You may not find a more passionate fan of the sport of boxing than actress Rosie Perez.
The Academy Award nominee and Brooklyn, N.Y., native has gone public over the past year on social media as a rabid connoisseur of all things related to the sweet science. She can also be found sitting ringside on television taking in the majority of the year's biggest fights.
The former star of such classic films as "Do the Right Thing," "Fearless" and "White Men Can't Jump" recently stopped by ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to talk boxing ahead of Saturday's superfight in Las Vegas between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Canelo Alvarez. From what got her interested in the sport to her take on the business of boxing, Perez was candid in sharing her love for the sport.
How did you become a boxing fan?
I don't know. I think it was just part of the culture growing up Puerto Rican. I remember when I was about 6 or 7, everybody was screaming watching the boxing match and I said, "Who was that talking?" And they said it's Howard Cosell. That was my first recollection, and I was hooked ever since.
You were born in Brooklyn, where boxing was king for a long time, and like many fighters, you endured a tough childhood. Would you describe yourself as a fighter?
I love watching. I was a terrible fighter. I used to like slug with one arm and try to duck. And then I got tired of getting my ass beat, so one of my half-sisters got my half-brother's boxing gloves. She was like, "I'm going to teach you how to fight because you're embarrassing the entire family." [Laughs.] And then from there I started winning fights, a lot. And it wasn't because I liked it; it was a necessity. And after you win a certain amount of fights, people stop challenging you, and that's what happened. Personally, I do not enjoy a street fight. I do not enjoy getting hit. But I do love watching boxing, and I do love the sport in the sense that I studied kung fu for many, many years. But even in exhibitions, I didn't like getting hit. I really didn't. That's why I have so much respect for boxers because it takes a lot to take a punch. To build up your power resistance is a major factor in becoming a good fighter.
How would you describe your boxing style when you were younger?
When I was younger, before I learned how to fight, my boxing style was horrible. Pathetic. It was what you would see on cartoons, "Slug, slug, slug." It was like a poor man's version of Brandon Rios. [Laughs.] It was horrible! And then when I learned how to really fight, I think the major thing that I did learn was to move out of the way of a punch.
Who would be a good opponent for you or someone you think you could take?
Wow. Absolutely no one. [Laughs.] I'm keeping it real. No. No one. Absolutely no one. Well, I have an answer, but it's a bad joke. I know you want me to say it. OK, maybe Seth Mitchell. [Laughs.] That's horrible! I'm joking.
Who was your favorite fighter to come out of Brooklyn?
Of course, Mike Tyson -- just his ferociousness. He would walk into the ring and look at a fighter like, "I'm going to eat your heart." I know it sounds crazy, but it would just excite me. And it would excite me how he would get inside as a boxer because he was so short. He would just demolish somebody with that power that he had. And he had skills and could bob and weave. But really, it was his charging power that I loved. I thought he was very exciting, and I didn't understand how people would get mad and be like, "Ohhh! He knocked him out in the first round." And I'd be like, "But it was great! What do you mean?"
I liked "Sweet Pea" Pernell Whitaker. I really love watching Zab Judah fight because he is so entertaining in the sense that even when he would get frustrated and kind of whine a little bit when he was younger, for him to come back the way he did is very admirable. It reminds me of George Foreman. People would say that George was a difficult person to deal with back then, but when he came back and matured as a person and a man, he actually became a better fighter. I think Zab Judah is that because he respects the sport a lot more and he respects the fans more. And he respects his opponent a lot more and he takes it seriously. The way he hung in there for 12 rounds against Danny Garcia was admirable. Yes, he lost the fight but still he went 12 rounds with the champ. For me, he brings that essence of Brooklyn and that do-or-die passion that real Brooklynites have. And then Paulie [Malignaggi] is just a showman. It went a little crazy with him and [Adrien] Broner and it went over the top, and I think he realized that as well. But normally Paulie puts on a good show, and I think he's excellent as a commentator and think he should stay in that lane and really prosper.
Do you remember where you were when Julio Cesar Chavez fought Hector "Macho" Camacho in 1992, in a much-anticipated bout for both the Mexican and Puerto Rican fan bases?
Oh, yes. I was in the living room with a whole bunch of Puerto Ricans screaming. Of course, everybody was going for Camacho, but for all the Latin boxers, Chavez was undeniable at the top. I was going for Camacho just because he was Puerto Rican and I think I was really too young to understand the stature of Chavez. We knew that he was great but didn't understand the stature of the man. We were screaming and screaming for Camacho, but I can't even imagine if there were Mexican fans in the room with us! We had like 50 Puerto Rican people, wall to wall. And I loved it!
And speaking on that, when people say that boxing is dead, it's not dead. They say that over and over and over and over, but it's not dead, it's still going strong. People were saying when Muhammad Ali retired that it's done, it's done. And then Sugar Ray Leonard comes along to pick the sport back up. And then he retired and somebody else comes along. It's going to be interesting if Floyd Mayweather loses and if Canelo [Alvarez] is able to pick up that pay-per-view audience the way Mayweather has.
What is the biggest boxing event you ever attended in person?
The [first] Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield fight out in Las Vegas [in 1992]. I was out there as a guest with HBO, and I remember somebody turning around and telling me, "Oh my god, would you stop screaming?" [Laughs.] I was going for Riddick Bowe because he's from Brooklyn! But Evander Holyfield is so amazing that I was screaming, and it was really funny because coming from New York and watching in a house full of Puerto Ricans or going to Madison Square Garden, you scream at the fights. Here I am over there in Las Vegas, and there's a whole bunch of Hollywood celebrities that you wouldn't even think were into boxing. Maybe they weren't. They were folding their hands and sitting all proper in their red carpet outfit. I was sitting with Martin Lawrence, and he's going, "You're making me have an anxiety attack!" And I go, "You're supposed to have an anxiety attack! Look at this action!" It was really, really funny, and it almost started a fight with the person telling me to be quiet. Martin jumped up and was like, "No, you be quiet!" He had never been to a boxing match before. And I kept saying don't do that because if you start a fight in the crowd, everybody jumps in and it becomes bigger than the main event. I just said, "Trust me! Sit the heck down!" [Laughs.] You don't want to start a fight at a fight. That's the worst thing you can do.
What's the greatest fight you have ever seen, whether in person or on television?
Oh my god! Every [Diego] Corrales fight moved me, like to tears. I think the one that I thought was the most amazing and heartbreaking fight was when I watched Tyson lose it with Holyfield [in their 1997 rematch]. I was stunned. I remember everyone screaming, and I was silent because I couldn't believe it. But I understood it. Does that make sense? When you come from such difficulty and such stress and strife, sometimes you need to learn how to control your emotions because you are always pushing the big boulder up the hill. I think Tyson at that time didn't realize he was in a different battle and he had to use different weapons and he resorted to those old weapons. And I understand that. That doesn't come from a place of judgment; it comes from a place of understanding. When I saw that, I related to it and it stunned me and it silenced me. I was the first one to start crying because I understood that after that fight he was going to go to the locker room and he was going to break down. [She begins to cry.] He was going to have a nervous breakdown. He was going to instantly regret what he had done, and it reminded me of when I would act out in school and be sent to the dean's office knowing, "Why did I do that? Why did I act like that?" But that was when I was a kid, and I'm an adult now. [Tyson] wasn't there yet, and his maturity wasn't there because he got fame way too early. So he was emotionally stunted at that time when that fame came to him. I think that was the most exhilarating and heartbreaking fight I have ever watched on television. And that's saying a lot because I've watched a lot of fights.
What is your favorite boxing movie?
"Rocky." I could watch it over and over. But the last "Rocky" movie touched me too. It wasn't bad, even with Antonio Tarver in it. [Laughs.] It's not his fault, just the way [they] filmed the boxing was corny and cheesy. The first "Rocky" encompassed the beginning of someone's career, and the [last] one was him older and coming into that wisdom and accepting life for what it is.
But I think the one movie that encompassed all of that was "Raging Bull." You saw the complete arc of someone's life -- what drove him, what destroyed him and what he wasn't able to let go. And you saw his demise and the reason for it. And you still cheered for him. And the way they shot those boxing scenes, pure class. A classic movie and I really, really loved it. And I hate to say this because I loved him as an actor, but it always used to bother me when [the 1956 movie "Somebody Up There Likes Me"] would come on television and Paul Newman as Rocky Graziano with the makeup, the prosthetic eyebrows. It was horrible! Why did they do him like that! I couldn't enjoy the film. My cousins would say, "Would you shut up. You say that every time. Why do you watch it?" And I would say because I have to. But it bothers me.
Which boxing movie that hasn't been made do you think should be?
[One about] Wilfredo Gomez, because talk about a slugger and a brawler and just giving his all. To his detriment, he literally became the epitome of what punch drunk is. How he lost all his money and threw it all away. But if he walks down the streets of Puerto Rico, people hail him. They give him his respect because he never lost his sweetness. I thought it was very kind and nice that the boxing world came around and finally helped him out. I think that would be just a great, great story to tell.
You are in a business where a lot of money is going around. What do you think of Mayweather getting a guaranteed $41.5 million for his next fight? Does that help the sport?
It's complicated because in my line of business I may not make as much money as a different actor who may not be on that level, but that's just the name of the game. With Mayweather, he is on that level. So it's hard to kind of get angry at the money he demands. Also, he's been champ for a very, very long time, and he has deserved a certain amount of cash. He makes more money than Tiger Woods, right? Well, Tiger Woods doesn't take the kind of beating that a boxer takes. So they put everything out there for our entertainment. They take multiple punches to the head, to the body. Mayweather's hand is messed up, and we don't know how it's going to be in this fight with Canelo. They take a lot of damage, and what is a boxer going to do when they can't fight anymore? In my opinion, throw as much money as possible at that boxer if they're worth it. And Floyd is. So it's complicated for me to say that because if everyone is going to pay for pay-per-view, right? If I'm going to make a movie and that movie is going to make $200 million and you're going to give me $1-5 million for that? Screw you. It's me. It's me that's making the movie, right? Yes, it takes a whole team and everyone is going to get paid and the studio heads and producers are going to get the first penny off that dollar off of the back end. Great, understand it. But still, pay me. Are you mad at Mayweather that he beat the system? That he got hip to the game and figured it out? And he has children and women that he has to support. And he has that big-ass house and all those cars. So you question. Is it right? I don't know. It's all for our entertainment.