There are three different kinds of late-career boxers I’ve identified. The first is the big name who gets plenty of big money and big title fights; Roy Jones Jr. is a good example.
The second never made it into the limelight and won’t see much beyond an endless string of club shows. Eventually, there’s a need for steady employment which eventually pushes them out of the ring. This club’s membership roster is deep within the boxing fraternity and rarely a topic of discussion on HBO.
Type 3 is a combination of the first two, delicately balancing and plotting the final years of their career. A big name fight gave them credibility years ago, achieving local hero status – even if they didn’t win. Promoters and managers of young fighters see a vein from which they can suck credibility for their own assets’ developing records.
This is one of the few relationships in boxing that becomes somewhat reciprocal, as the Type 3 stands a remote chance of throwing his name back into contenders list if he wins.
We’ll call Freddie Cuevas is the Type 3 heading into his bout with John Duddy on the June 10 Madison Square Garden card headlined by Miguel Cotto and Paul Malignaggi.
“Him getting a victory over me will boost his confidence tremendously,” the 36-year-old Cuevas said. “I definitely don’t want to make it easy for him. He’s going to have to earn a win over me. He’s green as far as experience.”
He’s shared his experience with former NBA player Kendall Gill. The were paired as training partners during Gill’s successful 3-0 stint as a professional. Cuevas admits Gill wasn’t on a serious career path, and never truly wanted it.
Working with Gill actually allowed Cuevas to reflect on all that he had accomplished.
“I think he’s pretty much done,” Cuevas said. “He scratched the itch he had with boxing and got a taste.
“I think it helped me, though. It showed me not to take for granted the things I’ve done.”
Experience plays a part in Cuevas’ confidence against Duddy. He’s 25-8-1 with 17 knockouts, and current middleweight champion Jermain Taylor is one of eight that didn’t go Cuevas’ way. The bout, which took place in Taylor’s hometown of Little Rock, Ark., went 12 rounds for the WBC Continental American’s middleweight title.
Time and footage of the bout have given Cuevas plenty to reconsider, and a stirring desire to go after Taylor one more time – if he can beat Duddy, that is. Cuevas’ last outing against Kassim Ouma wasn’t encouraging from the standpoint that Ouma won by technical knockout in the fourth round.
“Ouma was a complete disaster for me,” Cuevas said. “I had problems during training that I didn’t let the media know about.”
The personal distractions out of the ring, which Cuevas still won’t divulge, and a cut he suffered during training that Ouma would open again Oct. 13, made life very difficult. Matters were only compounded recently when the phone company he worked for laid him off after 14 years in service.
He probably could have pulled out of the fight against Ouma, but his age held him back.
“I’m not 23 years old,” Cuevas said. “If I was a young 23, 24 years old, I would have easily pulled out of the fight.”
Duddy’s 16-0 record is the same record Taylor carried against Cuevas. One wonders – almost fantasizes – about being the first ding on a pristine career sheet. Cuevas couldn’t do it against Taylor, although he said the results may be different with the experience he’s gained, so Duddy will have to do.
“He’s got a lot of power. I know that I have the skills to neutralize that,” Cuevas said. “I just need to take my time in there and use my experience and ring savvy to frustrate this kid.”
Cuevas isn’t so naïve to think he has a lot of options if he can’t pull of the victory. A loss could be the last number he ever tags on his record.
“I’m not a fool, and I understand the clock is ticking on me,” he said. “I need to prove something to myself and prove it to the people that are the powers that be in boxing. I want them to see I’m not going to be a stepping stone. I can still be a danger.
“I kind of hate when you hear the world ‘retire.’ I think of a 65-year-old man. It’s unfortunate, but it’s something we have to say in our career.”
And that’s a decision belonging to every type of fighter.