The Many Faces of Markus Perez

By Josh Gross Aug 6, 2020
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Elite operators in any profession have the ability to jettison everything but the task in front of them. This is a skill as much as anything else they do. Ease the mind. Focus on what needs to be done. Execute.

Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight Markus Perez admits he struggled with this in November when, shortly before he was set to fight in his hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil, against Wellington Turman, he was told he could be an unsuspecting father.

“I usually turn off my phone when I’m about to fight, but I was listening to songs and suddenly a call came in,” Perez told Sherdog.com. “It was [the mother], and she was kind of rude with me. She gave me the news, and it kind of messed up my fight. That doesn’t usually happen to me, but this time, it took me out of the fight mentally.”

The decision loss to Turman that followed dropped Perez to 2-3 in the UFC since he joined the promotion at the end of 2017. Perez, now 30, debuted in the Octagon with a 10-0 record, including an Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight championship win over Ian Heinsich. Following five official fights with the UFC, however, the most notable thing about Perez is the time he painted his face a la Heath Ledger’s “Joker,” which made for a memorable weigh-in staredown opposite Turman.

“When I paint my face as the Joker, I feel like I can do anything,” Perez said. “It’s strange, but I change my mind when I paint my face. This makes me crazy and happy. I really feel like the Joker.”

Perez had mimicked the Joker once before for Halloween, and he scared people, which he liked, so he ran with it. The makeup takes 15 minutes to do right, and on July 31, while awaiting a public faceoff with Charles Ontiveros ahead of his first fight since Turman, Perez sat in his hotel room applying white, green, black and red paint to his face in the unkempt pastiche of Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.”

“I would destroy stuff and end up in jail if I went on the streets dressed as the Joker,” Perez said with a cackle. He envisions MMA as chaotic enough to hold the comic book villain’s attention. Nicknamed “Maluko”—Portuguese for “crazy”—Perez finished with the paint job and reveled in the joy he feels cosplaying for fight fans.

Then manager Alex Davis FaceTimed him with bad news. That short-notice fight with Ontiveros? It was off. Perez had originally signed to fight Eric Spicely, but a rough weight cut knocked the American off the card despite an agreement to fight 10 pounds above the middleweight limit. Perez would have accepted it at 205 pounds, though Spicely, citing lingering consequences from his 15-minute war with Deron Winn, as well as the effect of antidepressants on his weight cut, just was not right. This prompted his removal from the card and subsequent release from his contract.

The UFC quickly attempted to match Perez with Ontiveros, yet the Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to license the contest. When Davis contacted Perez, he captured a screenshot of their conversation and immediately sent the image to UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard.

“Mick is a very human guy, and he saw the pain” on Perez’s painted face, Davis said. “Sometimes a picture or something like that can convey what we’re going through better than words, so I sent it to him and he said, ‘S---.’ He said he would find another fight, and he’s a man of his word.”

That is how Perez landed an opportunity to meet Rodolfo Vieira, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu giant who is 7-0 as a mixed martial artist, in October.

(+ Enlarge) | Photo Courtesy: Alex Davis

A FaceTime screenshot captured the moment Perez
was informed by his manager that the bout was off.
“When you believe in yourself, when you believe you do things right, when you believe in God, when you believe God will do whatever is right for you, then you don’t really worry about it,” he said. “You keep on believing.”

Faith can run up against reality in hard ways. Bills don’t pay themselves. Fights need to be fought before they’re won. Families need to be looked after, and there is still the matter of a child in Brazil that Perez can’t be sure is his until he returns home to take a DNA test. He thinks he is the father and is acting responsibly, he said. The mother and infant moved in with Perez’s parents, and he says he’s paying the bills.

“It’s complicated because I’d like to hold the baby,” he said. “I want to know if it’s mine. If it is, I want to be a marvelous father, but now, because of all the COVID situation, I am not going to be able to go back to Brazil, so I’m going to have to hold off until after this fight. Then I will go back to Brazil and resolve all this.”

Perez compounded his potential exposure to the pandemic by working jobs in construction and as a bouncer when he wasn’t training or sleeping. Though he thinks he can get by without the extra income, locking his mind on the grind is appealing enough so that as he prepares for the October contest with Vieira, Perez is likely to stick with his routine after completing what he called the best camp he had in his career.

A quality fighter working two jobs during a training camp raises the usual questions about the pay scale inside the UFC, and in the days following the Aug. 1 card in Las Vegas, there has been plenty of discussion about whether or not UFC President Dana White is doing right by athletes who, through no fault of their own, didn’t get to fight. Stepping into a gym to prepare for a bout in the Octagon is risky enough, especially when it comes to life as we know it in 2020, and Perez could have used his “show” and “win” purses as much as any fighter in the UFC.

Instead, he and several other competitors on the card received a portion of their show money despite the UFC previously paying a full sum to fighters who made weight and were ready to fight if not for circumstances outside their control. The UFC, of course, is under no obligation to compensate fighters if they don’t compete, but because White has been willing to do so, it seemed like standard practice. Unofficially, this is case-by-case and Saturday’s event at the UFC presented several examples of how it can go when cards get shaken up.

“I think that everyone is having a hard time with this pandemic,” said Perez, who did not disclose how much the UFC paid him last weekend. “I think the UFC could be going through some of that, too. I think they’re doing the best to help the fighters out, and they helped me out.” Advertisement

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