About four years ago, Daniel Cuison weighed 280 pounds and sported shoulder-length hair while working at the now-closed Company American Bistro restaurant on the Strip. At the time, he was hoping to get a promotion from runner to server, which would double his salary.
Cuison, 30, a southwest Las Vegas resident, never got the promotion. He recalled — and vows to never to forget — what his restaurant boss told him: “People don’t buy Lamborghinis from a fisherman.”
Workplace translation: Shed the weight, cut the hair, clean up the appearance.
When Cuison enters the fight cage as part of Saturday’s inaugural King of the Cage World Amateur Championships at the Palms in Las Vegas, he will carry those words into battle.
“As much as I wanted to punch him in the teeth, what he said changed my life and that’s what really sparked me,” Cuison said.
Cuison is among hundreds of aspiring Mixed Martials Arts fighters training for a shot at the big-time in Las Vegas, considered America’s capital for the MMA industry. Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Las Vegas-based MMA fight promotion company, leads a growing list of MMA fight organizations and training gyms that generates millions of dollars for the Sin City economy.
The 6-foot-1 Cuison is now both a top-level restaurant server on the Strip and a chiseled 175-pound welterweight. Significantly, his MMA fight career could transcend to the next level if he defeats his Michigan foe, Chase White. The event will draw 40 top MMA amateur fighters from 15 states and three countries, including Las Vegas amateurs Matthew McCray, Lonnie Morrison, JJ Torres, Donavon Frelow and Ramos Cruz.
“I’ve always given up on things. This time, I didn’t,” Cuison said.
Cuison’s entry into the fight game grew from his gym time at The Syndicate, a MMA gym in a suburban business park off West Warm Springs Road. He went to the gym to lose the weight, and got hooked on MMA.
But his path to Saturday’s fight event was hardly a straight line. Cuison started training at the gym 3 1/2 years ago, before beginning his amateur fight career with Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based King of the Cage two years ago. His amateur record is 5-2.
Since then, Cuison has balanced his restaurant job with his aspiring fight career. After he lost the weight, cut his hair and cleaned up his appearance, Cuison scored a server job at Andrea’s restaurant at Encore in January and put his fight career on hold from January to June during a six-month probation.
Cuison said a server makes about $60,000 to $70,000 a year, which allows him to spend about $500 to $600 a month on his dietary foods, supplements and training. His biggest training expense: healthy, organic food.
While the premier UFC fighters make millions of dollars, the guys entering the minor leagues of professional MMA fighting only make $500 to $2,000 a fight.
So, Cuison said he’s still far away from quitting what he refers to as his, “job, job,” serving diners at Andrea’s. Until his fight career earnings match his restaurant server pay, Cuison will be staying put at Andrea’s.
But there is money and advancement to be realized at Saturday’s amateur world championships. From the group of 40 amateurs battling in the 20 fights, professional contracts will be awarded to the event’s five top competitors.
Fight fans worldwide will vote via text to award a $100,000 contract to the event’s top fighter. And fans and judges in The Pearl at the Palms will pick the other four, with two fighters drawing $50,000 contracts each and two others each winning a $25,000 contract.
Cuison is willing to invest his time and money in the fight game, even though he works a Friday to Tuesday shift, where he gets off work at midnight. Cuison gets to sleep by 2 a.m. and is in the gym at 10 a.m. working on his striking and grappling.
“That’s like working a 9 to 5 job and being at the gym by 1 a.m.,” Cuison said during an interview Monday morning at the gym.
Cuison, who grew up in the San Francisco area and has lived in Las Vegas for six years, said 50 of his family members and friends will be buying tickets to watch him fight on Saturday.
“I put on a good performance. I sell tickets. I’m blessed to have friends and family who will be attending,” he said. “I’ll be ready. I’ve already been an underdog.”
Alan Snel can be contacted at asnel@reviewjournal or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.