Saturday, June 2, 2012
The Star of Bethlehem shines in national TV debut
No matter where you're at in Bethlehem, PA, if you can see South Mountain within your vicinity, then you will always see The Star of Bethlehem nestled in the foreground. It is the landmark of this old steel town known affectionately as The Christmas City. However, Friday night the star shined brighter than ever and it wasn't the one on the mountainside; it was South Bethlehem's other star Ronald Cruz.
Cruz (17-0, 12 KO's), a welterweight boxing contender, is now also a champion as Friday night he won the WBC Continental Americas title. He did it as the co-main event of a sold out boxing card from his hometown inside the brand new Sands Casino Events Center that was part of a national TV doubleheader featured on NBC Sports Network's Fight Night series. Competing for the vacant title against skilled Prenice Brewer (16-2, 6 KO's) from Cleveland, Cruz showed the formula necessary to defeat a slick boxer; you don't try to outbox him, but rather you take it right to him.
That is just what he did from the opening bell as Cruz (pictured above) throughout the course of 12 rounds, was the aggressor who kept the pressure on Brewer, hardly giving him any space or time to deliver any damage. The only time Brewer was able to muster any type of effective offense, was in the sixth and tenth rounds when Cruz clearly took the rounds off to rejuvenate after really big offensive outputs in the previous fifth and ninth rounds respectively. The fifth round was so big in fact, both ringside analysts Freddie Roach, Hall of Fame trainer, and BJ Flores, current WBC Continental Americas cruiserweight champ, scored it 10-8 for Ronald; that without even a knockdown.
I know this because I came home after watching the fight live and caught the replay on NBC Sports. Roach and Flores were both very impressed with Cruz's performance, prompting Roach to say, "I like the way he puts his punches together and goes to the body."
Of course, if you've ever seen Ronald fight, you know body punching is his forte. However, on this night he did a beautiful job of touching Brewer's body with a lead right and following it up with a looping left hook that kept connecting flush on Brewer's jaw. Cruz and his trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez, continue to come up with the perfect game plans for his opponents. To his credit, the taller challenger has a pretty good chin because the kid known around his hometown as "Hands of Steel" caught him with some bombs.
If there was any flaw at all in his performance, I'd say he tried to loop some punches a bit too much. Yet, as I explained to someone who pointed that out to me, I truly believe it was because he was trying too hard at times to please the hometown crowd by hitting a home run. With the crowd constantly chanting, "Ronald, Ronald..." all night, you could tell he really wanted the KO finish. However, to his credit, he did just what he told me he was going to do at the weigh-ins on Thursday.
When I asked him if fighting at home for a second time in a year, this time on national TV in the new events center, brought any added pressure from the previous time? Cruz's response was, "Nah; I mean there is pressure there don't get me wrong, but I am doing my best to just block it out by staying focused on the fight itself, nothing else." He did a masterful job as the final scores were a unanimous 118-110 from all the ringside judges.
As a journalist, it is important to remain unbiased in your opinion, so you can develop some form of integrity. I try my best to not include personal emotion as part of my overall writing. However, in this case it is very difficult not to exude some form of pride as I've been covering this young man from my hometown since he was an amateur. I've seen him come from humble beginnings, work extremely hard to attain his goal of becoming a champion and yet remain humble.
Friday night, former world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes was in attendance. He addressed the hometown crowd by telling everyone, "I appreciate you coming out to support boxing here at The Sands and I want Bethlehem, not Las Vegas to become the Mecca of boxing." Well, we may not necessarily become the fight capital of the world, but as Jadakiss once said, "The champ is here;" and his name is Ronald Cruz.
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