Story by John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
Photos by Darryl Cobb Jr. / dcobbjr.com
Philadelphia’s summer boxing season kicks off Friday night in South Philly at the 2300 Arena with an interesting main event between Atlantic City’s DeCarlo Perez and Californian Dashon Johnson. The 10-round above-the-limit middleweight contest pairs two boxers familiar to local fight fans.
One has been under our noses for years, while the other jumped onto our radar after a glorious losing effort against Jesse Hart in March. Friday the fighters will collide with both their careers on the line.
Dashon Johnson, 20-19-3, 6 KOs, is a tough road warrior from Escondido, CA. He has fought primarily on the West Coast, but has visited our side of the country a handful of times. In March, Johnson made one of those trips east and did his best to put an end to the undefeated streak of favorite Philly son Jesse “Hard Work” Hart.
Hart won a comfortable decision that night, but not before pulling himself off the canvas twice (only one was called a knockdown), and being tested like never before. Johnson was the culprit who nearly derailed the star prospect, and ever since that night, many observers even question Hart’s true potential.
It was a great night for Johnson, despite only winning two rounds. But this is what he does. He steps into the ring against any opponent between 154 and 168 pounds, and fights. He is a durable pro who can mix it up against anyone. Over the years, he’s faced Jermell Charlo, Glen Tapia, Joshua Clottey, Sergio Mora, and Philly’s Julian Williams.
His performance against Hart had promoter J Russell Peltz hungry to stage a rematch between the two at a bigger Philadelphia venue. However in the modern version of the sport, rematches on the way up rarely happen, especially when the favorite comes away with the win. So guys like Johnson just have to seek new opportunities to upset the apple cart.
Liking what he saw in Johnson, Peltz insisted on bringing him back to the City of Brotherly Love for another go, even if it couldn’t be against Hart. Peltz has done this numerous times before, and even built Philly-based careers for out-of-towners, back in the glory days. Names like Marvin Johnson and Prince Charles Williams come immediately to mind.
Because of this, Dashon Johnson finds himself in another Philly main event, and is arguably even the star of the show. The promotion has been dubbed “He’s Backkkkk!”, and the promoters (Peltz, Hand and BAM) hope that Johnson has as much resilience as Jason
Voorhees did in the Friday the 13th movies.
The search for a suitable opponent for Johnson ended with DeCarlo Perez, 15-4-1, 5 KOs. Perez has fought most of his career in the region, especially in Philly and Atlantic City, and has built a reputation for crowd-pleasing fights.
“I’ve pretty much adopted this place as my home.” Perez said about Philadelphia. “We go to all the gyms. We go to a lot of the fights here, and support a lot of the Philly fighters. And the Philly fighters and fans, I guess, support that I come and bring an action packed fight.”
Last year, Perez, a former pharmacy technician now 100% focused on his boxing career, appeared to reach a new level in the ring – first locally, against Tyrone Brunson and Jesse Nicklow, then nationally, with a career-best victory over a 23-0 Juan Ubaldo Cabrera on Showtime.
“The number of knockouts that this guy had,” Perez said about Tyrone Brunson. “To go in there with someone who has as many knockouts as you have fights, it can scare the hell out of anybody. But honestly, all I had to do that night was believe in myself and make sure that I had better skills and endurance.”
Perez prevailed in the grueling fight with a fifth round TKO.
“And then there was the Dominican guy, Juan Ubaldo Cabrera,” Perez said. “They actually called me on two weeks’ notice. I had been in the gym. I was training the whole time. My job was to take it. Since I had been training so hard the whole time, (I knew) that night was going to be my night. It was something else. It was really tough. Outside the ring, it was 90 some degrees. Inside the ring, under the lights it was close to a hundred degrees. But luckily, the gym I was training in at the time was just as hot. So, I didn’t have any problem with that.”
Perez won a 10-round unanimous decision and was on a significant career roll. However, he then lost a January bout on Showtime with undefeated prospect Rob Brant.
“The feeling of coming back is probably the best thing I’ve felt throughout this whole camo.” Perez said. “I can’t wait to get back in the ring. I can’t wait. This is what we do. This is part of the fight game. I haven’t had the prettiest career, like some fighters have. But I’ve had a lot of tough fights and at the end of my career, when I have my championship belt and I’m world champion, I will be able to say that I fought everybody. I didn’t duck anybody. I fought them when they were coming up, when they were trying to be the best. And if I lost, I lost, but I did my best that night.”
That loss, and a few others that he’s suffered, hint that Perez might not be a world class middleweight, but the jury is still out on that. In any case, Perez is at the crossroads after losing to Brant, and has no easy assignment against Johnson. On the flipside, Johnson, whose career is perpetually at the crossroads, also badly needs the win. Usually this mutual need makes for a good fight.
“He definitely is a tough guy, but I feel that his skill and ability is sub (less than) mine.” Perez said. “But coming up here to the great city of Philadelphia to work with the great fighters that come out of here means I’ve been sparring with some great guys.”
Perez has spent most of this training camp in the Philly gyms.
“Actually I’ve probably only been in my gym maybe five or six times,” Perez said. “I can count, maybe on one hand. I’ve been coming up here to Philly. I’ve been getting a lot of sparring, getting a lot of work, with all the guys. They’ve seen this guy (Johnson) fight already. So, I’m very excited about that.”
Perez missed Johnson’s fight with Hart, but managed to still do his homework for their fight.
“Actually, I didn’t see it that night.” Perez said. “But I was able to get the film. I was able to see that it’s going to be a great, action-packed fight. Styles make fights. And to me, I think Jesse made that fight a little more difficult for himself. But for me, that night is definitely going to be something different.”
Most would rate Hart a level above Perez. However, DeCarlo is probably a better at infighting than Hart, and he sees that his biggest advantage against Johnson.
“He’s been in there with some of the best fighters,” Perez said of Johnson. “He’s a very durable guy. He knows how to last. However, the people who went to his body, got him out of there. And for me, that’s my bread and butter – inside the pocket and kill the body. So, I’m curious myself. A knockout could be in the books, or a very clean decision. A beautiful decision, not something ugly or close or anything like that. The only reason I say that (it could last) is because he’s a very durable guy. But I’m in shape to go the distance and get the victory.”
A victory over Johnson is exactly what Perez needs. A second straight loss would quickly take his career out of neutral and put it into reverse in a hurry. Johnson is a guy that you are supposed to beat, even if you have to struggle to do it. Perez needs to bring this victory home.
“I am dedicating this fight to my grandfather.” Perez said. “Pops is in the hospital right now. Because he’s sick, he can’t really travel. But when it comes to boxing, he wants nothing but for me to be successful and to have my opportunities to shine. So, I’ve been training a lot harder. My trainer would probably say that this is the best camp that we’ve had. I pushed even harder so that me and Pops will be able to sit and talk about the fact that this fight was amazing.”
With this personal incentive, and all his hard work leading up to the fight, Perez sounds ready.
“I’m coming into this fight for the win, no matter what,” Perez said. “As to where this leads later on down the road, I leave that in my team’s hands and in God’s hands. And go from there.”
It’s a simple plan and one that Perez believes in.
“Keep me fighting,” Perez said. “Keep me pushing myself. I don’t want to fight guys just to get me wins. No, keep me pushing myself. Am I really going to be able to step to this next level?”
On Friday, Perez will get his answer.
Despite not burning up the box office like Hart-Johnson (which was Philly’s fastest selling boxing ticket in years), Johnson vs. Perez appears to be another excellent match up that should produce a memorable fight. As is usually the case with a Peltz/Hand/BAM promotion, this should be a fight worth watching.
Seven additional bouts round out the card, including starts by local prospects Jaron Ennis, Jerome Conquest, Jaba Khositashvili, Steven Ortiz, and Isaiah Wise. The first bell rings at 7:00 PM. Tickets are still available.