When he was growing up, Jeremy Cuevas’ mother saw his friends spending their free time playing video games and made a quick decision to guide her son in a different direction.
She had him take up piano lessons stressing the importance of the mental challenge playing an instrument provides.
“It was the world of everybody doing PlayStation and I kept steering him away from that,” Daisy Cuevas said. “I would say, ‘Go play that piano.’ ”
Now Jeremy Cuevas, with “Daisy” tattooed on his ribcage, is a 23-year-old lightweight with an undefeated record and a goal to support his family through boxing. The North Philadelphia southpaw (11-0, 8 knockouts) is in the featured fight Saturday at the newly reopened Met, the first boxing event scheduled at the venue in roughly 65 years.
He will fight Steven Ortiz (9-0, 3 KOs) in a battle between two Briscoe Award nominees, an accolade given to the best boxing prospect in the area.
“It’s two of the best fighters in Philadelphia fighting each other to prove who really is the best fighter in Philadelphia and also the tri-state area,” said Manny Rivera, head promoter of Hard Hitting Promotions. “It doesn’t happen often because two prospects of this level usually don’t want to fight each other because they want to keep that undefeated record as long as they can.”
After starting piano in kindergarten and taking lessons until he was in high school, Cuevas uses playing to decompress from the everyday grind of professional boxing. He plays once or twice a week, and sees the years spent at the keys helping him in the boxing ring.
“I’m able to move my hands two different directions, move my feet, and think at the same time,” Cuevas said. “A lot of guys don’t have that ability. Thinking in the ring is second nature to me.”
Cuevas wasn’t the most heralded amateur fighter, but Rivera said Cuevas’ fighting style can lend itself more for the professional level than amateur ranks due to his ability to be selective with the power punches he throws and defensive about the shots he takes.
Cuevas came into the professional level with more highly anticipated fighters like Philly welterweight Jaron Ennis (24-0, 20 KOs), but Rivera called Cuevas his “diamond in the rough.”
“If you look at the history of Puerto Rican fighters, they don’t have the big allure when it comes to amateur programs,” Rivera said. “Their fighting styles and the style in which they train is more suited in the professional rankings. They work more on patience and placing their punches and power. That’s what I saw in Jeremy.”
Cuevas has sparred with International Boxing Federation super lightweight world champion Tevin Farmer (28-4-1, 6 KOs) twice, and World Boxing Association super featherweight world champion Gervonta Davis (21-0, 20 KOs).
With another increase in competition, Cuevas said he’s working with trainer Tony Bersani on the fundamentals of fighting -- keeping his hands up and active, and combining speed with power. But Cuevas thinks the biggest edge heading into the fight is the mental foundation he’s developed in part due to piano.
“This fight is supposed to be another step up in competition, but that’s not the way I see it,” Cuevas said. “It’s just another way for me to prove myself to everybody. It’s what I’ve been saying this entire time, I’m ready.