By Thomas Gerbasi
It may have been the sign Kermit Cintron needed that everything was going to be all right. Seven months removed from his last fight, a ten round decision win over Jonathan Batista in Miami, Oklahoma, the former welterweight champion knew that he wanted to make another run at a title, but he knew things had to change for him to get there.
The first order of business was reuniting both personally and professionally with strength and conditioning coach Joe Pastore, who was with Cintron (along with trainer Marshall Kauffman) back in the early years of his career. The next was bringing in a new trainer in the form of Javan “Sugar” Hill, the nephew of the late Emanuel Steward and a rising star in the coaching biz in his own right. It was risky to revamp everything at the age of 34, but as soon as he started hitting the mitts with Hill, it all came together again.
“The first day I started working pads with him, I didn’t see anything but Emanuel Steward in front of me while he was holding pads,” said Cintron, who worked with the legendary Steward from 2006 to 2008. “Of course it was Javan, but it shows how much he knows and he’s so identical to Emanuel’s philosophy.”
Cintron showed solid form under Steward’s tutelage, winning the IBF welterweight crown against Mark Suarez, and successfully defending the title twice with stoppages of Walter Matthysse and Jesse Feliciano before losing his belt to Antonio Margarito in their 2008 rematch.
Over the next five years, Cintron was in a wilderness of sorts, looking like a world beater at moments, and merely average in others. A 2011 stoppage loss to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez seemed to be the nail in the coffin of his career, and a 16 month layoff ensued before he returned in 2013 with a draw against Adrian Granados and the win over Batista. He still wasn’t the old “Killer.”
“It’s been a very hard couple years for me,” he said. “There have been times when I just wanted to drop it and move on with other things. But I know I still have it in me, and by getting Joe back on my team and with Javan, I can definitely get back on top.”
On Saturday, Cintron’s audition comes on the Tomasz Adamek vs. Vyacheslav Glazkov undercard in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania against fellow PA resident Ronald Cruz. It’s a fight the 20-2 Cruz has been chasing after for a while, something that was news to Cintron until late last year.
“I didn’t know anything at all about Cruz,” he said. “It just happened that my brother sparred with him a couple years back, and a friend called me a couple months before the fight was even mentioned and said that he (Cruz) was calling me out. I didn’t even know who the dude was, so I ignored it. Then he fought again and another buddy of mine called me and he said ‘hey, this guy Ronald Cruz has been calling you out.’ Who is this? (Laughs) So I went to his last fight. The kid’s got a good record and he wants to fight, so let’s make it happen. I’m a fighter and I’ll fight whoever.”
The upside is clear for the 27-year-old Cruz – he beats Cintron and it’s the biggest win on his record by far. You would think that beating the relatively unknown Cruz doesn’t do much for Cintron, but it may just be the biggest fight of his career. With a loss, that may be it for him; win, and he keeps his championship dreams alive. And that’s what all the blood, sweat, and tears in the gym are for.
“Joe and Javan believe in me, and they’ve been pushing me really hard,” he said. “Things have been going great, and it seems like I’ve been getting back to my old self.”
If Cintron is on, he’s a tough out. And back at welterweight, there are plenty of attractive options for him, but as a mature fighter who knows what looking too far ahead can do to you, he’s not looking any further than Saturday.
“I’m taking it a fight at a time,” he said. “I just want to come out of there victorious and look sharp. My last two fights I didn’t look as good, but just bringing Joe and Javan back to my team, things have been a lot better for me and I’ve been looking and feeling a lot better. My attitude has changed too. I’m really motivated now to get back in this and make it right.”
That’s the biggest motivation of all – to make it right. Cintron admits that he’s not spending every waking hour outside of the gym watching fight tapes, as that time belongs to his family, but he has seen that former foes Alvarez and Alfredo Angulo headlined a Pay-Per-View show last weekend, and that another opponent that he fought to a draw with – Sergio Martinez – has a huge bout coming up with Miguel Cotto. It’s enough to make a still young man believe that there are big opportunities left for him.
And he may be right. With Hill and Pastore in the corner and Cintron knowing that this is likely the last go round, it could just be the perfect storm for a memorable comeback. It’s one that would be nice for Cintron’s legacy in the sport, but not one that’s necessary for him to walk away from the sport with his head held high. He’s already reached the top of the sport and fought some of the best of his era; that’s more than most can say.
So this comeback, it’s strictly personal.
This one’s for him.
“I’ve accomplished a lot in this sport and I became a world champion, but I just feel like I didn’t do enough,” said Cintron. “I haven’t done enough yet.”