After boxing's latest debacle, this past weekend's snooze fest between future Hall of Famers who are way past their prime, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, Jr., casual fans are probably thinking its demise is slowly but surely on its way. You can't blame them really; as long as shameless promoters continue to put together bouts featuring over the hill fighters and claiming "this is what the fans are asking for", then that is what is inevitably bound to happen.
However, hope springs eternal for the sweet science as there is a new generation of stars on the horizon and luckily for me, one is right here from my hometown Bethlehem, PA. Ronald Cruz is a 23 year old welterweight prospect, sporting an 8-0 record as a professional with 5 KO's.
Currently ranked 189 out of 1472 welterweights in the world, according to Boxrec.com, Cruz seems to have everything going for him, but it was not always that way for this young rising star. Originally born in Manati, Puerto Rico, it was there as a child that the legacy of the sport and the island's great lineage of fighters were first instilled in him. He lived there till he was 11 years old and while he never trained there, the seed was planted after watching 'Rocky' movies as a kid and there it lied dormant waiting to be born.
His mom moved him and his brothers Jay and Rey to Bethlehem, PA, South Bethlehem to be exact, for the prospects of a better life and opportunity for her sons. Unfortunately, for awhile it looked as though opportunity for Cruz lied in the streets and for those who are familiar with certain parts of Bethlehem's Southside, it is easy to understand how. Ironically, thirty plus years earlier I moved there with my mom from Brooklyn, NY when I was only 13, so I totally relate to Ronald's path.
It was on that path that he started hanging with the wrong crowd and engaging in the wrong activity, all along though he professes that he always had that burning desire to learn and train in boxing. He's not sure why, but he says it was always on the back of his mind. Yet, it still wasn't enough to keep him or his brothers from the lure of the streets and eventually the streets called when nearly 10 years ago his older brother Jay died of an overdose of drugs.
Not sure what the future held for him after this tragedy he remained out there, however something kept pulling at him. Strangely enough, he says, "when you really want something it comes to you" and in this case someone from up above must have been listening because four years ago it did.
At only 19 years of age and headed nowhere, a light came into Ronald's life in the form of a little girl as he became a father. Although he is no longer in a relationship with his daughter's mother, 4 year old Jayshalis, lovingly named after his deceased brother, remains the focal point of his life and turnaround. Soon after, he became involved in another relationship with his current girlfriend Daisy Vega and he says that it was she, along with his daughter that slowly started to pull him off the streets and give him the structure he needed in his life.
It was then that he finally tried to fulfill the calling of boxing he's always had. Not knowing where to turn, he looked to a friend named Kalif, who used to look out for him when he was running the streets. It was Kalif who suggested he try training at Larry Holmes Gym in Easton, PA.
To make sure he had every chance of making his dreams come true, Kalif would not only take Ronald to the gym, but he would train with him as well. However, after just a few weeks, he knew it wasn't for him, the gym that is. He knew he wanted to pursue boxing, but there was no place, especially in Bethlehem, to do it. Alas, once again his prophetic words would come to fruition, "when you really want something it comes to you."
A young boxing trainer Alec Morales had a dream of opening a boxing gym in South Bethlehem. He already had a makeshift gym in his home's garage and when funding and the basement of a donated building became available courtesy of 'The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations', 'The Bethlehem Boxing Club' was born.
In 2007, I was writing a column for a local newspaper and decided to do a story on the gym. At the time the focus of the club was, and still remains, on providing an outlet for young people to get off the streets, train in the art of boxing and if they so desired, compete in U.S.A. Boxing sanctioned amateur competition. Ronald Cruz fit the mold for all three of those categories.
As he says, he picked it up quick and Morales soon picked up on how sincere this kid was about his training. He told Morales he was serious and his trainer replied, "If you are serious, then I'll see it and if so, I'll help you eventually turn this into a professional career."
In just 15 months of amateur competition, Cruz had 28 fights, going 25-3, and earned five amateur titles all in regional tournaments up and down the Mid-Atlantic region. His commitment unwavering and his desire burning, it was time to turn pro.
He signed with Jimmy Deorio Management and on January 16, 2009 he had his professional debut in Philadelphia, PA. The outcome was a four round unanimous decision and his career was finally on its way. Not wasting any time he was brought back three weeks later, this time at the legendary 'Blue Horizon' in Philly. Any serious boxing fan will tell you, you either make it or break it at The Blue as those fans, who sit right on top of you, especially in the balcony seating, will let you know.
Ronald says he actually felt the pressure at The Blue, but he handled it perfectly as he knocked out his opponent within three rounds and more importantly, he got the approval of the 'Blue Horizon' crowd. Since then he's had six more fights, two more at The Blue Horizon where he has quickly become a fan favorite and two at Bally's in Atlantic City. His whole game has elevated to another level as well as his training.
He has sparred with the likes of highly ranked seasoned professionals such as Demetrius Hopkins, Mike Jones, Henry 'Hank' Lundy and Danny 'Swift' Garcia; all up and coming fighters out of Philadelphia with a combined record of 82-1. It is paying dividends, as every time he steps up in competition, his performances are becoming more and more dominating, so much so he needs to pull himself back to reality. To hear him tell it, "In my mind, I'm ready for the top ten."
However, he also knows this is a marathon, not a sprint, thus he trusts in what his trainer and management has laid out for him. When I asked him if there is any concern regarding the shady side of boxing and if he would ever consider leaving his trainer or gym, his response was simple, "the streets taught me loyalty; therefore as long as they stay loyal to me, I will do the same."
Understanding there is a long and storied tradition of Puerto Rican fighters that have come before him, Cruz states he hopes to someday be as great as his idol Felix Trinidad. Yet, while he admires and respects him, he wants to carve his own niche. He respectfully says, "I'm trying to let the world know who I am."
Considering that everything he's wanted thus far he has attained, I see no reason why this won't happen as well, because you see, when you really want something it comes to you.
I want to thank Ronald Cruz for granting me this interview, along with his trainer Alec Morales for his cooperation in setting it up. Right after this interview, it was announced his next fight would be on May 22nd @ Bally's in Atlantic City against Juan Ramon Cruz.
Ronald Cruz would like to first and foremost thank God for bringing him to where he's always wanted to be. He also would like to thank his mother, his brother Rey and his girlfriend for their unwavering support. He wants to acknowledge his trainer along with his manager and last, but not least, everybody that has supported him on this journey.