October 22, 2012
In a striking juxtaposition between the masculine bravado fueling much of the contemporary boxing and gay pride, fighter Orlando Cruz stepped into the ring at the Kissimmee Civic Center outside of Orlando, Florida this past Friday night and with a 118-110, 116-111, 118-110 decision, won not only the 19th fight of his professional career, but, more importantly, his first as an openly gay man.
“That was my moment, my opportunity, my event,” Cruz told the Associated Press after the fight, his mother, Dominga Torres-Rivera, close by his side. “And I won.”
Friday’s victory for the native of Puerto Rico comes just two weeks after Cruz revealed in an article by USA Today that he was a “proud gay man” – a move Bleacher Report’s Michael Walters called “truly brave.”
“I’ve been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career,” Cruz told USA Today writer Bob Velin, “I want to be true to myself. I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”
His announcement, though not making Cruz the first fighter in the sport of boxing to announce he was gay (Emile Griffith, a welterweight and middleweight champion in the 1950’s and 1960’s, came out to Sports Illustrated after he had retired), did make the fourth-ranked featherweight in the world the first active male athlete in a major sport to come out.
Cruz tells the Associated Press he felt a heavy-burden heading into Friday night, unsure of how publicity surrounding his announcement – including shows of support by public figures such as former Olympic teammate Miguel Cotto and singer Ricky Martin – would affect the crowd in attendance to see his fight against Jorge Pazos.
Any sense of trepidation Cruz may have felt disappeared almost immediately, however, as the fighter stepped into the interior of the Civic Center and was immediately met by a cheering crowd of supporters, many of which waved Puerto Rican flags.
“I was very happy that they respect me,” Cruz said of the warm welcome. “That’s what I want – them to see me as an athlete and as a man in every sense of the word.”
Fueled by the unexpected outpouring, Cruz entered the ring with a newfound sense of confidence and, according to a variety a media sources reporting on the fight, was seen smiling for much of the match.
Pazos ended up throwing more punches than did Cruz, but it was the latter’s that made contact and counted most in the eyes of those judging the fight.
Stated Pazos of Cruz following the announcement of the match’s winner, “He’s a boxer who moves too much, he knows how to box and he has good legs. I couldn’t get him.”
A young man that first came on to the boxing scene in 2000 as a member of the Puerto Rican boxing team at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Cruz has fought professionally since December of 2000, and now holds a record of 19-2-1 with nine knockouts.
Commented Cruz on his next move following Friday’s win over Pazos, “This fight’s going to open my door for a world title fight. That’s my mom’s dream, my community’s dream and my team’s.”
In the meantime, it seems Cruz also sees himself playing a more active role as a role model for the gay community within what the Associated Press rightfully refers to as “one of the world’s macho sports.”
“I’m only one person,” Cruz acknowledgedes, “[but] I feel happy with where I am. I’m free. I’m more at peace.”