Why Brooklyn-bred BJJ fighter Rasheed Perez is one to watch
The tri-state is home to some of the world’s most notorious fighters — Jon Jones, Frankie Edgar, Rashad Evans, you name em.
Since MMA has become legal in New York, the state has seen a rise in gyms, promotions and especially young talent.
“I don’t run from hard work because I know it’s gonna get me the end result.”
One of six children, Perez grew up spending time in both Brooklyn and Queens. Despite being a natural athlete, Perez didn’t fully tap into his sports gene until 2014 after he watched his friends take Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) classes and decided to give it a try.
He quickly fell in love with jiu-jitsu, martial art, and sport composed of grappling and ground fighting that is built on the mastery of technique rather than pure strength. There’s always more to learn in jiu-jitsu, and for Perez, finding jiu-jitsu has taught him humility and discipline both on and off the mats.
“You have to be confident in your moves, but don’t underestimate anyone.”
Perez had his first submission-only BJJ competition in November of 2015, just one year after he started training and recalls rolling with his opponent for over an hour and a half, leaving the mat with bruises on his ribs.
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The young gun had a hell of a year in 2018, earning his purple belt in BJJ and making his amateur fighting debut at FNT Vol. II back in September. Perez took his fight against Eyad Ibrahim at FNT’s NYFW fight night on just two weeks notice and had a lot to prove in his first bout going up against the wrestler from Egypt’s National Team.
“I’m nerve-wrecked because I know I’ve trained maybe 6-8 months of stand-up throughout my four years fighting so my hands are not the freshest, my jiu-jitsu is strong though. I had to use my competition mentality going into that fight, you don’t know what’s gonna happen, you can’t be too tunnel-visioned, you can’t be too relaxed, you just have to adapt and go with it.”
Perez won the fight via T.K.O. and held his own against Ibrahim’s strong slams, a skill he attributes to constantly training with fighters from all different backgrounds, whenever, wherever he can.
“I love that the most about jiu-jitsu. Learning the moves, being humble in the gym and all that stuff is nice, but it’s something about competing for that makes me feel like a gladiator, especially the ones where they call your name, he chuckles. ‘Rasheed Perez to mat 5!’ is like my call to battle. To me, that’s the best way to get stronger at jiu-jitsu, you have to throw yourself in there against somebody you never rolled with before so you take away the ability to expect their next move and it’s purely jiu-jitsu.”
For many fighters, the hardest part of fighting are the moments that lead up to the fight-balancing work and training along with the typical shit that comes up in everyday life.
Perez’s has a warrior mindset in training and genuinely likes to put his body and mind to the test on the daily so that he’s always prepared to throw down. He’s known to carry a gi with him, even while on vacation because you never know when you can get a chance to roll to learn some more.
“I’m always shooting to be better so I always try to train with the guys who I know will beat me up. Some people, if they know someone is gonna win, they’ll run away, but I like to take the ego out of training. If this guy is beating me, there’s obviously something I’m doing wrong so I’m gonna go with him so at least I can get an understanding.”
Perez trains at the world-renowned Renzo Gracie Academy gym in midtown New York, where you can find UFC greats and some of the most elite practitioners of BJJ and Muay Thai taking classes or sparring with the homies — hell, Jake Shields was literally hitting the bag in the back while we did this very interview.
Probably the only drawback to training at such a high level is injury, which is always a tough pill to swallow for a fighter’s heart and ego.
“I’ve had bad injuries, I went for a flying armbar once and I dislocated my collarbone, it was horrible. They said I had to take 6 weeks off-I took 5 weeks and 6 days. My arm hurt horribly, so I was using it a lot less, I competed maybe about 2-3 months after when the kid did a cartwheel over me and attacked that arm so I had to tap. It made me better. I was relying a lot on pure strength and strength will work against guys who are just as good as you or a bit better, but the guy who’s been doing it for 20 years will nullify that. You gotta have the technique.”
Training with an injured arm forced Perez to learn how to take the ego out of his fighting and really hone in on the core principles of his ground game that can supersede strength.
It’s that repetition training that helps for certain moves to become second nature so that when the big moment comes, you know how to defend yourself against another fighter no matter what the circumstances are.
Fighting all day is an eventual dream for Perez, who balances training while working full time at T-Mobile. On a typical day, the fighter will work over eight hours and head up to Renzo’s to pack in a workout or two, just to come home to Brooklyn and do it all again the next day.
He’s hungry and seizes every opportunity he has to train. Fighting isn’t just a sport, but it’s been a true staple of knowledge and strength for Perez.
“I don’t even know how I do it, I just have a headache all the time. On a typical day, I’ll go to work at 9:00 am, get off by 5:30 pm, get right on the train and come here (Renzo Gracie Academy). If I know I’m not gonna train the next day, sometimes I’ll double-up on the classes which are an hour and a half, which I like. Or if it’s my off day and I really wanna be crazy, I’ll come and do the 12-2:30 class, go home, relax, and sometimes I’ll do something else like play basketball or I’ll just come right back [to Renzo’s]. I train twice a day a lot. It helps your pressure increase and you’re just learning what you do wrong, more and more times.”
Perez has competed in over 20 jiu-jitsu competitions, scoring gold against some of the toughest competitors around and hopes to pay it forward.
Eventually, Perez wants to open up a martial arts gym in Brooklyn to give young kids an outlet to express themselves and learn the same values that fighting has brought to his life. He also seeks to get into the real estate game and spends much of his off-time watching various talks and going to seminars on how to invest capital.
After a solid year of competing in the local ranks, Perez is hungrier than ever to get his weight up even more for 2019. Keep an eye out for homie.