By Jake Donovan
Orlando Cruz made history – and the headlines – late last year in “outing” himself, making the Puerto Rican the first known openly gay male boxer.
If all goes well, he now has the chance to help Puerto Rico make boxing history in the next few months.
Recent developments in the featherweight division have advanced Cruz to within one fight from contending for a vacant title. Mikey Garcia was forced to concede the title at the scales after failing to make weight for his eventual 4th round knockout of former champ Juan Manuel Lopez this past Saturday in Dallas, Texas.
Cruz is the mandatory challenger and was already next in line to face the winner. With the title now up for grabs, the sanctioning body has ordered a vacant title fight between Cruz and former champ Orlando Salido, who lost the belt to Garcia earlier this year.
The first order of business for Cruz is a June 28 ring appearance at the Kissimmee Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida. The slot was originally designed to have him serve in the Telemundo-televised main event, but has since been downgraded to a supporting bout to the new headliner, as Joan Guzman and Vicente Mosquera square off in a 140 lb. interim title fight.
“My mind is focused on June 28. After June 28, I will focus on the world title fight,” insists Cruz (20-2-1, 10KO), whose opponent for next weekend has yet to be determined. “This is my dream, a very exciting part of my future.”
A win by Cruz will create a landmark moment for his island of Puerto Rico, giving its Class of 2000 Olympic boxing class its third major champion. The 2000 squad matched the 1984 team as the only Olympic boxing teams to boast two future champs. Juan “John John” Molina and Orlando Fernandez represented the 1984 squad, both leading respectable careers but will most likely never land in the Hall of Fame.
However, a championship win by Cruz in September will land him in tremendous company, joining Miguel Cotto and Ivan Calderon from the Class of 2000. The pair of future Hall of Famers both long ago have seen their best years. Calderon realized the end had arrived after a humbling knockout loss to Moises Fuentes last October. Cotto remains slightly more stubborn, fighting on despite suffering back-to-back losses in 2012 to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Austin Trout.
Cruz has a long way to go before garnering any sort of consideration for the Hall of Fame. He still has a way to go before being declared a champion. Still, the resurgent featherweight – whose lone two losses came back-to-back more than three years ago – and his team like the direction in which his career is heading.
Four straight wins have followed the aforementioned knockout losses, including a beatdown of Alain Martinez this past March. A fifth win is expected next weekend, building momentum towards the toughest test of his career once he is in the ring with Salido.
“Orlando Salido is a big name and won two wars with Juan Manuel Lopez in Puerto Rico,” recalls Cruz, who hopes to avenge his countryman’s losses. “We are excited for this opportunity. I’m ready for the world title.
“My life changed last year with my announcement. Now I am so close to becoming the first openly gay fighter to win a world title, and helping my (Class of 2000) Olympic team become the first ever to have three world champions.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox