Nelson Cuevas, whose devotion to boxing spanned parts of six decades, died Friday from coronavirus.
Cuevas was 80. His widow confirmed Cuevas’ death to New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame president Henry Hascup.
An amateur standout, New York’s Cuevas was a pro welterweight from 1964-70, before late legend Cus D’Amato convinced him to start training boxers. Cuevas opened his own gym, the Apollo Boxing Club, in 1976 in the Bronx, where a young Mike Tyson worked with Cuevas at one time.
During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Cuevas worked countless corners as both a trainer and a cut man. He worked alongside late trainer Al Certo as a cut man for two-weight world champion James “Buddy” McGirt, was a cut man for another two-division champion, Vinny Pazienza, and served in the same capacity for 1976 Olympic gold medalist and longtime contender Howard Davis Jr. He was a trainer and cut man for lightweight champion Carlos Ortiz during Ortiz’s comeback and also worked the corner of hard-hitting heavyweight contender Earnie Shavers.
Cuevas learned his craft in part from Chickie Ferrara, renowned for his work as a cut man for Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano. He also managed several fighters.
Cuevas continued to work in his later years at Mendez Boxing, a gym in Manhattan. A native of Puerto Rico, Cuevas was inducted in the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame on November 14 at The Venetian in Garfield, New Jersey.
“I’m very proud of what I accomplished because I grew up by myself,” Cuevas told boxinginsider.com the month before he was inducted into the NJBHOF. “Many people grow up having help, but I didn’t. I became a man at 11 years old. I have worked with so many kids and helped them get off the streets, and I am very proud of that.”
Cuevas also recalled watching a teenage Tyson in his gym.
“I knew Tyson since he was 13 years old,” Cuevas said. “When I first met him, Cus told me that he was going to be a world champion. I wasn’t sure if he had what it took because he was so short and chubby. He was also just a shy and nice kid. In my head I thought, this kid is just way too nice to really have that killer instinct to become a champion, but man was I wrong. The first time that I saw him fight in my gym is when I knew he was special. He was so nice.
“You would think he was a sissy, but when he fought, oh my gosh. He would destroy people. I remember Mike knocking out some kid that was 18, and he was 14 years old at the time, so he was always just an amazing fighter. I used to advise him and he used to work out in my gym. Most of his amateur fights used to happen in my gym, and he would put on a show every single time.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.