By Jake Donovan
It’s been a big month for featherweight Orlando Cruz. On Friday evening, he made headlines for all of the right reasons after scoring a wide unanimous decision over Jorge Pazos in their Telemundo headliner at the Kissimmee Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida.
Scores were 118-110 (twice) and 117-111 in favor of Cruz, who made headlines earlier this month in becoming the first openly gay active male boxer.
While the news helped generate more press than is normally afforded for a Telemundo-level fight these days, the two boxers were all business throughout the promotion. Once the opening bell rang, who does what with their personal lives was left in the rearview mirror and it was all about who was the better fighter.
On this – and perhaps any other – night, it was Cruz and with room to spare. The Puerto Rican southpaw mastered the art of hit-and-don’t-get-hit all evening, jumping out to a huge lead early as Pazos struggled to even lay a glove on his opponent.
The fiery Mexican managed to somewhat close the gap in round three, but his most successful moment didn’t even count as a clean scoring blow. Cruz fired a punch and then slipped to the canvas midway through the round, at which point Pazos connected with a punch. Cruz shook it off and proceeded to box for the rest of the round.
A similar sequence took place in round four, at which point Pazos was issued a warning by the referee. From there, Cruz controlled the fight’s pace and distance. His performance was hardly limited to sticking and moving, as evidenced by the reddening of Pazos’ eye, which was beginning to swell shut towards the midway point of the fight.
Action was uneven over the final six rounds. Cruz was brilliant even when forced to fight in reverse, while Pazos frustratingly attempted to minimize the distance between the two with each passing round. There was very little clinching in the fight, but Pazos’ best efforts at forcing an inside fight were thwarted as Cruz smothered his way out of whatever brief trouble he ran into at any point in the fight.
Mild booing graced the otherwise rabid crowd in the ninth and tenth rounds, each of which featured too much boxing and not enough banging for the crowd’s liking. The boo birds were quieted the moment Cruz planted his feet and unleashed combinations, at which point appreciation came of his ability to fight off of his back foot without taking much in return.
Pazos enjoyed mild success in the championship rounds (a regional title was at stake), but hardly enough to erase the massive deficit that awaited him at fights end.
The reading of the scorecards was a mere formality, as it was a given from the moment the bell sounded to end the 12th and final round that Cruz was clearly the winner. The 31-year old advances to 19-2-1 (9KO) with the win, his third straight.
Pazos suffers his second straight loss and third in his last four fights as he falls to 20-5 (13KO).
In a vacuum, the win hardly rates compared to what else Cruz has been able to accomplish both as a pro and amateur, including a tour with the 2000 Puerto Rico Olympic boxing squad. Some will argue the real victory was the fact that he made it to the ring at all for this fight, given the general machismo that comes with a sport that in several areas remains in the dark ages.
While easy to diminish the significance of his announcement and that it shouldn’t matter in this day and age, a more relaxed version of the featherweight was featured in the ring. Long gone is the fighter who looked overwhelmed in suffering back to back knockout losses to Cornelius Lock and Daniel Ponce de Leon some three years ago.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: