By John DiSanto – Philly Boxing History (.com)
The professional boxing career of undefeated Bethlehem, PA welterweight Ronald Cruz is really starting to heat up. So far, he’s won 17 straight fights, 12 by knockout, and captured the Vacant WBC Continental Americas Title with a solid unanimous decision over Prenice Brewer his last time out at Bethlehem’s Sands Event Center. Before that, Cruz was in against increasingly tough opposition, and each time, came out on top. Now he’s a ranked contender with an eye on a future world title fight. As the stakes rise, Cruz admits to feeling the pressure, especially when fighting at home before the large crowds he always attracts. On September 21, Cruz fights for the third time in Bethlehem, and without question he’ll be up against the best boxer he’s ever faced.
Miami’s Antwone Smith, 21-4-1 (12 KO), has been in with a number of good fighters and has only lost to the very best of them. The 25 year old, nicknamed “The Truth”, figures to test Cruz and show the boxing world if he is the real thing.
“Watching his fights,” Cruz said about Smith, “I think he brings a lot of weapons to the ring. More so than other fighters I’ve faced. But I feel ready for this and think I’ll be able to prove a point with this fight.”
Cruz is certainly out to show the world that he is ready to step up into the big time, but perhaps more than anyone, the tough self-critic wants to prove it to himself.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot from my last two fights,” Cruz said. I went ten rounds with (Allen) Conyers and I went twelve with Brewer. I think now that I should have been able to stop both. With that said, I feel like I’m a lot better fighter now than I was in my last fight.”
That last fight haunts Cruz. Sure he won it comfortably, but he really wanted to make a statement to the unruly crowd that had bought tickets at a record clip and filled the Sands Events Center for its very first boxing event. The card that night also featured popular Philly fighter Gabriel Rosado, and both their fights were broadcast live by NBC Sports Network as part of the nationally televised “Fight Night” boxing series. But make no mistake, the crowd was there to see Ronald Cruz.
He looked good in the fight and seemed to be on his way to a KO, but Brewer proved to be survivor and lasted the distance. Cruz felt he disappointed his hometown fans.
“I wasn’t very happy with it,” Cruz said of his performance. “I know I’m very capable of doing a lot better than that. The atmosphere played into it. That was all part of the added pressure. Fighting in front of the crowd, fighting on TV, fighting for the title, it was a lot of pressure.”
He’s determined to get it right against Smith.
“When I go in there this time, it should be like it’s nothing new,” Cruz said. It should be a walk in the park this time.”
And even though Smith looks like his hardest match so far, Cruz feels that their styles will mesh well for him.
“He’s a fighter that likes to fight on the inside,” he said. “He’s a pretty good inside fighter. So am I. It should be a pretty exciting fight. I’m a natural body puncher. That’s always part of the game plan. Work the body. I think that always works.”
As Cruz talks about waging an inside war, his mood lightens. He seems relaxed. He can see it.
“I don’t know what he’s going to come with,” Cruz said about Smith. “I don’t know if he’s going to try to box and use angles on me, or if he’s going to try to sit down in the pocket with me. I know when the fight gets heated up, he’s going to end up fighting on the inside with me. I think I’m stronger than him on the inside.”
His trainer Lemuel “Indio” Rodriguez is confident, given how hard his fighter has been working at the Allentown Boxing Club.
“I feel great. I feel great.,” Indio said. “He’s going to look sharp for this fight. We used to be in the gym at 6:00. Now we’re in the gym at 5:00 because he’s motivated. We ready for the fight.”
Cruz knows that he needs to continue winning to keep the momentum going.
Cruz said, “I look at it now and I see (I’m) #11 in the IBF, and #10 in the WBC, and you know, I’m really close. Like I said, I’m looking to make a statement with this fight. Not only show the people that I can hang with these top fighters in the world, but also show my people, my promoters, that I’m ready for the world class fighters out there. And hopefully get a title fight sometime soon.”
“You have to understand,” Indio said. “Ronald Cruz was born to be a champion. He’s ready. We wait for the time to come, and for the phone call. He’s ready. We never say ‘no’ to any challenge.”
To see him now, you’d never think that Cruz was anything but the mature adult he embodies at this moment. But like many young guys, the streets once called for his attention. He had his days in those streets, but that time is passed. Today, he’s married and a father, and completely focused on his career.
However, those streets have taken their toll. Ronald’s brother, Raymond Cruz, died of a drug overdose in 2001. Today Cruz fights for his deceased brother, whose birthday falls on the day after Ronald’s fight with Smith.
“We called him Jay,” Cruz said. “His birthday is actually September 22nd. So it’s just the joy of giving him a present on his birthday. To win that night, and a big win.”
“Fighting in his hometown is a beautiful thing,” Indio said. “He’s a kid that passed through a lot. And to see a kid like him, the way he used to be when he was younger, the things he used to do when he was in the street. Now he’s doing great, and he can show people how beautiful God is with the kids who want to change their lives. So what better place could he show all the young guys.”
Although he’s coping with added pressure these days, and doing his best to handle it gracefully, Cruz isn’t afraid to take on the extra stress of being a role model to those young kids.
“I welcome it,” Cruz said. “My mentality is not to be out there partying and doing all the other stuff. (I’m) just living my life right, and healthy, and focused on my career. What’s a better role model than just being focused on what you want to do.”
Against Antwone Smith Cruz will be fighting for those kids, his brother, his demanding fan base, and his future in the boxing game. That’s a lot to fight for, but Ronald Cruz seems to be taking it all in stride.
To find more on the Philly fight scene – past & present – visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.