Nick Diaz will fight for the welterweight championship at UFC 158. | Photo: Sherdog.com
The Gracie academy soon started to attract boxers. One of them, Jones, arrived with his trainer, and Gracie was introduced to one Richard Perez. Their relationship grew and flourished, and Perez’s impact on the gym has been profound.
“I think Richard has you do a lot of volume punches, and he’s an old-school coach,” Gracie said. “Nick became Rodney Jones’ main training partner. With Richard, he understands fighting and boxing, and he understands pressure, and a lot of MMA today is more based on kickboxing than anything else. The way these guys fight, they don’t give too many people a time to set.
“Richard’s success today doesn’t come as a surprise to me,” he added. “What he has is really great fundamentals, and he works really well with the pads. No, his success doesn’t come as a surprise to me at all.”
Jones was roaring through sparring partners when Nick decided to give it a shot. He held his own, and Perez began utilizing him more often. The sparring paid enormous dividends, as Nick approached his UFC 47 matchup with Robbie Lawler in 2004.
“It’s the best sparring I could get,” Nick said. “We helped each other get in shape and it helped me get rid of some bad habits, and we had a system that worked for us. I was 20 years old when I fought and knocked out Robbie Lawler. The sparring against Jones got me in shape for the fight. We’ve been a team ever since.”
Under Perez’s guidance, Nick developed into one of MMA’s premiere fighters. A former Strikeforce titleholder, he will face George St. Pierre for the sport’s most coveted prize, the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight crown, in the UFC 158 main event on March 16 in Montreal.
“Richard made me work harder than other trainers were working their fighters,” Nick said. “He pushed me and still pushes me. We work as a team really well. I was 16 years old when I started fighting. I was always looking for a good boxing trainer. I could only hope for someone like Richard. I doubt I would be where I am without Richard. I might have amounted to something but probably a lot different. When I fight, I use the path of least resistance and utilize the whole boxing aspect in a fight. That comes from Richard.”
Where Nick went, his brother followed. As a 17-year-old, Nate watched Nick go at it with Jones.
“They were calling Nick for work, and from there, that’s where we began getting close to Richard,” Nate said. “We were kids bugging him. I used to bug Richard more so. Nick asked Richard to train him for a UFC fight. I used to watch them spar. Rodney would throw all of these punches, and Nick tried throwing more punches than him. Richard trained Nick for the Lawler fight. Once Nick knocked out Lawler, who he wasn’t supposed to knock out, Nick was hooked.”
So was Nate. On one occasion when Nick injured his ribs, he insisted Nate step in against Jones. Nick assured Perez his younger brother could hold up and give the world-class Jones some good work.
“I just wanted the chance to show what I can do; the first round I went in and Rodney hit me with a body shot the first 30 seconds,” Nate said. “I started to think I was way over my head, but I sparred that whole week with Rodney. I knew right then, we had to have Rich train us. Rodney Jones was the man. It was definitely beneficial. Rodney would throw punches from every angle.”
Nate has carved out his own path in the MMA world. He won Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series in 2007 and fought for the UFC lightweight championship in 2012. “Without Rich, Nick and I wouldn’t be where we are in MMA. We have one of the best teachers around in Cesar Gracie, and Richard is the best boxing coach there is, as far as I’m concerned,” Nate said. “Richard has it down. He’s been around boxing his whole life, and he’s developed his own style. He makes you work. He’s going to make you work, and there is no getting away from him. He’s serious about it. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job for him. It makes him a great coach. There’s no other boxing coach in the world like him.”
UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who captured bronze in judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics before transitioning to MMA, found out about Perez through the Diazes. She was looking for an intense punching burst, as the exchanges in judo are blunt and quick.
“Richard has helped me become more comfortable with longer combinations, longer exchanges,” Rousey said. “He’s shown me a couple of things in connecting, working with me more with foot placement and how to keep my combinations continuous. My striking game is better because of what Richard has shown me.”
Perez folds his arms and smiles when he considers his experiences. His decision to press on despite life’s many hurdles has led him to an amazing place.
“I never gave up, and something in my mind said epilepsy wasn’t going to stop me,” Perez said. “Something kept me going. Something special was ahead for me. I never thought about being a trainer, but you never know what will happen. I kept at it. You reach a point in your life when everything you’ve been through is a blessing. You have to go through to reach where you are, and, today, I couldn’t be happier and content with things.”