By Kevin Francis, courtesy of The Daily Star
ORLANDO CRUZ is chasing a slice of sporting history tonight when he bids to become the first openly gay boxer to win a world title. Boxing's macho world was floored when the Puerto Rican made his bombshell admission this year.
Cruz, 32, challenges Orlando Salido for the vacant WBO featherweight crown in Las Vegas and plans to celebrate by marrying his boyfriend.
The 2000 Olympian, who has won 20 of his 23 contests, said: “I feel free to just get on with the boxing.
“I’m not fighting two opponents any longer and that is a great relief. The nights of staying awake and crying are over.
“I’m a boxer first. I want to be a world champion and remembered that way, not as a gay boxer. Boxing can be a macho sport and I have heard some gay slurs.
“When two guys are in the ring you can hear people calling one a ‘f**got’ because he’s getting beat. It’s common and that will change; I can be a part of that change.
“Perhaps there are other gay boxers and perhaps they are too scared to say anything.
“I was scared about other boxers and fans. It was not an easy decision and, like me, they will make it when the time is right.”
Although the noble art carries a hard-man image, fellow boxers have offered support to Cruz, who will invite many of them to the ceremony when he marries lover Jose Manuel next month.
Boxers are famed for trash talking but Salido refused to criticise his challenger.
The Mexican said: “He is gay, so what? We are just two fighters and we both want to win the world title.
“All boxers in world title fights have to undergo and pass a routine HIV test and plenty – none of whom said they were gay – have failed the test.”
Cruz is dedicating tonight’s big fight to three-time world champion Emile Griffith, who was haunted by his sexuality for decades and finally admitted being bisexual late in life.
Griffith died earlier this year, but 20 years ago was left for dead after being attacked outside a nightclub.
“This fight is for Emile because he never had the backing and support that I have had” added Cruz.