Story & File Photo by John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
It’s been nine months since Ronald Cruz, 17-1, 12 KOs, was last in the ring. On that night (September 21, 2012) in Bethlehem, PA, Cruz lost his first pro fight before his loyal hometown fans. It was a tough night for Cruz. The loss was a close 10-round split decision loss to Antwone Smith, of Miami. The setback was difficult for Cruz because victory and the continuation of his undefeated streak were both in reach, but Ronald couldn’t overcome Smith’s edge in experience.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my last fight,” Cruz said. “That’s the reason I lost.”
Cruz took the defeat with class and vowed to return right away. However his comeback was delayed due to a hernia that required surgery and an extended break from his training routine. So Ronald Cruz was forced to wait with that first loss hanging over his head before he could redeem himself.
“I know I’m a lot better fighter than that,” Cruz said of his last outing. “I’m a better athlete than what I showed in my last fight. I was just flat. Antwone Smith was the better man that night. He beat me with his experience. But I’m happy I went through that because I know it will make me a better fighter. Right now I feel that I could beat not only Antwone Smith, but any fighter at 147. ” Adequate time finally passed, and Cruz was cleared to resume training. However, he knew that he needed to raise his game to become the fighter he wanted to be.
“I’ve added a few things to my training that I’ve never done before,” said Cruz. “Like working with a professional strength and conditioning trainer and following a nutrition plan to a ‘T’. Just those two small things made a big difference.” Before incorporating the new regimen into camp, Cruz had to sell the idea to his boxing trainer, Lemuel ‘Indio’ Rodriguez. Apparently Cruz managed to do that.
“He’s very happy,” Cruz said of Indio’s reaction to the new strength work. “He’s a jealous trainer, an old-style trainer, but he put his confidence in this strength and conditioning trainer (Craig Merrick), and he’s happy. For him to be happy it’s a big thing because he doesn’t trust a lot of people.”
Cruz says that his new tactics have transformed him into a much better athlete.
“More energy at the gym,” Cruz said. “I’m not feeling drained this time. Before, I would start feeling tired at the end of camp, when you want to get training done already and make weight. Not this time. I’m very close to weight and feeling very energetic. I can say that this is the best camp yet, by far.”
To test the effectiveness of his new training techniques, Cruz will clash with Bronx-based Ray Narh, 25-2, 21 KOs, in a 10-round welterweight bout Friday night. The fight is the first of three nationally televised bouts on the next edition of NBC Sports Network’s Fight Night, from the Sand’s Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA, on Friday, June 14th. Cruz vs. Narh is scheduled to start around 8PM followed by Bryant Jennings vs. Andrey Fedosov (10 rounds) and Sergey Kovalev vs. Cornelius White (12 rounds).
“Honestly I’m just dying to get in that ring,” Cruz said. “Unluckily for Ray Narh, he’s the guy who has to pay for everything that has happened to me (lately).”
However, Ray Narh is a tough foe who can punch, and give anyone a stern test.
“This time, I just checked out his name and his record, and just let my trainer do his job,” Cruz said. “I don’t care who it is. I just want to get in there and make a statement with whoever they put in front of me.”
Narh is taller than Cruz, but Ronald is the naturally heavier man, and far more comfortable at welterweight than Narh, who has never fought above 140 pounds. Further, Narh’s layoff is even longer than Cruz’. His last fight was just over two years ago. Although the match may favor Cruz, there is a great deal of pressure on him to turn in an outstanding performance.
“This is probably my last chance,” Cruz said. “It’s probably not this way, but I prefer to see it this way, and this is how I feel. I’m very thankful that NBC is bringing me back. This is my third time on NBC. My first performance (W12 Prenice Brewer), I wasn’t happy with. My second performance (L10 Smith), I definitely wasn’t happy with. So for me, this is my third and last shot. I have to go out there and really show who I am. And that’s what I want to do on the 14th.”
With that kind of pressure, the need to make a statement, as well as the added stress of fighting before his hometown crowd, Cruz may have a lot on his mind Friday. But he is convinced that his improved conditioning and added experience will see him through.
“I’m going to be in there fighting smarter,” Cruz said. “I’m not just going to go in there stupid and look for a knockout. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I get the knockout. If I don’t, I’m ready for 15 rounds, if I have to. This strength and conditioning work has been wonderful. I want to go in there a see how it feels with 8-ounce gloves, and show my new weapons in there.”
To read more about the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.PhillyBoxingHistory.com.