Q&A: Orlando Cuellar

By Robert Coster
Photo: Maryse Abraham/Premium Boxing Promotions

“It is my calling.” This is how trainer Orlando Cuellar defines his profession. The Cuban-born, New-York raised Cuellar has been a trainer for over 30 years, worked with seven world champions and is being talked about as one of the best in his field. Orlando’s present star is “Road Warrior” Glen Johnson and he also trains a slew of promising young boxers. Fightnews sat down with the articulate, congenial trainer to talk about the many aspects of the profession.

Orlando, you’ve been a trainer for over 30 years. Can you tell us how you got your start?

I was an amateur boxer in New York. Then I moved to Las Vegas. I started in the business in an odd way, in the sense that I started training boxers that nobody wanted, not winners but losers. When you have a gifted boxer in your hands, training him is obviously much easier. However, it is much more challenging and satisfying when you are able to turn around the career of a boxer who is not performing. You have to start from the bottom up and it teaches you a lot.

You probably expect this next question: as a trainer, what do you require from a boxer?

The boxer has to be a good listener and be willing to work hard, to sacrifice. Now, this said you have to work with what you have. Champions and good fighters come in all kinds of packages. I’ve seen great fighters that can’t punch, others that don’t have hand speed or good footwork. You have quick learners, you have slow learners. The trainer has to know his fighter: you maximize his good points and improve where it needs improving. And there is also the hidden gem. A boxer who at first doesn’t seem to be the real thing and then develops into a gem. That is what makes being a trainer fascinating.

So, a trainer has to be adaptable?

Definitely. What works with one boxer may not work with another. You need patience, psychology and analyze who you have on hand. As a trainer , you may be called to be coach, adviser and even big brother or father-figure. Again, all boxers may not need that. Some boxers are high maintenance, others are low maintenance.

Let’s talk about some of the boxers you are now training. Can you define them in a few words and name all of their assets: Glen Jonson, Nicholas Walters, Luis Franco, Yan Barthelemy.

Glen Johnson: He has will, determination, strength and the ability to execute.
Nicholas Walters: Tough, driven, and a hard worker.
Luis Franco: Speed, speed and speed. Can physically do anything, and fight any style.
Yan Barthelemy: An interesting case. He was a great amateur but his transition to the pros was not easy. He came to me with a couple of losses and only one KO. I’ve taught him to sit on his punches and move away from the amateur style. Being the talented guy that he is, it has worked and he’s now got three straight KO victories.

How would you categorize boxers?

1) Early bloomers
2) Late bloomers
3) Gym fighters-look great in the gym but underachieve come fight time
4) Fight fighters-may not look great in the gym but rise up to the occasion comes fight time.

Why did you choose to train in Miami?

The weather is great for boxers to lose weight, train and do roadwork. And we have great gyms here.

Which gym do you train?

It’s called Thump and the owner,Dan Arintok is a dedicated manager providing boxers with the best training conditions.

You work solo or you have a team?

I have a team because, as a trainer, you need a team. I have my physical conditioning expert, Willy Del Sol and my expert nutritionist, Unni Greene. They are probably two of the best in their field.

Let’s talk about Glen Johnson, that never fading great warrior. Is he your best success story?

Glen had these great qualities, a hidden gem and a late bloomer. I like to think that I did help turn his carreer around. Let’s say we both changed each others lives(laughs).

You guys are no doubt studying Carl Froch tapes. Anything you want to say about this next opponent and what many people consider a tall order for Glen?

People are going to be surprised how the fight is going to be much easier for Glen than predicted. Of course, we are studying Froch and devising our plan to beat him, here in the USA or in the United Kingdom. Glen doesn’t mind traveling abroad: he is the called the Road Warrior, remember?

One last question,Orlando. Would you consider doing anything else in your life than being a boxing trainer?

No way. It is what Indian philosophers call my “dahrma”- my calling, what I was supposed to be in life. It’s never been about money. It is who I am. If I had to drive a taxi or be a janitor to keep my foot inside a boxing gym, I would. It’s simple as that.

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