Story and photos by Gary Purfield
In boxing, as can be the case in life, we are often presented with two different roads that can be traveled to reach the same goal. For a well-regarded prospect in boxing, he and his team have two very different roads. Boost the prospect’s record in a safe manner by lining up one easy fight after
another, where the prospect may learn a few things but for the most part is in fights he is nearly guaranteed to win, making sure the valued undefeated record is preserved.
But a second road is available as well. Put that prospect in with difficult and tough opponents. Challenge the talented fighter against tough competition. It is a road of higher risk but greater reward. Facing veteran tough guys with solid chins and heavy hands runs the risk of losing the undefeated record at any moment. Yet the reward is great as well. Your fighter comes out tougher, more experienced, and maybe most important, truly prepared to handle the inevitable adversity that will come against elite competition.
Prospect Ronald Cruz and his team have chosen road number two. Which in boxing these days, as Robert Frost might have said if he was a boxing fan, is the road less traveled. While Cruz didn’t turn pro as a highly regarded prospect, by his tenth pro fight it was clear that hall of fame promoter Russell Peltz had found something special. In his tenth fight on October 30, 2010 the heavy handed Cruz pulled an upset of Jeremy Bryan, who was highly regarded as a prospect at the time with a mark of 14-1. Cruz weathered early trouble from the talented boxer, and he then came back to knock out the favorite in the sixth round of a scheduled eight-rounder.
The choice is not surprising considering his background. Trainer Lemuel Rodriguez explains that he remembers when Ronald, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Bethlehem, PA, first walked into a boxing gym in Bethlehem with a few friends. Rodriguez explains that at the time, Ronald was getting in fights in the streets, at school, and really anywhere else he could manage to fight. He had a fighter’s mentality before getting in the ring and of his friends that walked into the gym, Ronald was the only one that stuck with it.
After the Jeremy Bryan fight, it was clear the team had a future contender on their hands and decisions would have to be made on how to manage his career. He would quickly dispose of the lesser Dillet Frederick in his next fight and then begin a string of fights that were far from the typical soft touches given to prospects, but instead designed to challenge the confident young fighter and, for better or worse, make him grow into a well-rounded boxer ready for anything put in front of him.
The plan fit with the mentality of the fighter who wants to be challenged and has no desire to have a padded record.
“I have a lot of confidence in my heart and my ability to take a punch. I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself. I go in there and I always push to win, and I’ll do whatever to win.”
First up was Manuel Guzman. While his record is not pretty, seven wins and ten losses at the time, Guzman had never been stopped and is well known in the Philadelphia area as someone with the heart and toughness to take out someone with a padded pretty record. Even in lopsided losses to other prospects including Latif Mundy, Bayran Jargal, and Sadam Ali, Guzman hung tough and easily saw the final bell. Cruz blasted the tough-chinned fighter with body shots and forced Guzman to retire on his stool after three rounds.
Next up would be a date in his hometown of Bethlehem against a fighter similar to Guzman, but much rougher, tougher, and stronger. Veteran Doel Carrasquillo was coming off a win where he took the undefeated mantle from another top prospect when he knocked out Denis Douglin in three rounds. While many fighters and their teams would shy away from a fighter who may be rudimentary in skill, but has a solid chin and heavy hands that just knocked out a solid prospect, Cruz’s team welcomed the idea of setting up a tough fight in his homecoming.
Again, Cruz passed the test. Instead of boxing and moving away from the dangerous puncher, Cruz went after his opponent and took the fight to him. He attacked the body over six punishing rounds for Carrasquillo and finished it with a rugged body shot to the ribs in round six.
After stopping another tough veteran, Chris Fernandez in six body punishing rounds, Cruz stepped up to his biggest challenge to date. After only fourteen pro fights he would take on thirty-one fight veteran Anges Adjaho. The former contender, Adjaho, is known as an excellent boxer with a stiff jab and a solid chin. He was stopped only once before by Tony Demarco in a rather strange stoppage where Adjaho appeared more like he was acting to get a call than actually hurt. Adjaho was once considered a serious contender and went the distance in losses to Miguel Acosta, Shawn Porter, and Joel Julio.
With the risky road comes adversity. Cruz would struggle to get going in the fight. The long jab and experience of Adjaho would give the young fighter more to handle than he had seen thus far in his career.
“With Adjaho, I could have been a lot better if I had just pushed the pace a little more instead of fighting his fight. I went in there thinking too much and played his game and let him fight at his pace instead of just pushing the pace like I always do. So if I would have worked more on the body and would have been more explosive, more faster, I would have been able to get him out of there sooner.”
But as stated before, while the prospect road less taken has its risks, it also has its rewards. Cruz would get going and storm the veteran in round five with an aggression that displayed his desire to turn the fight around and win at all costs. Cruz fought his fight in the round and sent Adjaho to the canvas twice en route to forcing a stoppage late in the round. The prospect had learned to overcome adversity and learned to turn the tables in a fight that was close to slipping away.
“I’m a strong fighter. I learned I can’t go in there and let somebody else push the pace at their pace. I always do my job and fight at my pace.”
After the Adjaho fight it would be understandable if the team decided to take an easy fight. Get a win over a lesser opponent and then move back into tougher competition. But that simply does not work for Cruz, his team, and a promoter in Peltz who will never agree that an undefeated record in today’s boxing world means a thing. Peltz often talks of the past when good fighters fought each other all the time and someone had to lose. Having losses on your record was not an indication of a lack of talent but that you were willing to fight tough. This was necessary to grow and learn as a fighter.
So, this Saturday from Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City, Cruz will once again find a way to test himself as he moves up the ladder from prospect towards contender. This time around he squares off with New York’s Allen “The Dream Shatterer” Conyers 12-5 (9 KO).
Conyers does not have the boxing talent that Adjaho presented or even the iron chin of Carrasquilo. What he does bring to the ring is a huge right hand that has earned him the moniker “Dream Shatterer.” Twice Conyers has taken an undefeated record from a well-regarded prospect. In 2007 he knocked out Derek Ennis, 10-0-1 at the time, in the second round. Then in January of last year, he took a unanimous decision over James De La Rosa who was 20-0 at the time. Conyers’ power has earned him four first round stoppages and all nine of his knockout wins have come inside of three rounds.
The flip side of Conyers is that he has also been knocked out in four of his five losses. He is a fighter that can end the fight at any moment but can also be stopped at any time. It is easy to see why Cruz, who makes no secret of the fact he is a dedicated body puncher, does not see this one getting to the final bell.
“Like always work the body, I’m going for that body. He probably knows it but I don’t hide it. There’s probably nothing he can do about it because I mix it up. If he knows he better watch out because I’ll be going for that body. Also I got a couple of other secrets but I don’t think this fight is going to go ten rounds.”
Saturday will present one further test and opportunity for the emerging prospect who has been gaining more and more attention from boxing fans, media, and sanctioning bodies. While he has headlined once in Bethlehem, this will be Cruz’s first fight at the top of the bill in Atlantic City where he has fought seven times. In addition Cruz, who will be looking to extend his streak of eight straight knockouts, has entered the IBF’s top 15.
“It’s a good feeling [headlining AC] cause I know I’m rising, little by little I’m rising. It takes a lot of hard work and I’ve worked really hard. For me I think it’s time to start stepping it up and making good money out this sport that I love so much.
“That’s also a great feeling [being ranked by the IBF]. Every boxer’s goal is to get to that world title and that’s my goal. I’ll be working hard it until I get it.”
Trainer Lemuel Rodriguez spoke about seeing his charge, who he has known for some time and sees as more than just a boxer, being at the top of an Atlantic City card and being ranked by a major world title sanctioning body.
“I feel good, I feel great because we got a great team. We got Jimmy [manager Jimmy Deoria], we got a lot of love. It makes me feel good to see him go where we want to go. I’m real happy, I can’t put my emotions into words. He deserves it. So the bottom line, we are real happy and I’m so happy for him.
“He see me like a father, I see him like a son. So imagine how happy for a father to see a son make it the way he make it.”
Rodriguez went on to explain why Cruz can handle a tougher road to the top and why he believes his fighter will hold a title belt in the future.
“Ronald is the kind of guy that people have to watch out for. For me, he will be the champion of the world. We don’t play with nobody, we train hard. This kid, he come from nothing and he will fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. He’s a hard worker. He’s not gonna be a, you know we don’t want to say any names, that gets easy fights. We get tough opponents. The way he trains, he’s not afraid of nobody.”
“As we reach the big fights, Ronald will be proven that he can handle tough opposition. He knows the difference between a 15-0 fighter with a padded record and a legitimate 15-0 fighter. He doesn’t want us to waste anyone’s time with soft opponents. Every fight has to mean something for Ronald. He actually wants to fight some of the other prospects in his division. It will happen at the right time and place.
“Right now, he is focused on Conyers. We know Conyers is going to be really prepared for this fight and Ronald is ready for it. Conyers signed the contract to take this fight back in December. He is coming in to take Ronald’s head off. And we welcome the challenge.”
To get to the lofty goals Cruz and his trainer believe he can obtain they will do it the hard way. They will take the road less traveled in boxing–taking on increasingly difficult opposition, risking the record to gain the rewards of a better fighter. Cruz, trainer, manager, and promoter simply would not have it any other way.
“I see a lot of other fighters out there undefeated, taking really easy fights, and it makes me feel good. I have like eight straight knockouts and I don’t get no easy fights, that makes me feel good.
“I don’t mind, I told Jimmy, my promoter knows it as well. It’s their call, whoever they want to put in front of me I don’t mind. I fight whoever.”
The Peltz Boxing promoted card features eight live fights and will take place in the Grand Ballroom of Bally’s Atlantic City on the Boardwalk. All eight fights will also be broadcast live on GoFightLive.tv at www.gfl.tv.
Co-headlining the card is USBA Cruiserweight title holder Garrett Wilson 11-5-1 (5 KO) taking on Pedro Martinez 6-4 (3 KO) in an eight round bout. Wilson had a tough start to his career taking on several tough fights early but has come on strong in the last year.
Wilson avenged a previous KO loss to Omar Sheika when he dominated him to a twelve round decision last year to capture the USBA strap. Wilson then pulled out a win over slick boxer Chuck Mussachio to retain his belt in November of last year. Trailing in a close fight, Wilson went for broke in the final round and caught Mussachio with a massive right hand to pull the come-from-behind KO win.
The pictures above were taken during Cruz’s training session at the Allentown Boxing Club this past Monday. For more pictures from the training session visit the following page.
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