The stigma of Orlando Cruz’s two professional defeats have left him branded him with the tag of “opponent” heading into his July 6 clash with former WBO 115-pound titleholder Marvin Sonsona at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.
The featherweight contender who represented Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics hopes to shed that designation for good when he fights Sonsona, of General Santos City, Philippines, in the 10-round bout which will be televised on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights.
Cruz (18-2, 9 knockouts), of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is already three weeks into training camp in North Bergen, N.J., getting a jump start on the conditioning phase of his camp with strength and conditioning coach Marcin Machula and assistant trainer Jonathan Alamo before head trainer Juan De Leon joins them this week.
“This is my big opportunity,” said Cruz, who at 30 is nine years older than his Filipino adversary. “Sonsona is a good boxer and young, but I don’t care. I am focused my plan and my style and July 6 everybody will see me as a different boxer.
“I’m focused for the big opportunities for the big fights, the big money. For me, it’s important for my future, for my life, to support my family and get the big fights on HBO and Showtime.”
The veteran southpaw, like Sonsona 16-1-1 (13 KOs), admits that his partying lifestyle back home in Puerto Rico affected his training and focus in the past, contributing to his fifth-round knockout loss to Cornelius Lock in 2009, then his third-round stoppage loss to former junior featherweight champ Daniel Ponce de Leon in his next fight in 2010.
Cruz was out of action for nearly two years before relocating to Jersey City, N.J. and returning against 19-0 prospect Michael Franco in October. Cruz knocked out the unbeaten prospect in the first round, and in his most recent bout knocked out Alejandro Delgado in the 11th round in February.
Sonsona, who defeated Cruz’s compatriot and friend Jose “Carita” Lopez by unanimous decision in September of 2009 to win a junior bantamweight title, has won two straight against non-descript opposition since losing his undefeated record via a fourth-round TKO to Cruz’s All Star Boxing stablemate Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in February of 2010.
Alamo, who has been with Cruz for the past year, says that Cruz’s dedication has helped him turn the corner professionally.
“I think Sonsona is the perfect opponent for Orlando,” said Alamo.
“He’s more dedicated in what he’s doing now. I think he’s matured in the sports, he knows the business and he needs this fight.”
Cruz’s dedication has also helped his conditioning coach do his job better.
“I remember when I started training him [prior to Franco fight], sometimes he skipped his training here and there,” said Machula. “I can tell he became more mature and disciplined, he stays focused on his training, nutrition and running. That makes him a better fighter.”
Cruz says that sparring will begin next week with seven different partners, most notably unbeaten featherweight prospect Emmanuel Gonzalez (11-0, 7 KOs) and light welterweight Jose Calderon (4-2, 4 KOs).
Photos / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.