Featherweight contender Orlando Cruz, who declared himself “a proud gay man” last October, said that he will fight veteran Orlando Salido for the WBO’s vacant belt on Oct. 12 in honor of the late Emile Griffith, a former welterweight and middleweight champion whose own sexuality had come to represent a major part of his legacy.
“I’m going to dedicate this fight to Emile Griffith, with condolences to his family and to his friends and his fans,” said Cruz, a southpaw who has knockouts in three of his last four fights. “This fight will be for my community and for all of the people who believe in Orlando Cruz.”
Having last been in the ring for a sixth-round stoppage of Aalan Martinez in March, Cruz (20-2-1, 10 knockouts) declared his sexual orientation prior to his unanimous decision over Jorge Pazos last October. It was his third consecutive victory since being stopped in consecutive losses to Cornelius Lock and Daniel Ponce de Leon.
Football’s Robbie Rogers and basketball’s Jason Collins have also admitted they are gay. Lampley’s support for Cruz surfaced last month in the wake of the boxer’s having announced his engagement to his partner, Jose Manuel.
Lampley was speaking about Griffiith, who died in July, when he called Cruz “a hero of mine,” later revealing that his older half-brother, Fred Trickey, “came out of the closet at the age of 14 in 1959.”
Trickey, whom Lampley called “one of the bravest people I’ve ever met” died four years ago from an HIV-related illness at age 65.
“I support gay marriage. That’s my social and political position. How could I do otherwise, knowing who my brother was and what I grew up with. I am proud of Cruz, without having met him,” said Lampley.
“As soon as I saw the item about Orlando Cruz this morning, I thought to myself, ‘That might be the ideal lead-in to a eulogy for Griffith on the next edition of The Fight Game… I support his right to marry his chosen companion, and I don’t think that it’s going to negatively affect his boxing career in any shape or form.”
A 32-year-old who represented his country in the 2000 Olympics, Cruz was informed of Lampley’s comments for the first time during a Tuesday conference call concerning his clash with Salido (39-12-2, 27 KOs) that will happen as part of the Tim Bradley-Juan Manuel Marquez card on HBO Pay Per View.
“I’m happy with the situation and I’ve had a lot of support from all around the world. This is great news today that I heard about Mr. Lampley,” said Cruz, through translator and promoter Tuto Zabala, Jr.
“I just want to say thank you to all of the people who support me. I’ve been working hard. This is something that I’ve been waiting for. I want to do this for the Puerto Ricans and all of the community. They’ll have a new champion on Oct. 12.”
Griffth was insulted by Benny Paret, who used a derogatory Spanish slang term for homosexual at the weigh-in before their third bout, and later died from head injuries suffered during a brutal knockout in the 12th round of that fight in New York City on March 24, 1962.
Lampley said that he would like to bridge the stories of Griffith and Cruz, although he could not guarantee that would happen.
“I can’t tell you for sure what’s going to be on The Fight Game. That show will air on Oct. 25. It’s a new show,” said Lampley.
“I would consider having a Griffith piece on the air, and I would consider leading into the Griffith piece by drawing analogies between Cruz, and what he’s doing right now, and what Griffith went through in the 1960s.”
In Salido, Cruz faces a fighter who was floored four times during January’s eight-round technical decision loss to Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia, which ended the rugged, 32-year-old’s winning streak of five straight knockouts.
Two of Salido’s stoppage wins during that stretch had come over Puerto Rican ex-beltholder Juan Manuel Lopez, who, like Cruz, is a left hander.
Prior to facing Garcia, Salido’s had gone 16-2 with 12 stoppage wins and a no-contest over 19 bouts since falling by unanimous decision to Juan Manuel Marquez as a featherweight in September of 2004.
The no-contest was an overturned triumph against 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.
Salido has also split bouts with former beltholder Cristobal Cruz, and stopped rugged contender Rogers Mtagwa in the fifth round. In 2011, Salido sandwiched knockouts over Kenichi Yamaguchi and Weng Haya between the two against Lopez.
Salido ended Yamaguchi’s run of 13 straight wins and Haya’s streak of three consecutive victories, two by knockout.
Salido also lost by unanimous decision to unbeaten former featherweight titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa, a Cuban Olympic gold medalist, in September of 2010.
“I’m ready for the challenge of Orlando Salido. I believe that Salido has a lot of experience,” said Cruz. “I know that he’s faced great fighters and great champions like Juan Manuel Marquez, and Cristobal Cruz, and Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa. But I’m ready. I’ve been working really hard for this,” said Cruz.
“The pressure that Salido brings on that day, the way he comes, that’s the way I’m going to fightt him. Basically, I’m not going to run. When I need to fight, I will fight. When I need to box, I’m going to box. I’m going to be the smarter guy in the ring. I’m taking nothing from Salido, but on Oct. 12, I’m going to make history. I’m going to bring the title to Puerto Rico.”
In the meantime, Cruz said he will be undeterred by questions concerning his sexuality, instead, remaining focused on Salido.
“I’m concentrating on the Oct. 12 fight. I understand that the press wants to know about my personal life, and I will get asked a lot of questions. But always, I’m focused on the fight. I want to say to all of the Puerto Ricans, and all of my friends, and the people who support me, don’t worry, I’m ready and I’m going to be ready for the fight. I know that the questions are going to come,” said Cruz.
“I will answer them the best that I can. But that will not take me from the focus that I have for Orlando Salido. I’m taking this fight more seriously than any other fight. I understand that Orlando Salido is a strong fighter, and that every round he comes on stronger and stronger, but I’m preparing myself for that challenge on Oct. 12. I understand everything. I believe that the Puerto Rican community has respected my decision, and I’m happy with that.”
Photo by J. Meric-Gettyimages
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com