NEW YORK — A few week’s before entering the ring for October’s unanimous decision over Jorge Pazos at the Civic Center, Kissimmee, Fla., Puerto Rican featherweight Orlando Cruz declared himself to be “a proud gay man.”
“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,” said Cruz at the time.
“I don’t want to hide any of my identities. I want people to look at me for the human being that I am. I am a professional sportsman that always bring his best to the ring. I want for people to continue to see me for my boxing skills, my character, my sportsmanship. But I also want kids who suffer from bullying to know that you can be whoever you want to be in life, including a professional boxer, that anything is possible and that who you are or whom you love should not be impediment to achieving anything in life.”
A 31-year-old who represented his country in the 2000 Olympics, Cruz (18-2-1, 9 knockouts) attended Thursday’s press conference at The Thearte lobby in Madison Square Garden, site of Saturday night’s 126-pound clash of Mexicans between WBO titleholder Orlando Salido (39-11-2, 27 KOs) and Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia (30-0, 26 KOs), a 25-year-old resident of Oxnard, Calif.
Cruz spoke through translator Juan De Leon, who is also his manager.
“I’m happy now, and I’m experiencing liberation. Now, I’m more happy now because I have the support of my team, and the support of my family,” said Cruz, who would like to face the winner between Salido and Garcia.
“I’m aiming for a victory over the champion between Salido and Mikey. I think Orlando is good, and he is strong, but Mikey is younger. I don’t know who will win. Maybe Mikey, maybe Salido. The victory will go to the one who is more prepared.”
Cruz has scored three straight victories, including knockout wins since being stopped himself in consecutive losses to Cornelius Lock and Daniel Ponce de Leon in September of 2009 and February of 2010. He is currently scheduled to face Aalan Martinez on March 22 in Kissimmee, Fla.
SALIDO: ‘GARCIA HAS HAD IT EASY IN THE RING’
Puerto Rican southpaw Juan Manuel Lopez was a 27-year-old WBO featherweight beltholder with a mark of 30-0 with 27 knockouts when he suffered the first of two knockout losses to Salido in April of 2011.
Salido was a 30-year-old former titleholder who was coming off of his 11th career loss, a setback by unanimous decision to current WBA interim 130-pound beltholder and Cuban Olympic gold medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa in September of 2010.
The losses foiled Lopez’s plans of facing Gamboa in a blockbuster fight, and are among Salido’s five consecutive stoppage victories.
Salido will be in a similar position against Garcia, who is after his ninth straight knockout win.
Salido spoke through a translation by Top Rank’s Ricardo Jiminez.
“Is he capable of answering me and what I’m able to do? I see Garcia as a guy who has had it easy in the ring. He gets his distance, he gets his timing, and he fights at a rhythm. We’re not going to let him fight at his rhythm,” said Salido.
“I’m going to fight at my rhythm, and make him fight the way that I want him to fight. We’re going to see if he can answer that, because he’s never seen a fighter like me. We’re going to find out in the ring. So I see Garcia as a young fighter who is here for a learning experience. He’s going to learn a lot that night.”
GARCIA PROMISES MORE CALM AMID SALIDO’S STORM
Garcia says he’s ready to display his fire in the ring and “make adjustments and work a little faster” if he has to against Salido, despite being known as a slow starter and a cerebral boxer.
“I’m very observant. I observe my opponent and I read my opponent. I figure him out. Sometimes, it’s in one round, sometimes it’s within 30 seconds of the first round. But I’ve still got to be very careful because they’re very fresh. They may try to surprise me with something. So I just have to keep my guard up at all times, which is why I’m more patient and calm in the ring than other fighters. I’m reading and thinking and studying my opponent. I’m thinking a lot during the fight,” said Garcia.
“I’m not just waiting for the mistake, but I will take advantage of every mistake that he makes. I’ll invite him to throw punches so that I can take advantage. That’s what I’m good at. He could definitely leave me opportunities to counter his punches. It could leave him open or susceptible to a big hook or a big right hand. He’s been down several times in his career, but he gets back up. I’m not figuring it’s going to be an easy night. I’ve trained to go the full 12 rounds. I know that he will get up if he goes down, and that he’ll keep on fighting like nothing happenend.”
SALIDO: ‘I’M A CLEAN FIGHTER’
Salido has put together quite a run since falling by unanimous decision to Juan Manuel Marquez as a featherweight in September of 2004. Salido is 16-2 with 12 stoppage victories and a no-contest in his past 19 fights, the latter being an overturned triumph over Robert Guerrero in November of 2006.
Initially awarded a unanimous decision, 115-113, 117-111, 118-110, over Guerrero, Salido was later stripped of the IBF’s 126-pound belt after testing positive for steroids.
“There were two examinations. One was negative and one was positive. We could have fought it a long time, but I didn’t want to stall my career. I said, ‘Okay, fine, I’ll take my punishment and move on,” said Salido.
“But I didn’t do anything. There were two exams — one was clean, the other one was not. I don’t know what happened, but all that I can tell you is that I’m a clean fighter.”
Photo by J. Meric, Getty Images
Photos by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Photo by Rafael Soto, Top Rank
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com