Cruz fight­ing to win world ti­tle, change per­cep­tions

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Be­com­ing a world cham­pion for the first time isn't the only mo­ti­va­tion driv­ing Or­lando Cruz ahead of his WBO light­weight ti­tle fight on Satur­day.

The Puerto Ri­can boxer wants to change per­cep­tions, too.

"I want to qui­eten the ho­mo­pho­bic peo­ple talk­ing bad to the LGBT com­mu­nity," Cruz told The As­so­ci­ated Press. "I want it more for all the gay ath­letes in the world."

In 2012, Cruz be­came the first pro­fes­sional boxer to come out as openly ho­mo­sex­ual while com­pet­ing. Ini­tially, he had reser­va­tions about mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, con­sid­er­ing the ma­cho na­ture of his sport, but it turned out to be a good de­ci­sion.

"It's just been sup­port, sup­port, sup­port," Cruz said about the re­ac­tion of the box­ing com­mu­nity — fight­ers and fans — to­ward him over the last four years.

"All the box­ers re­spect my life, my de­ci­sion. When Or­lando Cruz walks into the ring, Or­lando Cruz is sep­a­rate from my sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Or­lando Cruz is a pro­fes­sional boxer."

Cruz has fought nine times since com­ing out, one of which was against Mex­i­can boxer Or­lando Salido for the WBO feath­er­weight ti­tle in 2013. Wear­ing rain­bow-col­ored shorts to show his sup­port for the gay com­mu­nity, Cruz was stopped in the sev­enth round.

In the past year, he was won four straight fights, col­lect­ing con­ti­nen­tal ti­tles at su­per feath­er­weight. Now he gets his se­cond shot at a world ti­tle in Cardiff, Wales, this week­end, when the 35-year-old Cruz moves up to the light­weight divi­sion to fight Terry Flanagan, an un­de­feated Bri­tish boxer.

When the fight was an­nounced, Cruz spoke of his de­ter­mi­na­tion to be­come the "first openly gay world cham­pion."

"It's a big mo­ment for me, a big mo­ment for my com­mu­nity, a big mo­ment for my coun­try, Puerto Rico," Cruz told the AP in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Cardiff.

"I want that other (gay) ath­letes are not scared to walk into the so­ci­ety. Don't be scared. Be happy with your life, and happy with your de­ci­sion. All peo­ple are the same."

It will be Cruz's first fight in Europe and he is look­ing for­ward to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what is usu­ally an in­tense at­mos­phere at the Mo­tor­point Arena. Cruz, nick­named "El Fenomeno," said he wasn't expecting any hos­til­ity to­ward him from out­side the ring.

His big­gest con­cern should be Flanagan.

The Manch­ester-born fighter is mak­ing the fourth de­fense of his ti­tle since be­com­ing world cham­pion in July last year. He is un­beaten in 31 fights.

"He's not tougher, he's just dif­fer­ent," Cruz said. "My real weight is 130 pounds, so I've upped by five pounds. I've trained to get stronger and run more. On Satur­day, I need to walk into the ring strong."

Cruz be­lieves it is his time. He said he has "more men­tal­ity, more fo­cus" and is com­fort­able with his life. In Fe­bru­ary, he mar­ried his part­ner, Jose Manuel Colon, who will watch­ing on TV from their home in Puerto Rico.

"It's my dream," Cruz said. "It's my mo­ment."

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.