Orlando Cruz lifted what he said was a major “distraction” in his boxing career, announcing he is gay.
Cruz, 31, a member of the 2000 Olympic team who is 18-2-1 with nine knockouts as a professional, released a statement Wednesday night in which he said:
“I’ve been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself. I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”
Thursday, while training in the mountains of Puerto Rico for his Oct. 19 featherweight bout in Kissimmee, Fla., against Jorge Pazos, Cruz told The Times by telephone he was compelled to address the topic, “Because I want to be free and not carry this on and on with myself.
“I want to let the people see who I really am, to be free, to let people understand.”
Cruz is believed to be the first professional boxer to declare he’s gay.
He said since his announcement that he’s received “unconditional, 100% support,” including text messages and Twitter and Facebook notes of endorsement from his 2000 Olympic teammate and former multi-division world champion Miguel Cotto and Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin.
“I was physically and mentally prepared for whatever the reaction would be before this, and I can tell you from the response, this will never bother me again,” Cruz said. “I feel comfortable with myself.”
Cruz lost twice within a five-month stretch in 2009 and 2010 to respected fighters Cornelius Lock, who was trained by Roger Mayweather, and current world champion Daniel Ponce De Leon.
He said he hopes his openness breaks down some walls and erases some stereotypes.
“It should show something for itself: that I have courage, I’m a warrior in the ring,” Cruz said. “It should not diminish me. I’ve fought with the best, and I want to be a world champion.”
Cruz’s fight against Pazos is for a lesser belt known as the World Boxing Organization Latino featherweight title.
The boxer said gay marriage is “not permitted” in Puerto Rico, and he declined to discuss whether he’s in a relationship now.
“The gay community should have the same rights as the heterosexual community, and I want to be part of that movement to make that happen here,” Cruz said.
“The fact of the matter is I’m happy. I did this for myself. I believe those two losses I had were part of this big distraction I was going through. It’s not there anymore. I’m glad I’m past that.”