Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Daniel Cuison couldn’t figure out why he was demoted to busboy from runner at this fine-dining restaurant on the Strip.
He was hoping the call into the manager’s office would result in news he was being elevated to server, which is the equivalent of being promoted to the big leagues at those exclusive Las Vegas restaurants.
Cuison was a true professional — he loved food, knew the menu inside and out, and mastered the serving protocol from years in the industry.
Turns out he loved food a little too much, weighing about 270 pounds.
“The (manager) specifically said, ‘Daniel, I don’t know how to tell you this, but guys don’t want to buy a Lamborghini from a fisherman,’” Cuison recalled. “I wanted to punch him in the mouth and cry at the same time. But it was for the best. It was an eye-opener. I needed to lose some weight.”
Four years later, that manager wouldn’t want to get hit by Cuison.
He shed more than 100 pounds thanks to training in mixed martial arts, becoming one of his training center’s most dedicated pupils. Then, one day, coaches suggested he start competing in actual fights and stop outperforming other hopefuls in what became a celebrated hobby.
Now that one-time fat guy is one the verge of a professional contract. He’s one of 40 fighters competing Saturday at the Palms in the King of the Cage’s World Amateur Championships.
Fighting at 170 pounds, the 30-year-old Cuison isn’t like most of the mixed martial artists on the card. His motivation wasn’t to be a champion or professional. He just wanted a healthy lifestyle.
After the talk with the restaurant manager, he stopped drinking and smoking and decided it was time to lose weight. But instead of joining one of those gyms where he’d be chained to a treadmill or bored after multiple repetitions of lifting weights, Cuison enrolled at an MMA gym.
Within three months, he lost 50 pounds. Soon, he was fighting on a card at the Eastside Cannery — the fight poster for that night in 2011 hangs at his house.
“My coach (John Wood) came up to me one day and said, ‘I’m not in the business of trying to recruit guys, but you train way harder than you need to. Not too many who do this for fun push themselves this hard,’” Cusion said. “Two months after joining the competitive team, I took that first fight.”
The King of the Cage fight card is packed with 40 fighters competing for five contracts worth $250,000 — one $100,000 deal, two $50,000 deals and two $25,000 deals.
It’s "American Idol" meets mixed martial arts — the winners will be partially determined by television viewers on MAV TV (channel 214 on DirecTV, 248 on Dish Network). The contract winner doesn’t necessarily have to win his fight, either.
“I will tell guys that this is the night you don’t want to hold anything back,” said Terry Trebilcock, the King of Cage founder and president. “This is not about winning; this is about performing. I would pay to watch Arturo Gatti more than Floyd Mayweather. We’re looking for some Arturo Gattis out there.”
King of the Cage has produced some of MMA’s most notable fighters. Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Joe Stevenson and Urijah Faber each thrived in the league before becoming stars in the UFC.
Whether or not Cuison (5-2) adds his name to the list is secondary to the benefits of the weight loss. He’s healthy and finally landed that server job — at a different restaurant on the Strip.
He typically gets off work at midnight but still makes it to the gym by 10 later that morning. It’s that type of dedication that separates him from the others and why Wood, the coach at Syndicate MMA, identified him to take the next step.
Cuison doesn’t often reminisce about the journey because that would lead to becoming complacent. Still, when he walked out to fight in that initial bout at the Eastside Cannery, he briefly stopped to smell the roses.
After dropping more than 100 pounds, he deserved to have a moment.
“I was 270 pounds and fat. Look where I’m at now,” he said to himself.