Daniel Meza-Cuadra stands next to boxing gloves hung on wall in his DMC Boxing Academy & Fitness on Miamisburg-Centerville Road. Tom Archdeacon/CONTRIBUTED

Archdeacon: Finding joy, and making a life, in boxing

“I was on detention for fighting in my school and the professor in charge of discipline – Leoncio Valderrama – he knew I liked boxing so he took me to a fight club downtown,” Daniel Meza-Cuadra recalled of that day in Lima, Peru when his education added a fistic component.

Meza-Cuadra was coming from one of Lima’s most affluent neighborhoods — Miraflores — which he compared to “living in Oakwood or Centerville.”

“The gym was a scary experience at the time,” he said with a smile. “We walked in and it was an old school place with wood floors and tough-looking dudes – lots of them poor, poor, poor – and there were people looking in from outside.

“And when we walk in, my professor knows the coach and yells, ‘I have this guy from Miraflores and he can beat anybody up!’

“That was my introduction and I got beat up that day. I went back the next day and the next and the next and I learned and I fell in love with boxing.”

Today, more than four decades later that love affair is as strong as ever.

Meza-Cuadra owns and is the head trainer at the DMC Boxing Academy on Miamisburg Centerville Road (725) near McEwen Road.

Walk into the place and you are met by a corridor of heavy bags that hang sentry-like and lead to a 16 by 16 foot ring. In the back is a speed bag and some heavy tires for old school lifting. On the wall an assortment of multi-colored boxing gloves hang not far from a collection of fight memorabilia.

There are Muhammad Ali posters — one proclaiming “I’m so fast last night I turned off the light switch in my bedroom and was in bed before the room was dark” – photos of boxers such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio, Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor and a framed pair of Roberto Duran trunks.

Throughout the day you might find anyone from 5-year-old kids to business professionals to 73-year-old senior citizens – men and women – working out to simply get fit and never trading punches.

There’s also a stable of about 20 amateur boxers learning their trade from Meza-Cuadra and a couple of pros, most notably Michael Evans – the most accomplished amateur boxer ever to call Dayton home who, after missing considerable time in prison, is now 3-0 as a pro – and Tamir Mohammad, a 38-year-old journeyman who retired from the ring and runs Gyro Palace on Brown Street, but may return to the ring with a fight in Dayton in March.

“This is the first gym in Centerville,” Meza-Cuadra said. “In the beginning people said ‘Centerville? You should go on the other side of the (Great Miami) river, where all the tough kids are.

“But I’m trying to change perceptions and misconceptions people have about boxing: That it’s for tough people or poor people. People with no hope or those who don’t know any better.

“That’s not true. Boxing is for everybody.”

“We just started a program for kids under 12. It’s the basics of boxing and it’s a way to get them away from their electronics. They learn some discipline and different exercises that work their whole bodies.”

Meza-Cuadra said boxing is “making a comeback” and there are a lot of examples to support that.

TV networks like ESPN, Showtime, and FOX broadcast a lot of boxing, as does the streaming service DAZN.

The heavyweight division – which drives the sport’s popularity – is the most interesting it’s been since the days of Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Evader Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and even the aging George Foreman in the early and mid-1990s.

Now there are the unbeaten behemoths Tyson Fury (29-0-1, lineal champ) and Deontae Wilder (42-0-1, WBC champ) who will meet Feb. 22 in Las Vegas, as well popular ex-champ Andy Ruiz and trumpeted Brit, Anthony Joshua, the WBA, IBF and WBO champ.

There’s also a bevy of superb lighter stars including: Canelo Alvarez (middleweight), Vasily Lomachenko (lightweight), Terence Crawford (welterweight), Errol Spence Jr. (welterweight) Gennadiy Golovkin (middleweight) and Manny Pacquiao (welterweight).

Locally, there are at least eight gyms with boxing and DMC is one of the more popular.

The 55-year-old Meza-Cuadra – whose wife, Chef Margot Blondet, runs the popular Salar restaurant in the Oregon District – attended college at the Universidad del Pacifico in Lima and North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. He has an MBA and worked several years in the business world, often as a Latin American sales rep.

“But boxing was always my passion,” he said. “It was like an addiction for me. It was in my blood, something I couldn’t stay away from for long.”

Daniel Meza-Cuadra stands among the heavy bags in his DMC Boxing Academy & Fitness on Miamisburg Centerville Road. Tom Archdeacon/CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Columnist

‘You can’t quit’

“When I was a boy, I watched boxing with my dad and my uncles on an old black and white TV,” he said. “I remember getting sent up on the roof and holding an antenna we fixed to a wooden pole to make it higher.”

He started to laugh: “This was before satellites, so you had to work to get better reception. And they’d be inside, yelling, ‘Move it over! Turn it, turn it more! … Hold it, don’t move!’”

He would end up having several dozen amateur bouts in Peru and, after college, he moved to Miami and took odd jobs while frequenting the famed Fifth Street Gym on Miami Beach.

Relocated to Chicago, where he worked, continued his education and had a family, he ventured back into the ring in 1999 and, as a 34-year-old, finished as a runner up in his weight class in the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament. The trophy now stands behind the counter at DMC.

A new job eventually got him to Cincinnati, where he began to train fighters, including his fellow Peruvian Alberto Rossel, who went on to win the WBA junior featherweight title.

Relocated to Dayton and married to Margot, Meza-Cuadra said he had three Peruvian boxers he trained living in their basement, including Carlos Zambrano who won the WBA featherweight title.

When Meza-Cuadra talks of boxers – be it the champions he’s worked with or the kids who were highlighted on the Christmas show at his gym Dec. 21 – there’s a reverence in his voice.

“People ask me, ‘Do you like MMA?’” he said. “When I say yes, they are surprised. They say,’Really? Most boxing people don’t like MMA.’

“But I like all contact sports and have a real appreciation for anybody who puts themselves on the line.

“That said, I see boxing as classical music and MMA more like rap. They both work. They’re both great, but they’re different.

“And in the MMA you can quit. You can tap out and no one will say anything.

“In boxing, you can’t quit. Roberto Duran, one of the best fighters ever, almost trashed his career when he said the famous, ‘No Mas.’

“It still haunts him even though he came back to beat the crap out of Davey Moore and beat Iran Barkley, who’d beaten Tommy Hearns. And he almost beat Marvin Hagler.”

Daniel Meza-Cuadra poses with boxers from his gym and a visiting gym after a sparring session last year at DMC. Tom Archdeacon/CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Columnist

Boxing dream

He and Margot first met when they were growing up in Lima and he was friends with her brother.

He said they eventually dated a while, but then went off to their own careers, marriages and children. She first studied fashion design in Milan, Italy and later switched to the culinary arts.

They wed 16 years ago and as Margot worked her way up to making Salar her showpiece, he continued to toy with his boxing dream.

He was training business professionals early in the mornings out of his basement, but eventually that arrangement hit a snag.

“My wife didn’t like it,” he said. “She worked late and they were all coming over early in the morning. Even though it was in the basement, it was still loud.

“Finally, she said. ‘You always said you wanted a gym, but you’re never going to do it. I don’t think you have the (guts) to try it!’

“That push was all I needed. A week later I signed the lease for the gym.”

Margot’s enticement was better than that first gym challenge back in Lima.

This one didn’t come with a puffy eye or a fat lip.

…But the smile it’s brought is the same.

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