Glynn Evans provides the lowdown on the groundbreaking Puerto Rican who confronts Manchester’s Terry Flanagan for the WBO lightweight title at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena tomorrow night.
Cruz was born in Yabucoa on the south-eastern coast of Puerto Rico in July 1981 (now aged 35).
He was expelled from six schools for fighting as a child so his mother took him to the boxing gym to instil some discipline.
Starting at the age of seven, he had 189 amateur bouts with just 11 losses. He was a multiple national amateur champion and represented Puerto Rico at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. He was eliminated on a close decision (11-10) in his first fight by an Algerian. His squad mates included future multi-weight world champions Miguel Cotto and Ivan Calderon. Both remain close friends today.
Cruz claims that he was aware he was gay prior to making his professional debut as a super-bantamweight in December 2000, aged 19. He notified his parents, brother and sister in 2001.
A 5ft 4in southpaw, ‘El Fenomeno (The Phenomenon)’ went unbeaten in his first 17 fights (one draw) and captured the International Boxing Association featherweight crown. Six of those fight took place in the USA and one in Mexico.
After suffering back-to-back stoppage losses to Cornelius Lock and Mexico’s two weight world champ Daniel Ponce de Leon in the 2009-10 season, he rebounded with a spectacular first round knockout of California’s 19-0 Michael Franco to capture the WBO Latino featherweight title.
Following discussions with psychologists, Cruz released a statement on 4th October 2012 declaring his homosexuality. He became the first openly gay active male professional boxer. His immediate support team were already aware. Thereafter, he has weighed -in wearing rainbow underpants and fought in pink gloves.
Prior to coming out, Cruz claimed he feared rejection from within the sport and was concerned potential opponents would refuse to fight him. However, he was ‘overwhelmed’ with the love he received from the boxing community. World champions Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez plus Cotto and Calderon were particularly supportive.
In August 2013, Orlando was an inaugural inductee into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. Others inducted that year included footballer Justin Fashanu, tennis stars Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova plus diver Greg Louganis.
In November 2013, he married his partner Jose Manuel Colon, an engineer, in Central Park, New York. Marriage between gay men remains banned in his native Puerto Rico.
The publicity no doubt assisted in securing Cruz a shot at WBO featherweight boss Orlando Salido from Mexico in October 2013. Cruz dedicated his challenge to bisexual three weight world champion Emile Griffiths. However, he was knocked out in round seven.
His record presently stands at 25 wins (13 stoppages), four losses and one draw. Orlando enters Saturday’s fight with WBO champion Terry Flanagan – his first at 135 lbs – on a run of five successive wins, three by kayo.
Champion Flanagan, who’s football playing sister Chelsea is openly gay, has praised Cruz’s bravery regarding his sexuality and also his qualities as a fighter. He expects a stiff challenge in Cardiff tomorrow evening.
Speaking to Glynn Evans briefly this week Orlando commented:
‘Salido was very strong and threw lots of good hands and unfortunately one landed. That’s boxing. After that, I made changes to my style. That loss taught me not to stay in the ‘pocket’ for too long.
‘But those are past fights, a long time ago. I don’t care about them. Orlando is a new person. My mentality, my focus, my life, is right no; Terry Flanagan. I’m a big problem for him.
‘Terry is a great champion, very strong. He’s very intelligent and has a cute defence but I don’t care. I don’t watch his tapes too long because I know he’ll have to fight different when he’s faced with Orlando. The WBO give me and my team a great opportunity. One hundred and thirty-five (pounds) is not my real weight – I’m 130 – but this won’t be a problem for me.
‘I work very hard and it’s my time, my opportunity. I want to show the world, gay and straight, I’m a real man, a professional boxer. Orlando might be gay but he’s a very tough fighter!
Flanagan tops a huge night of action at the Motorpoint Arena as he makes the fourth defence of his World title against Puerto Rico’s Orlando Cruz; local hero Liam Williams takes on Gabor Gorbics for the Vacant WBO European Super-Welterweight title; Liverpool’s Tom Stalker makes the first defence of his European Lightweight strap against long-term rival Craig Evans; Birmingham’s Tommy Langford faces-off with Sheffield’s Sam Sheedy for the Vacant British Middleweight title and undefeated Super-Bantamweight ace Kid Galahad continues his comeback with an eight rounder.
Wales is well represented on a stacked undercard; Gary Lockett-trained Middleweight Alex Hughes looks to go 9-0, Super-Flyweight Jay Harris looks to build on his explosive KO win at the Cardiff Ice Arena last time out and 5-0 Barry Lightweight Jason Sillett looks to impress on home soil. Ricky Hatton Heavyweight prodigy Nathan Gorman aims for another big KO and Market Harborough Super-Welterweight Rueben Arrowsmith looks to rack-up another win.
Remaining tickets for Saturday priced £40, £70, £100, £150 and £200 are available from www.motorpointarena.com (029 2022 4488), www.eventim.com (0844 249 1000) and www.ticketmaster.co.uk (0844 8440 444).
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