Internationally renowned boxing trainer Orlando Cuellar has come full circle, right back to the famed 5th St. Gym in South Beach, where he once visited as a teenager to learn and now trains fighters out of six days a week.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Cuellar’s family resettled in Miami when he was three with Orlando living there through high school. As an amateur boxer, Cuellar vividly remembers watching boxers at 5th St. Gym such as Cassius Clay, Willie Pastrano, Vinnie Curto and Florentino Fernandez, as well as legendary trainers, brothers Angelo and Chris Dundee.
“I watched and learned, picking up as much as much as I could,” Cuellar said. “Now, I find myself working out of the 5th St. Gym for the past six weeks. It’s been an incredible experience. Every day, you never know who is going to walk through the doors there. It’s been one of the best boxing gyms in the world for more than 50 years. From the days dating back to Muhammad Ali, fighters have been attracted to this gym because of its rich history and great sparring, as well as to the area with South Beach’s restaurants, clubs and beach. The warm, humid weather also makes it easier for fighters to lose weight running and training.
“(Owner) Dino Spencer is carrying on the 5th St. Gym’s tradition. Everyday I’m there is exciting for me. Mixed ethnic groups train there and it’s a magnet for talent. There’s sparring three days a week – I call it Spar-a-rama – and everybody’s welcome to challenge themselves. The sparring is better than a lot of TV fights.
“5th St. Gym trainer Guy Laieta had been trying to convince me to join the team for the last five years. I spoke to Dino on several occasions, expressing my desire to train fighters out of the 5th St. Gym. He said, ‘Let’s do it.’ The success of the 5th St. Gym today has a lot to do with ownership. Dino has a passion for boxing and he is very hospitable, which trickles down to his staff and fighters. Good vibes all of the time!”
Cuellar left for Las Vegas in 1976 and, after he realized that being a boxer wasn’t in his best interest, he started training fighters there in 1981 out of Johnny Garcia’s Gym. A year later, he shifted his base Brooklyn and started training fighters out of another boxing icon, Gleason’s Gym. In 2000, he resettled in Miami.
Best known as world light heavyweight champion the head trainer of Glen Johnson, Cuellar also worked with future champions such as Nicolas Walters, Rances Barthelemy and Erslandy Lara, as well as Luis Franco, Aaron Davis and Juan Carlos Gomez, to name a few of the more notables. Today, he’s the chief second for several top fighters including Antonio Tarver.
Recognized throughout boxing as a superior teacher, Cuellar’s success is mostly attributed to his training of fighters on an individual basis, focusing on their personal needs rather than giving all fighters the same instructions and attention.
“Each fighter needs personal and specific work to complement their God-given talents,” Cuellar explained. “You can’t teach all fighters the same way. I specialize on what I call old school meets new school. Old school was upfront and personal to go 15 rounds, new school is about throwing more punches, more foot movement and fighting from the outside. I teach doffense: defense + offense. Punches aren’t vitamins, none should be taken. Boxing is little more than a battle of reflexes; one fighters versus another, but the real trick is how the fighter uses his reflexes. I teach my fighters how to turn the ring apron into a minefield.”
Boxing has played a huge role in Cuellar’s life. Back in the 5th St. Gym is just another chapter in his unique life.
“I live through my fighters,” Cuellar concluded. “Every victory is my proudest moment. There are no big or little victories, every win is a happy moment because of all the hard work and sacrifices me and my fighter made during training camp.”
Orlando Cuellar is thrilled to have gone back to the future.