By Keith Idec
If Orlando Cruz would’ve known all along that he’d feel the way he does today, the openly gay featherweight contender would’ve come out of the closet long ago.
Cruz told HBO’s Jon Frankel during a “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” segment that debuted Tuesday night, “I’m very, very happy. I’m free.”
The 31-year-old Cruz (19-2-1, 9 KOs) didn’t publicly acknowledge that he’s gay until three weeks ago, in advance of his unanimous decision victory over Mexico’s Jorge Pazos (20-5, 13 KOs) on Friday night in Kissimmee, Fla.
That win could secure Cruz the 126-pound world title shot that has eluded him since he turned pro nearly 12 years ago, but he already feels like a champion. That’s because the Puerto Rican southpaw is believed to be the first active male boxer to address his homosexuality publicly.
“I want respect in my sport,” Cruz told Frankel of the reasoning behind his announcement, “and I want respect in the streets.”
According to Cruz, if it wasn’t for his mother’s urging, he might not have come out. She pushed him to do it because he was so often depressed about hiding his sexuality.
“My best friends told me, ‘Don’t do it, Orlando. Don’t do it,’ ” he said.
Cruz was a member of Puerto Rico’s Olympic Boxing Team in 2000, which competed in Sydney. He was a teammate of Miguel Cotto and Ivan Calderon.
The “Real Sports” episode featuring Cruz will air again Wednesday at 5:10 p.m. EDT and Friday at 10:30 a.m. EDT and 7 p.m. EDT on HBO2.
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.