Mike and Mago: A fateful night costing two world heavyweight champions

Mike Perez Magomed Abdusalamov Heavyweight

Ed Mulholland

Once touted as nailed-on world heavyweight champions, the careers of Mike Perez and Magomed Abdusalamov took a contrastingly sad turn on November 2nd of 2013.

A look back to that fateful night saw Perez entered the ring to face the Russian at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The two southpaws engaged in a brutal battle from the word go until the final bell after ten enthralling rounds.

Perez and Mago hit each other with everything they had in a full-blown war with little regard for defense.

What happened to Abdusalamov on that fateful night is well-documented. The lasting damage done is something he struggles with every single day of his life.

At 32, his career was gone, and any future chances of top division glory gone with it. Mago would undoubtedly have traded those heavyweight dreams to have his full health intact, though.

But unmistakably on the part of Perez, whose future ability to compete wasn’t impaired, the Cuban-Irishman had something beaten out of him that night from which he has never recovered.

Whether it was the actual punches that did it is irrelevant. It was the mindset of Perez that forever changed at the end of that fight.

mago perez edmul
Ed Mulholland

This alteration from a cold-hard puncher with bad intentions to finding it tougher to pull the trigger also cost ‘The Rebel’ any hopes he held of one day reaching the sport’s pinnacle.

Mago wasn’t the only one who suffered a life-changing disability at the world-famous MSG. The mental scars have been just as crippling to Perez inside the ring.

His attempts to get back on the horse failed over the next five years.

Just seventy-seven days on from the bruising encounter, and all while Abdusalamov was amid rehab trying to rebuild his life, Perez made the shocking decision to return to the ring against the dangerous Carlos Takam.

Ultimately, he looked a shadow of his former self in laboring to a draw.

Perez then saw some sense and took a couple of months off, citing his struggle dealing with what happened to Mago as his understandable reasoning.’

Six months on, he returned to training in a new attempt to push towards a world heavyweight title. Perez faced Bryant Jennings in July 2014.


Unsurprisingly, Perez lost for the first time in his career. The 29-year-old would not fight again for another seven months.

By February 2015, and with one solitary fight in thirteen months behind him and losing his unbeaten record into the bargain, meant Perez was forced to tip-toe back versus Darnell Wilson.

Predictably, Perez took the 18-loss journeyman out in two rounds in what must have been a relief following his stuttering spell.

Even without the competitive action needed, you may have thought Perez was back on track. That was until he ran into Alexander Povetkin after unfathomably accepting the fight just three months after his winning return.

Exposed badly by Povetkin in just one devastating round, his obvious psychological frailties from the Mago fight were more evident than ever.

The whole episode has had a profound effect on a once-promising career. Boxing wouldn’t see Perez for another two years.

Mike Perez
Lawrence Lustig / HBO


During his time away, Perez lost 42 pounds in weight and reinvented himself as a cruiserweight. Despite looking considerably gaunter, the decision looked promising following a 29-second knockout of 10-0 Viktor Biscak.

It wasn’t to be. The false dawn arrived in the style of Mairis Briedis, who defeated him on points in what wasn’t a terrible performance.

But that cutting edge, power, and the Eye of the Tiger was no longer there.

In 2018, Perez returned, although his two wins were nothing to write home about, and there’s been nothing substantial since.


Anyone who saw Perez rip through the Prizefighter field in 2011 knows we haven’t seen the real Mike Perez since the Mago fight.

He just couldn’t seem to ever put that situation to the back of his mind and move forward. To get back to the way he once was with that ruthlessness he showed in defeating Abdusalamov.

Maybe he never indeed found the core of his problems stemming from New York. They were causing havoc with what his body allowed him to do in the future.

A fighter who showed all the promise in the world before one night cast a shadow on his talent. Perez had to question his frame of mind for the first time.

Substance abuse and depression were the predictable results.

Any competitor confronted by this sort of anguish would find it hard to move forward in any walk of life. Let alone the loneliness of a boxing ring.

Sadly, we never got to see where Mike or Mago could take their careers. Both still bear the multiple scars of that cataclysmic battle and the events that followed.

Phil Jay is the Editor of WBN. An Auxiliary member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow on Twitter @PhilDJay.