By Gary Purfield
Friday night the new pride of Bethlehem, Ronald Cruz (16-0, 12 KO), will co-headline NBC Fight night to the delight of a packed arena at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. The main event features Gabriel Rosado vs. Sechew Powell, but Cruz will be the fan favorite that will have the full support of an expected sellout crowd. Cruz was born in Puerto Rico and has been in Bethlehem from a young age. He has become a popular figure in the community of his adopted hometown.
Cruz turned pro in 2007 after a brief amateur career. The hard-hitting puncher began turning heads in late 2010 when he upset undefeated prospect Jeremy Bryan. Cruz weathered the first few rounds against the talented boxer before wearing him down and winning by sixth round knockout.
Following wins over Dillet Frederick and Manuel Guzman, both by knockout, Cruz headlined his first scheduled ten rounder in his first bout at home in Bethlehem. Cruz stopped Doel Carrasquillo with a body shot in front of a raucous crowd at an outdoor tent at the Bethlehem Sands. Cruz then continued his knockout streak stopping veteran Chris Fernandez and former well regarded contender Anges Adjaho, both in 2010.
In his last bout, Cruz defeated upset specialist and knockout artist Allan Conyers. It was a bout that many believed had no chance of going the distance considering the punching power of both men. When Cruz dropped Conyers late in round one it appeared the bout would follow the pre-fight predictions. Then the normally methodical Cruz took a turn from his game plan and began chasing the knockout. He still dominated the fight and won a wide unanimous decision, but the Puerto Rican prospect can be his own toughest critic and was disappointed in his performance afterwards.
Since then not much has changed as Cruz is still not happy with that night’s work. To make the most of the night he has moved forward with a lesson well learned.
“I’m still not happy with the performance. I made a lot of mistakes in that fight. It actually came to be good because I got to look back at the fight and make sure none of those mistakes happen again.
“I think I was just looking for the knockout and I knew it wasn’t what I was supposed to do, but in the moment of the fight when I got him in the first round I thought I’d be able to catch him again. I was overextending punches and a lot of other things I was not happy with.”
Now Cruz returns home for the second time to the Sands, except this time he’ll be in the newly-constructed arena within the casino. Although he lost his knockout streak that had run to eight straight, Cruz is still undefeated, ranked twelfth by the IBF, fighting for his first regional title, and gaining attention on a national scene. The fighter had to learn fast on the job and has a strong desire to move fast and challenge himself at the highest level.
He wants to provide for his wife and three kids along with being a role model in the community.
“I started late in boxing. I started in 07, my first amateur fight was in 07. In 2012 just growing as a fighter that much, that to me that says I’m a fast learner and I’m pretty much going to be ready for the big time fighters out there.
“I’m just a hungry fighter just trying to make it. I’m just trying to get my family living better. Now that I’m more a role model to a lot of people out here in Bethlehem, a lot of people know me, a lot of little kids are starting to look up to me, I want to make a great example for the young community.”
Cruz has worked to learn the skills that most fighters develop at a young age. By nature he likes a rough fight where his heart and toughness can win out. Along with his will he has spent the last two years improving to be more than just a tough guy. Cruz has made the adjustments to be an all-around fighter capable of winning at a high level.
“I work a lot on trying to do it all in the ring. Being a more rounded complete fighter, being able to mix it up, being able to box on the outside. Just being able to do everything. I’m more comfortable with just mixing it up and fighting a war in there. That’s what I enjoy. When it comes to being a crafty fighter, a defensive fighter, we’ve been working on that and I actually feel pretty sharp for this fight. Been doing a lot of things I wasn’t able to do before. Pretty much ready for anything.”
The hard work has paid off as Cruz finds himself as the co-headliner on NBC Sports. He will have the opportunity to impress on a much bigger stage. He believes he had a great camp and got sparring with several of Philly’s best fighters.
“I went and got myself ready for a great performance because I want to impress on TV. Been sparring Derek Ennis, Demetrius Hopkins, sparred Mike Jones once.”
When asked if he feels he has arrived, Cruz simply felt this was a first step.
“Not yet. I see this as the beginning. Like first step and take a lot bigger steps.”
Manager Jimmy Deoria commented about the goals they have right now for Ronald and how Friday’s fight puts him where they believe he should be at this stage of his career.
“I felt he was ready to compete for a regional belt like he is now. One of our goals that we set was to get him national exposure and also to get him a regional belt. He’s getting both in one shot.”
Fighting on the Fight Night cards comes with a price. The series will only accept well-matched bouts where the outcome is difficult to predict. Cruz has an old school mentality that includes a desire to challenge himself which fits the Fight Night criteria.
“Like I said at the beginning, I’m a hungry fighter so all this is like fuel to the fire. Training and come the fight it’s more weight, more options for me to focus better.”
Cruz takes on a difficult assignment in the slick-fighting Prenice Brewer (16-1-1, 6 KO). Brewer will be the boxer against Cruz the fighter. At stake in the twelve round welterweight affair is the chance to gain his first piece of hardware with the WBC Continental Americas title on the line.
He acknowledges this will be one of his toughest assignments considering Brewer’s skill level.
“Between him and Jeremy Bryan I would say they’re both the best skilled fighters I fought.”
The bout may very well come down to will vs. skill as Brewer attempts to box and move while Cruz looks to impose his pressure and body assault to wear down and stop the speedy boxer. Cruz talked about his opponent’s style and what it will take to come out ahead Friday night.
“I mean, he likes to get the attention of judges and crowd by throwing a lot of flurries but not a lot behind it. Just scoring a lot of points using his legs, using his length to fight a little bit. He also gets scared just a little bit, but I don’t go by that because he might have worked on that. He’s very slick and very defensive minded. We’re ready to break him down. Let me just put it that way. We’re ready to break him down and stop him.”
Cruz is well aware of the good and bad of fighting at home. The roar of the crowd can motivate a fighter on one hand and on the other hand can cause him to go overboard, straying from the game plan. Cruz believes his preparation and experience will help him deal with the negatives and the crowd will give him the extra edge to come out on top.
“At first you feel like wow, I’m fighting with a lot of pressure fighting in front of my home crowd. Then as camp goes on and you’re getting ready and you know you’re ready. Right now it’s just like another fight. I’m really ready and just anxious to just get in the ring and fight. I have to be in there, be relaxed, focused. It’s going to be a help. I see this more like it’s going to be a help from the crowd cheering me on and being in support of me. It’s going to bring out the best in me.”
I asked Cruz if he was concerned the energy of the crowd could cause him to stray from the game plan and go for a knockout.
“No, with the experience I got from that Conyers fight, I went through that and I’m not going to let that happen to me again. That’s the good experience I got from the Conyers fight. Also I went the whole ten rounds and I know how to be in there for ten rounds strong. This time it’s going to be twelve, so I’ll be ready for all twelve rounds to put in a lot of pressure.”
Cruz wants to continue his fast learning and fast moving up the ranks. While he was clear he is focused on Brewer and putting on a show for his hometown fans as well as those watching on TV, he strives for big fights in the future.
“I want to start looking at the big fights if my people think I’m ready. I want to go out there and show that I’m ready and prove to myself that I’m ready. Just people that are going to watch on NBC be ready for a good, exciting fighter. Just start to get to know me.”
I asked his team of managers Jimmy Deoria and trainer Lemuel “Indio Rodriguez about where they feel he is right now. Deoria expressed that his charge is ahead of where he had planned for this stage of his career.
“I think Ronald’s right where he should be right now. Matter of fact if anything he’s really ahead of where I predicted him to be at this stage of his career. I’m proud of where he is right now. I think the level of competition he’s fought has been tough competition. I think he’s been tested each fight in a different way. So each level that he steps up to we’re looking for certain things. He’s passed the test to show he’s ready to be at this level right now.”
Rodriguez talked about his belief the fighter is ready for whatever opportunities present themselves.
“I think Ronald is ready for anyone on that level. Ronald’s a hard worker. That’s what we bring. Ronald’s too strong so we want to get it now. Every time Ronald fights somebody he gets more experience and that’s why I’m saying we are ready for anybody for a title.”
Cruz is excited about his future in boxing. At the same time the soft spoken family man is humbled to receive the support he will get at home. He takes it upon himself to make sure he delivers for them on fight night to pay back the support they have provided. His team talked about how highly they regard him inside and outside of the ring.
Deoria stated, “I just love him. He’s so easy to get along with. He’s mild mannered and easy going. He’s well-spoken. He can speak English and Spanish. He’s well versed in each one. If you tell him there’s something you need to work on he’s open to hear that. He wants to hear how he can improve and get better. He’s such a gentleman outside the ring.
“He’s a family man. He has a lot of responsibility outside of the ring he is keeping up with. He has a lot on his plate and I’m proud of the way he handles himself inside and outside the ring because the sport of boxing needs to see guys like this. He’s always trying to help somebody, help people out. That’s just how he is. He’s genuine, he’s really genuine like that.”
Rodriguez added, “He’s a great person. He’s all about love. You never going to see him disrespecting nobody. He’s got a beautiful heart. He’s always helping people out. He is talking to the kids in the community already. That’s what he’s doing, giving back to the community. Like I told you before, me and him have a connection like a father and son. He loves his wife. He loves his kids.”
Cruz summed up his feelings on the support he receives at home and how much this means to him.
“Being known it was in Bethlehem from the beginning, I thought it was going to sell out. I was pretty confident it was going to sell out. The support of the people out here in Bethlehem is pretty touching. You know a lot of people give me a lot of support and just, I’m not going to let them down. I’m going to go in there and give it all I got. I feel like I’m the stronger fighter and I’m just going to go out there and prove it.”
- The Boxing Tribune will be live at Ringside in Bethlehem for coverage so check back shortly after the fights end for full coverage. TV coverage starts at 9pm on NBC Sports Network.
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