LAS VEGAS (AP) — Orlando Cruz won the fight of his life when he came out last year as the first openly gay fighter in boxing.
Now he’s in a fight of another kind, a championship battle Saturday night that is the biggest bout of his professional career.
“It’s my dream and it’s my time,” Cruz said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to fight for the championship and I plan to make history.”
Cruz takes on fellow veteran Orlando Salido in a fight for a piece of the featherweight title on the undercard of Timothy Bradley’s fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. He’ll do it wearing rainbow colors on his boxing trunks, his way of showing support for others in the gay and lesbian community.
“This is for all of them,” Cruz said. “But this is for me, too. It’s a beautiful opportunity for me, and it’s my moment.”
The trunks have caused some controversy in his native Puerto Rico because the design is a Puerto Rican flag with the rainbow colors in place of the usual colors. But Cruz said his intention was always to honor his country while also making a statement for gay rights.
“Some people are mad at me, but I don’t care,” he said. “I respect the Puerto Rican flag. There were no bad intentions in the design of the trunks.”
The fight is the first title bout for the 32-year-old Cruz, who fought on the Puerto Rican Olympic team in 2000 but has struggled at times as a pro. He lost two straight fights in 2009-10 as he struggled to keep his sexuality private, but says he’s been a better and more focused fighter since coming out publicly a year ago.
That showed in his last two outings, both wins, that got him a spot against Salido for the vacant WBO version of the 126-pound crown. It’s a fight that would draw little attention normally, but is more high profile because Cruz is the first active fighter to declare he is gay.