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Orlando Cruz, former Olympian and current contender for a featherweight boxing title, has acknowledged his homosexuality via a tweet in which he described himself as "a proud gay man." He is believed to be the first professional boxer to come out while still active in the sport.
Cruz, who began boxing at seven years old, posted an amateur career record of 178 wins and 11 losses. He won 7 Puerto Rico National Titles and spent 4 years on the Puerto Rican National Team. He won numerous medal in various international tournaments.
His amateur career culminated when he represented Puerto Rico at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
He turned professional later that year. He was undefeated until 2009, when he lost his first bout, which was followed by another loss in 2010. His record as a professional is 18 wins (9 by knockout), 2 losses, and 1 draw. He is ranked the no. 4 featherweight by the World Boxing Organization.
According to Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times, Cruz made the announcement that he was gay in order to lift what he said was a major "distraction" in his boxing career.
On October 3, 2012, he released a statement in which he said, "I've been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, 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."
He told Pugmire, he was compelled to address the topic, "Because I want to be free and not carry this on and on with myself. I want to let the people see who I really am, to be free, to let people understand."
Cruz attributed his two career losses, which occurred during a five-month period in 2009 and 2010, to Cornelius Lock and current world champion Daniel Ponce De Leon, to the pressures of being closeted: "those two losses I had were part of this big distraction I was going through. It's not there anymore. I'm glad I'm past that."
He told Pugmire that since his announcement he has received "unconditional, 100% support," including messages and notes of endorsement from his 2000 Olympic teammate and former multi-division world champion Miguel Cotto and singer Ricky Martin.
"I was physically and mentally prepared for whatever the reaction would be before this, and I can tell you from the response, this will never bother me again," Cruz said. "I feel comfortable with myself."
He said he hopes his openness breaks down some walls and erases some stereotypes. "It should show something for itself: that I have courage, I'm a warrior in the ring," Cruz said. "It should not diminish me. I've fought with the best, and I want to be a world champion."
Cruz is currently training in the mountains of Puerto Rico for an October 19 featherweight bout in Kissimmee, Florida against Jorge Pazos for the WBO Latino Featherweight Championship, which he won in 2011.
Cyd Zeigler, Jr. of OutSports.com hailed Cruz's coming out: "While we hear about athletes in other sports like baseball, basketball and soccer being 'afraid' to come out, here's a guy who literally takes punches to the face finding the courage to be who he is. No one should be more afraid of coming out than a professional boxer whose opponents' goal is to knock him out cold."
Zeigler observed that boxers have a lot to lose, particularly in endorsement deals, and concluded, "I wish I could shake Cruz's hand. This took a lot of guts."
In the video below from 2011, Cruz knocks out Michael Franco to win the WBO Latino Featherweight title.
In the ESPN video below, boxing analyst Nigel Collins discusses the ramifications of Cruz's coming out.