Cruz vs Smith on Sept 21
The professional boxing career of undefeated Bethlehem, PA, welterweight Ronald Cruz is heating up. Cruz has won all 17 of his pro fights, 12 by knockout, and he captured the vacant WBC Continental Americas Title with a 12-round decision over Prenice Brewer, of Cleveland, OH, in June in the Events Center of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem. Before that, Cruz was in against increasingly tough opposition and each time he came out on top. Now he’s a ranked contender with an eye on a world title fight.
As the stakes rise, Cruz (right) admits to feeling the pressure, especially when fighting at home before the large crowds he attracts. On Sept. 21, Cruz fights for the third time in Bethlehem and he’ll be up against the best boxer he’s ever faced. Miami’s Antwone Smith (21-4-1, 12 K0s) has been in with a number of good fighters and has only lost to the best of them. The 25-year-old Smith, nicknamed “The Truth”, figures to test Cruz and show the boxing world if Cruz is the real thing. Two additional main attractions on the card, televised live by the NBC Sports Network Fight Night series, include: Charles Whittaker, of the Cayman Islands, vs. Gabriel Rosado, of Philadelphia, PA, 12 rounds, IBF junior middleweight eliminator; Sergey Kovalev, of Chelyabinsk, Russia, vs. Lionell Thompson, of Buffalo, NY, 10 rounds, light-heavyweights. “Watching his fights,” Cruz said about Smith, “I think he brings a lot of weapons to the ring. More so than other fighters I’ve faced. But I feel ready for this and think I’ll be able to prove a point with this fight.” Cruz wants to show the world that he is ready to step up into the big-time, but perhaps more than anyone, the tough self-critic wants to prove it to himself.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot from my last two fights,” Cruz said. I went 10 rounds with Allen Conyers (in February) and I went 12 with Brewer. I think now that I should have been able to stop both. With that said, I feel like I’m a lot better fighter now than I was in my last fight.” That last fight against Brewer in June haunts Cruz. He won it comfortably, but he wanted to make a statement to the large crowd that had bought tickets at a record clip and filled the 2,000-seat Sands Events Center for its first boxing event. The card that night also featured popular Philly fighter Gabriel Rosado, and both their fights were broadcast live as part of the NBC Sports Network Fight Night boxing series. But make no mistake about it, the crowd was there to see Ronald Cruz. Cruz looked good in the fight and seemed to be on his way to a KO, but Brewer (below right) proved to be survivor and lasted the distance. Cruz felt he disappointed his hometown fans. “I wasn’t very happy with it,” Cruz said of his performance. “I know I’m very capable of doing a lot better than that. The atmosphere played into it. That was all part of the added pressure. Fighting in front of the crowd, fighting in TV, fighting for a title, it was a lot of pressure.” He’s determined to get it right against Smith.
“When I go in there this time, it should be like it’s nothing new,” Cruz said. It should be a walk in the park this time.” Even though Smith looks like his hardest match so far, Cruz feels that their styles will mesh well for him. “Smith likes to fight on the inside,” Cruz said. “He’s a pretty good inside fighter. So am I. It should be a pretty exciting fight. I’m a natural body puncher. That’s always part of the game plan. Work the body. I think that always works.” As Cruz talks about waging an inside war, his mood lightens. He seems relaxed. He can see it. “I don’t know what he’s going to come with,” Cruz said about Smith. “I don’t know if he’s going to try to box and use angles on me of if he’s going to try to sit down in the pocket with me. I know when the fight gets heated up, he’s going to end up fighting in the inside with me. I think I’m stronger than him on the inside.” Cruz’ trainer, Lemuel “Indio” Rodriguez, is confident, given how hard his fighter has been working at the Allentown Boxing Club. “He’s going to look sharp for this fight,” Rodriguez said. “We used to be in the gym at 6. Now we’re in the gym at 5 because he’s motivated. We’re ready for the fight.” Cruz knows that he needs to continue winning to keep the momentum going. “I look at it now and see I’m No. 11 in the IBF, and No. 10 in the WBC and you know, I’m really close. Like I said, I’m looking to make a statement with this fight. Not only show the people that I can hang with these top fighters in the world, but also show my people, my promoters, that I’m ready for the world-class fighters out there. And hopefully get a title fight sometime soon.” Rodriguez: “Ronald Cruz was born to be a champion. He’s ready. We wait for the time to come and for the phone call. He’s ready. We never say ‘no’ to any challenge.” To see him now, you’d never think that Cruz was anything but the mature adult he embodies at this moment. But like many young guys, the streets once called for his attention. He had his days in those streets, but that time is passed. Today, he’s married and a father and completely focused on his career.
However, those streets have taken their toll. Ronald’s brother, Raymond Cruz, died of a drug overdose in 2001. Today he fights for his deceased brother, whose birthday falls on the day after Ronald’s fight with Smith. “We called him Jay,” Cruz said. “His birthday is actually Sept. 22. So it’s just the joy of giving him a present on his birthday. To win that night–and a big win.” Rodriguez: “Fighting in his hometown is a beautiful thing. He’s a kid that passed through a lot. And to see a kid like him, the way he used to be when he was younger, the things he used to do when he was in the street. Now he’s doing great, and he can show people how beautiful God is with the kids who want to change their lives. So what better place could he show all the young guys.” Although he’s coping with added pressure these days, and doing his best to handle it gracefully, Cruz isn’t afraid to take on the extra stress of being a role model to those young kids. “I welcome it,” Cruz said. “My mentality is not to be out there partying and doing all the other stuff. (I’m) just living my life right, and healthy, and focused on my career. What’s better role model than just being focused on what you want to do?” Against Antwone Smith, Cruz will be fighting for those kids, his brother, his demanding fan base and his future in the boxing game, but he seems to be taking it all in stride. ABOUT SEPTEMBER 21
The Smith-Cruz, Kovalev-Thompson and Whittaker-Rosado fights top a seven-bout card at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem. First fight is 7.15 pm (ET). Tickets priced at $80 and $55 can be purchased through the offices of Peltz Boxing (215-765-0922), all Ticketmaster outlets (800-745-3000) or at the box office at the Sands Event Center (610-297-7414). Tickets also can be purchased online at www.peltzboxing.com, www.SandsEventCenter.com and www.Ticketmaster.com. Luxury suite tickets at $130 apiece also are available. In Bethlehem, tickets are available at Deja Brew, Inc., 101 West 4 th Street (610-865-2739) and at Pronto Insurance Notary, 232 East 3 rd Street (610-419-6790). NBC Sports Network will televise the Cruz-Smith, Kovalev-Thompson and Rosado-Whittaker fights, beginning at 9 pm (ET). The card is being promoted by Main Events and Peltz Boxing Promotions, Inc., in association with the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem