I saw that I didn’t have to stick with the statistics and I could change my path.”

Welterweight Mike Perry weighs in prior to his bout against Santiago Ponzinibbio on Saturday at the UFC Fight Night event in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (AP)

And so, not so long later, Perry is a hot commodity in the UFC heading into Saturday’s bout at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, against Max Griffin.

He’s 4-2 in the UFC with two Performance of the Night bonuses and hopeful of earning a spot in the welterweight rankings with a victory.

He lost a decision in his last outing to Santiago Ponzinibbio in Canada, who, like Perry, overcame a lot in his early life to make it to the UFC. Perry was convinced that he would defeat Ponzinibbio, but he concedes he made a mistake. He didn’t use a conditioning coach and didn’t come into the fight in the kind of shape he needed to be in to defeat a fighter of Ponzinibbio’s caliber.

The loss, though, was useful because it opened his eyes as to what he can do when he’s committed and what he must do in order to make himself as good as he possibly can. If he’s truly learned from it, the loss to Ponzinibbio can have the same impact on him as a fighter as going to jail did on him as a person.

“Obviously, it shows that when [Ponzinibbio] walked away from that fight with a win that his edge was his experience,” Perry said. “He’s got one of the best records in the welterweight division. He had twice the fights I had. I see that but not one of them 30 people was like me. And that showed when I busted him up, but it showed my youngness. It showed my purple belt, not my black belt. I’m grateful for the lessons and I have to learn these lessons out here.

“I’m grateful that I live to fight another day. I’m going to prove myself this Saturday. I believe I’m better than Max everywhere. I believe he doesn’t deserve to stand across from me. I didn’t feel that way inside, honestly, about Ponzinibbio. I thought I had a tough opponent, and I was excited for it, but I didn’t train as hard as I could have. I have a coach now. I had a [conditioning] coach in Pittsburgh [and I was in the] best shape of my life. I didn’t use that coach for the Canada camp and I felt it, noticed it and realized it. I brought him back instantly. As soon as I got back to the states from Canada, I contacted that guy and told him I needed him. He’s made all the difference in the world.”

Being in elite shape is the quickest path to success for a fighter.

If Perry has truly changed his ways and is committed to his training, his potential is limitless.

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