A long time ago, Ken Perez must have known something.
Perez’s daughter, Kenda, is the host of The Best of the PRIDE Fighting Championships on SpikeTV. On a given night flipping through the channels, if you came across the striking good looks of Kenda, the former Maxim Hometown Hottie finalist, you easily would be inclined to hang around long enough to watch the PRIDE classics.
Kenda Perez, a recent guest on Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network, is 27 years old. About a year before she was born, Ken Perez began training in the martial arts. He must have known how things were going to turn out, that his only child would win awards based on beauty but need the background of martial arts to thrust her career into the stratosphere.
“My dad has been training ever since I can remember,” she told hosts Joe Rizzo and Jeremy Fullerton on the show. “I always remember watching him and seeing him compete. So it’s always been a part of my life.”
Ken Perez is a blackbelt in Gen-buki Shito-ru.
“He doesn’t train MMA,” Kenda said. “His sensei is actually the guy that did the ‘Karate Kid’ movies. He doesn’t do any wrestling or anything like that. It’s just strictly karate. He’s training now to get his second degree. I’m going to go watch him compete next month. He’s still very active in it right now.
“I grew up pretty much watching him. I got to wrestle around with him a little bit.”
The active lifestyle combined with the winning gene-pool lottery ticket left Kenda with a body on which, as UFC magazine put it, “Ripped Shirts Never Looked So Good.”
While the PRIDE show is her first real television gig, she did not win it on looks alone. The critical UFC fans surely would have eaten alive a charlatan plugged into such a role.
Instead, what the tifosi got was one of their own, elevated into the Zuffa realm to bring back PRIDE to the masses with a seductive smile and refined brunette beauty. That’s a long way from the days when the bald pates of old pros Bas Rutten, Jay Glazer or Frank Trigg were out front.
“I really am a fan,” Perez said. “Before I even worked for the UFC, I was going to the events. I was sitting in the nosebleed seats. I get much better seats now.
“Probably boyfriends that I was dating in the past had it on. At first, it wasn’t a big thing for girls to watch, but for some reason I was always interested in it. And then I got this awesome opportunity to work for them and host this show.”
The first run lasted 26 shows, and Perez says she is getting back into the studio soon for what she believes will be a similar run for the second season.
Being the host has many benefits, including the immortalization that comes with having the Topps Trading Card Company make you a card. The Kenda Perez card is No. 173 in the most recent set, which hit stores Sept. 15.
“I didn’t know it existed,” Perez told Fullerton, who is the UFC brand manager for Topps when he is not hosting RNC Radio. “I was literally walking around (the UFC Fan Expo in Boston) and saw it and was like, Wow, what a nice surprise.”
The PRIDE show on Spike, the Topps card and the great seats at UFC events would not be hers if not for Maxim, a magazine that has taken an active interest in the MMA set and even made fighter Gina Carano No. 16 on its top 100 list in 2009.
“I was working with Maxim magazine, I did their Hometown Hotties contest, and I was in the finals,” Perez recalled. “I did a photo shoot with them. I was doing a lot of promotion for them and also for a beer company. We were shooting short commercials on film. The issue that I was in for Maxim, the UFC had an article in there. They found me from there, and they wanted some new talent. They interviewed me and I got the job.”
Part of the job is watching video of the PRIDE fights. When forced by the hosts to pick her favorite fighter from the PRIDE era, Perez said she would have to select Wanderlei Silva, with whom she has become friendly.
Perez says that Silva and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic seem to be the unofficial Top Two in terms of fan base in PRIDE Nation.
“I know they’re excited to see him fight (Frank Mir) at (UFC 119),” she said.
It’s not just the fighters and their names that appeal to the PRIDE fans. According to Perez, the less strict rules had a lot to do with it.
“It was a little more brutal than what we have now in the UFC, which is why it has such a huge following,” she said. “It was so brutal and raw. Some of the big names in the UFC now, they came from PRIDE. The UFC has done an awesome job in giving respect to PRIDE and showing their library of videos that they’ve acquired with purchasing it.”
The UFC has also taken some of the great showmanship that made PRIDE great. Although UFC entrances have been known to be virtually eliminated for some events and downplayed for others, there are other aspects during fight night that make the six hours pass freely.
Nothing gets Perez’s attention more than the video montage that accompanies The Who’s Baba O’Riley, customarily played between the end of the prelims – which she never misses — and the start of the televised fights.
“Every single time that song comes on when I’m in the arena, I get goose bumps,” Perez admitted, sounding at that moment like she was getting them again. “That whole video reel that they play along with it is the best. It’s my favorite.”
For those that do not get to the arena for a UFC event to witness Baba O’Riley, they can settle for watching Perez bring them the best PRIDE had to offer as part of the smorgasbord of MMA available on TV.
“It’s the greatest thing ever,” she says. “My dad couldn’t be happier.”
No need to tell him that. Ken Perez knew all along.