Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands during times of comfort and convenience, but rather where he stands during times of challenge and controversy." Former UFC two-division champion Randy Couture once said, "A true champion is the one that can pick himself up after a loss." In welterweight Ronald Cruz, he's done both in the span of a year; especially after garnering his eighteenth win on Saturday night after two consecutive losses.
A little over a year ago, Cruz (18-2, 13 KO's) was on top of the world. He was undefeated at the time (17-0), had fought on NBC Sports Network and had just captured the WBC Continental Americas title. Then, 'Murphy's Law' came into play; you know the one, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." Well it did as a controversial split decision loss at home, followed by an injury that sidelined him for nine months and climaxed by a comeback loss at home just about deflated a once promising career.
Amidst the setbacks Cruz along with his team, including trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez, Manager Jimmy Deoria and newly appointed strength and conditioning coach Craig Merrick, began to hear the whispers of the naysayers; or as we like to say in the streets, the haters. I know because I live in those same streets of Cruz's hometown and heard the comments first hand; "Ronald doesn't have it," "He needs a new trainer," "He needs to work on his jab," etc. and so on. Worst yet, Cruz heard the comments as well.
Boxer, fighter, champion or not, he's still a young man with emotions. Thus, when you're already suffering from self doubt after consecutive losses, those whispers begin to take a toll on a person. However, never wavering in his commitment to his team and more importantly himself, he asked to get back in the ring as soon as possible. That was on Saturday night, where in front of a sparse hometown crown at the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA, Cruz went back to basics and his bread & butter, body punching, and finished his opponent Rodolfo Armenta @ 2:40 of the second round.
I mentioned above how the crowd was "sparse" at best. Now I'm not sure if 'Musikfest', the nation's largest non-gated music festival, taking place right outside the Events Center doors had anything to do with it; or fickle fans who sold out the arena in previous fights have fallen off the Cruz bandwagon after a couple of bumps in the road. Whatever the reason, Cruz's will and determination was not deterred.
As a journalist, I must attempt to remain as unbiased as possible; if not my integrity will be questioned on every word. However, when I see a young man, who in the face of adversity has remained loyal, humble and committed to those who have done the same by him, it's hard to remain unbiased. I openly root for this kid because I've seen the ultimate measure of a man and a fighter who has garnered my ultimate respect!
Other fighters of note on Saturday night included the appearance of 2012 Olympian and fast rising star out of Puerto Rico Felix Verdejo (7-0). With Hall of Fame legend Wilfredo 'Bazooka' Gomez in his corner, Verdejo used superior hand speed and counter punching to outlast hard charging Guillermo Delgadillo over six rounds. Verdejo has come with a lot of hype since turning pro and he did not disappoint, though his opponent proved to be a tough test.
Also on the card, NABO featherweight champion Gamalier Rodriguez (22-2-3, 15 KO's), successfully defended his title with a 10 round unanimous decision over tough Jorge Pazos (14-6, 8 KO's) out of Mexico. Finally, Cruz's stablemate, light welterweight Jerome Rodriguez, also locally trained by 'Indio' Rodriguez, upped his record to (5-0-1) with a six round unanimous decision over Ariel Duran from Queens, NY.