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Congratulations
 
Congratulations Orlando Cruz
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 10/20/12
Last updated on: 10/20/12
 
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Orlando Cruz.

Congratulations to boxer Orlando Cruz, who on October 19, 2012 won a unanimous decision over Jorge Pazos in his first bout since coming out. In a one-sided twelve-round match in Kissimmee, Florida, Cruz outboxed Pazos to retain his WBO Latino Featherweight Championship.

As I reported here, on October 3, 2012, Cruz, former Olympian and current contender for the featherweight championship, 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 now 19 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.

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.

Still, Cruz was no doubt worried about what kind of reaction he would get when he entered the ring to fight Pazos.

However, as the Associated Press reports, "as soon as he walked out to a cheering crowd displaying flags of his native Puerto Rico, boxing's first openly gay fighter could finally breathe and do what he came to do, slugging his way to a victory by unanimous decision over Jorge Pazos."

Cruz was touched by the support he received. "I was very happy that they respect me. That's what I want--them to see me as a boxer, as an athlete and as a man in every sense of the word."

Cruz is hoping this victory will get him a shot at a bigger match in the near future.

"This fight's going to open my door for a world title fight," Cruz said. "That's my dream, my mom's dream, my community's dream and my team's."

Openly gay sportswriter LZ Granderson, in a fascinating ESPN commentary, describes Cruz's victory as "historic."

Granderson writes, "I pulled for Cruz much in the same way some blacks pulled for Jackie Robinson in 1947, the way many women cheered after Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in 1973, or how some whites were glad Bird beat Magic in the 1984 NBA Finals."

"I pulled for Orlando Cruz because, like him, I'm gay, and I didn't want to see the boxer who had just come out of the closet get his ass kicked in front of a live audience."

Granderson continues, "We all know the story of the athlete who reveals his sexual orientation when he has retired. Not Cruz. This dude shared his bit of news a couple of weeks before the biggest fight of his career (he is the fourth-ranked WBO featherweight), as if scampering around in an 18-foot ring weren't enough pressure."

"And, in doing so, he decided, albeit indirectly, to carry the weight of a movement on his narrow shoulders, if but for a little while. Because make no mistake, had Cruz lost Friday, every homophobe with a Twitter handle would have taken the opportunity to say 'see, I told you so' in as many insulting ways as possible. Now, it's Cruz (19-2-1, 9 KOs) who gets to look ignorance in the face and say 'I told you so,' and the gay community of which he is a part gets to share in that victory."

In the video below, Granderson speaks with Cruz after the fight.

 
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