EDMONTON — Cam O’Connell’s come back fight was not supposed to be personal. It was supposed to be all business.
But that changed at the weigh-in on Thursday as his opponent Mario Perez (17-7-4) started running his mouth about the Red Deer boxer and his corner.
O’Connell (7-0-1), meanwhile, did all the talking with his fists in the ring, winning by unanimous decision in the main event of Adrenaline Rush, produced by KO Boxing, at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton on Friday.
“When I got in the ring, I looked at him and I just wanted to kill him,” said O’Connell, 26. “As soon as I looked at him and he looked down, I knew it was all just a game to him, he wasn’t a fighter. He barked like a Chihuahua and he bit like a Chihuahua.”
The game for Perez started in the contract negotiations, demanding a 135-pound catch weight, far smaller than O’Connell, and an eight-round fight, longer than any fight O’Connell has ever been in.
At the weigh-in the games continued with the Mexican national now training our of Toronto, calling out O’Connell’s toughness on social media because he had done more time in jail than O’Connell—something O’Connell is embarrassed about rather than looking at it as a badge of honour. Perez then started calling out his friends during the weigh-in. O’Connell’s coaches had to calm him down and remind him he would get his opportunity the next night. After the weigh-in Perez chimed in once more saying ‘After I knock out Cam, I’m going to knock out Arash (Usmanee).”
And that really got O’Connell going.
During referee Len Koivisto’s instructions in the centre of the ring on Friday Perez refused to look at O’Connell and pushed out as soon as he could.
In the end, he was all talk.
After a close opening four rounds, O’Connell took over in the second half of the fight, where he was supposed to struggle, and took apart Perez, winning by scores of 79-72, 78-73, 79-73 on the three judges’ score cards.
What mattered most to O’Connell was the win and going the distance, though he worked hard for a late-round knock out and came close, sending Perez to the mat in the eighth round.
“I’m happy, I got a fight where I got to bang it out, I got to show people I’m in shape, I’m here to fight,” said O’Connell. “Nobody is going to stop me, I didn’t get hit with anything that really hurt me …
“Maybe I don’t have a long life doing this because I got hit a lot doing it, but I just want to show people I am here to do what I love doing and tonight I did what I loved.”
In his corner was his head coach Doug Bolianatz, trainer Roman Rzepkowski and cut man Arash Usmanee.
After the fight Usmanee was beaming like a proud papa. The two fighters grew up together in Red Deer and have trained together for years. Usmanee’s own boxing career is in a bit of a hiatus, but he was there to train O’Connell and spar with him. As cut man he was constantly giving him in-ring advice and could be heard urging him on to go to his jab more.
“He’s my little brother, he’s grown up with me,” said Usmanee. “Getting closer to the fight, I didn’t tell anybody this, but I was a little bit nervous because of the experience of the guy and it was a big step up fight for Cam and this was the kind of fight he needed.”
Having Usmanee there was huge for O’Connell.
“My whole camp was perfect,” said O’Connell. “(Usmanee) was the piece of the pie that had he been missing, everything would have fallen apart, but every piece was in place. It was perfect.”
The goal of the fight was to prove he could be more than just a knock out specialist, that he could stand in the ring against proven competition and go punch for punch in a 10-12 round match.
O’Connell had never been in a fight that lasted more than four rounds previously, and after spending nine months earlier this year at the Bowden Institution on a drug trafficking charge there was questions about ring rust and stamina.
He answered all of those critics by only getting stronger as the fight wore on, sending Perez to the ground twice — one missed by the judge, as it appeared he touched down in a mid round exchange along the ropes.
Rzepkowski believes O’Connell should be in line for a North American or Canadian title shot of some kind in his next fight.
“What I would like next is that title he shot he never got last year,” he said. “He trains harder than most of the athletes I work with, he deserves it. I believe that after something like this, they’re going to start looking at him a little bit differently.”
Helping O’Connell along was a strong contingent of friends and family who made the trip up from Red Deer, it gave him an extra boost in the ring.
“I’m thankful of everyone who came out, I love everyone,” he said. “I heard every individual voice, it was amazing for me.”
Who his next opponent will be is up for debate. O’Connell jumped through a number of hoops just to get this fight due to his reputation as a power puncher and his aggressive in ring approach.
It’s why this fight was so important, to prove he could be a complete fighter.
But climbing that boxing ladder got a little more important to him, finding out in the days leading up to the fight that he will become a father for the first time with his wife Tiffany O’Connell due to deliver in January.
“I seen him a couple of times, every time I saw (Perez) want to go all out I just saw bigger paycheques to help my family, I envisioned the ultra sound a couple of times during the fight,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl, but the ultra sound does have boxing gloves photoshopped into it.”
From here on out, it is all personal.