Archdeacon: His fists answer the question: “Who is this guy?

CENTERVILLE – As Daniel Meza-Cuadra stood in the elevated ring of his DMC Boxing Academy with one of his prized boxers – hard-hitting middleweight Andrew Zammit – he surveyed the bustling scene in front of them.

Out on the gym floor – beneath walls adorned with several boxing posters, large pictures of Muhammad Ali, a framed pair of black and gold, “Manos de Piedra” boxing trunks once worn by Roberto Duran and near a counter that held the autographed gloves of world champions Aaron Pryor, Chicanito Hernandez and Frankie Randall – a dozen and a half boxers worked in a leather forest of heavy bags.

If the United Nations folks used their dukes instead of discourse and diplomacy, it would look something like this.

“That guy teaching the kid over there is from Morocco,” Meza-Cuadra said. “The one over there’s from Puerto Rico. The kid in the gray shirt is from Uzbekistan and the one with the stripes is from Turkey. Those guys over there are American kids. We have a guy from Ukraine, a girl from Colombia.”

“Me? I’m from Mars,” the Sampson-maned Zammit said half under his breath as he smiled and shrugged.

While he may not be from outer space, he certainly comes from a different space than most of the boxers here, especially the other Americans.

During a brief respite from training for his trip to the USA Boxing National Championships that begin in Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 3, the 24-year old Zammit talked about his hard-scrabble life.

He told how it took him to three different states, four different high schools – including Miamisburg, Hamilton and Dixie – and one failed attempt to walk onto a college basketball team.

After returning to the Dayton area from Wayne State, the Division II school outside of Detroit – the city where he was born before spending his early school years in Wisconsin – he said he had no money, no job, and because he was on the outs with his mom, no home.

“I was actually homeless for a while,” he said. “Finally, I hit rock bottom.

“I’d always wanted to be a basketball player or a boxer – I’d been in a lot of fights over the years – but when I told my friends I was going to box, they laughed,” he said.

Eventually he found Meza-Cuadra’s club on Marco Lane in Centerville and after a rough start – “I thought I knew everything already,” he said – he accepted the training he received and soon realized he’d found an individual sport where he could finally have success.

His ascension in just three years has been memorable.

He’ll be one of 16 national boxers – likely the least experienced and trumpeted in the field – who will be fighting in the 71 kilogram or 156-pound division.

He faced the same odds at the USA Boxing National Qualifier in Cleveland in late April and pummeled his way into the semifinals, where a disqualification on a technicality knocked him into third place, which still qualified him for Texas.

“In Cleveland, the other guys all had had like 100 fights (he had had 12) so they were way more experienced and a lot of them were taller and had a longer reach,” he said. “But I think I just wanted it more than a lot of them.

“I know I have a chip on my shoulder and I look at it as if I have to win. I don’t want to fall back to how it was.

“I saw this quote the other day. It was a story about the rabbit and the fox.

“The rabbit always runs faster than the fox because the fox is thinking. ‘OK, this is my next meal. But if I miss it, I can get another meal.’

“But the rabbit is like, ‘This s my life! I’ve just got this one chance!’

“And that’s me.

“I’m the rabbit.”

‘More like family’

Meza-Cuadra grew up in Lima, Peru, and attended college there and in Illinois. He ended up with a MBA and worked several years in the business world.

He had boxed when he was younger and at age 34 – while working in Chicago—he entered the Golden Gloves tournament on something of a whim and finished as the runner-up.

That stoked his boxing interest again and when his job took him to Cincinnati, he began training fighters on the side, including fellow countryman, Alberto Rossel, who won the WBA junior featherweight crown.

Once relocated to Dayton – where his wife, Chef Margot Blondet, runs the popular Salar restaurant in the Oregon District and is about to open another eatery in Centerville – he finally opened his own gym and fitness center.

Along with catering to kids and business people trying to stay in shape, he’s worked with a wide spectrum of boxers, including another Peruvian, former WBA featherweight champ Carlos Zambrano.

“I try to be open and not judge anybody when they first walk into the gym,” he said. “Everybody is different and I try to let people show me who they are and what they want.”

As for Zammit, a Google search three years ago had given him the name of Meza-Cuadra’s previous DMC location on Miamisburg-Centerville Road and, with no car, he said he walked several miles to get to it.

He admitted that when he first walked in, he thought he was a tough guy, who knew far more than he did.

He chafed at some of Meza-Cuadra’s early directives, but got a quick education when the trainer put him in the ring with Zambrano, who had been 29-2 as a pro and 288-6 as an amateur.

“I was hard-headed and thought I was right, but then when you first get into a boxing ring you find out you don’t know anything,” Zammit said.

“Zambrano hit me quite a bit, but I kept coming. I was bigger than him, but he was a world champion and knew what to do. He showed me enough, but he didn’t try to take me out.”

“Early on coach and I had our differences, but I eventually I realized he knew more than me and was smarter. I learned he really cared about me and wanted to help.”

Meza-Cuadra laughed: “We did have our little differences and he left here for a while. But then he came back and he listened and it began to work out. Now we’re more like family.

“I look at him as if he’s my son really.”

‘Getting better and better’

The embrace is something Zammit appreciates.

“I had a complicated childhood,” he said. “I lived with different families and got to see a lot of different lives. I lived with a white family for a while and then for a while with a Mexican family.

“Then my black friends took me in and I was part of their families. And for some of those years I stayed with my mom, too. She lives around here now. But she had a lot of other kids in the house and we didn’t get along that well.

“For a long time in life I was told I wasn’t good enough or I wasn’t big enough or I didn’t have the connections or the money I needed. I never had much, but I always knew I could be great one day.”

He’s now fulfilling that self-prophecy.

“He’s not the same person he was three years ago when he first walked in, and he’s not the same guy he was two years ago or six months ago,” Meza-Cuadra said. “Every fight he’s getting better and better and better.

“I record every time he fights, and a lot of his training, too, and I study it and I get it to a couple of other guys I know, too, and we discuss it.

“He’s an amateur, but he has more of a pro style. And his overhand right is really good.”

As a boxer, he’s now 17-3 with most of his victories coming by knockout.

Area amateurs don’t want to fight him, Meza-Cuadra said, so to get bouts, Zammit has fought heavier 165 pounders.

As he’s prospered in the ring, his life beyond it has gotten better, as well.

He said a Lewisburg family has informally “adopted” him and he stays with them on the weekends. During the week, he lives with U.S. Marine veteran Richard Copper, whom he looks at as his grandfather. He calls him Pappa.”

He works part time at Planet Fitness and trains daily at DMC.

The USA Boxing National Qualifier was his first big tournament and he took everybody by surprise, Meza-Cuadra said:

“They were announcing all the boxers – from Detroit, Brooklyn, East L.A. – and then they said ‘Andrew Zammit from Centerville, Ohio, and nobody paid attention.

“But after the first fight, the other coaches were coming over to watch him. And soon more and more people came around. And all of them were like: ‘Who is this guy?’’'

And they eventually found out.

He’s the rabbit.

The one with the big overhand right.

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