Lancaster City Boxing Academy

Boxer James Bernadin, at Lancaster City Boxing Academy Tuesday Nov. 16, 2021.

This weekend, James Bernadin won’t just step into the ring. He will step up — way up.

On Saturday, the Lancaster boxer will face Philadelphia’s Jeremy Cuevas in a 140-pound match in a King’s Promotions show at 2300 Arena, Philadelphia.

On paper, Bernadin (4-0-1) is outmatched by Cuevas (13-1). Cuevas has 10 knockouts, Bernadin two. Cuevas is 26 years old, Bernadin just had his 29th birthday.

But none of that fazes Bernadin.

Ten KOs is “just a number,” Bernadin said.

“It’s all mental,” he said, then clarified. “You turn pro, (suddenly) numbers matter. Amateurs — could fight someone with 100 fights.”

In amateur tournaments boxers often don’t know who they’ll face until the day of the bout.

What does Bernadin know about Cuevas, besides his record?

“He can box,” Bernadin said. “(But) I believe in myself and my team. I’m ready; it’s a stepping stone.”

Bernadin’s coach, Will Torres, who runs Lancaster City Boxing Academy, where Bernadin trains, agrees.

“We took it because we think we can beat Jeremy Cuevas,” Torres said, and winning would be career-changing for Bernadin.

“We know we’re the underdogs,” Torres admitted, but “under” is exactly where Torres thinks Bernadin has been since he turned pro in 2018.

“We’re under the radar,” Torres said.

“Opponents back out,” he continued. “... We’ve had a hard time getting guys in the ring with him.”

This event seems to prove the point.

Originally, Bernadin was set to meet Kevin Asmat (6-2), but Asmat pulled out a week ago with an injury. The second option was to fight Kenny Robles (8-1) who was also on the card, and also had his opponent pull out. Bernadin agreed to the fight, but Robles declined.

That left Cuevas, a southpaw who trains at Pivott Boxing in Philadelphia, and whose fight style manager Orlando Rosa describes as “vicious.”

“Jeremy’s bigger, faster, more experienced,” Rosa said. “I would never take a fight like this.”

But Torres, Bernadin, and the whole team — which includes coach Jay Salinas, a nutritionist, and C.J. Potter of Excelsior Bodywork — all agree that it’s the right move.

Torres said that taking the fight, especially with a win, will elevate Bernadin’s career, speed it up, and make up for lost time — time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down boxing for much of 2020. It’s only recently that the sport is truly getting up off the canvas. Cuevas’ last fight was in March 2020. Bernadin’s fought once since the shutdowns, in June.

Despite that, Bernadin’s never been in better shape, according to Torres. “He’s looking phenomenal,” Torres said.

Now training full time, Bernadin spars routinely with other seasoned pros including Omar Juarez (12-1) of Texas and Tyhler Williams, a Philly fighter with a solid amateur record, and undefeated in the pros.

In March, Bernadin took another step in his career, signing with King’s Promotions, which also represents Cuevas.

“I’m not drinking, never smoked,” Bernadin said. “Right team and right coach … they know me, they know I’m ready for this fight.”

It’s a calculated risk, Torres said, but, “we feel very confident.” They have, he said, everything to gain because, win or lose, taking the risk means no longer being overlooked.

Bernadin’s done his own calculation, and it doesn’t include losing. His boxing is “a gift from God,” he said.

He has both the strength and conditioning to win as well, he said.

“If we gotta go six rounds,” he said, “we go six rounds.”

Rosa said he expected Cuevas to earn a knockout by the third round. Still, win, lose or draw, he commends Bernadin for taking the fight. His team “values courage and a fighter with a heart.”

Whether confidence, conditioning and heart beat experience and the odds won’t be known until the two boxers step into the ring, and only one steps out victorious.

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