Though two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world will square off on pay-per-view Saturday night, judging by the press clippings this week, a fringe featherweight contender on the undercard is the star of the show, not Juan Manuel Marquez or Timothy Bradley.
And deservedly so.
When Orlando Cruz climbs through the ropes at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas to challenge Orlando Salido for the vacant WBO featherweight title, he will have already won. Simply by donning rainbow colored trunks, and proudly announcing he is gay, Cruz will have brought boxing into the 21st century.
Or somewhere near it.
The direct reaction to Cruz’s announcement last year that he is homosexual has been overwhelmingly positive. Fighters almost universally have voiced their support for Cruz, and HBO commentator Jim Lampley has gone as far as to call the Puerto Rican challenger a “hero” of his. Perhaps due in part to the lack of “mainstream” boxing media, there hasn’t even been a Chris Broussard to spout off about the “way God intended for us to be.”
Cruz’s coming out of the closet, and the sport’s nonchalant reaction to it has been a year-long pat on its own back as well. It’s been used to paint the Sweet Science as something of a progressive sportÔÇöa first, to be sureÔÇöone that would accept people of all walks of life.
And in many ways, that is true. The open door policy at gyms around the world has allowed individuals who would otherwise have been outcasts, socially and athletically, to have a place to belong. The unique independent nature of the sport also removes the need to assimilate as one would in a team environment.
But how accepting is boxing really of an atypical sexual orientation?
Fans’ voices can already be heard talking about how Cruz is only receiving this title shot and the subsequent attention because he’s gay, and that his sexuality is being exploited. Of course, because a fighter’s religion, and other such life choices, has never been utilized for public relations purposes or to market a fight. (Yeah, right.)
The supportive messages for him are both well-earned, and expected. Publicly denouncing Cruz’s decision to come out of the closet would have been a PR disaster for whoever opened their mouth. It is true about the sport as well that anyone who stands in a ring and gets punched in the face for a living earns a certain level of respect from everyone else involved.
But take the direct context of Cruz away, and watch the bigots come out of their own closet.
See how deeply rooted misogyny and homophobia are rooted in boxing.
Cruz has been accepted because aside from being gay, he doesn’t challenge the masculine ideals engrained in prizefighting.
“I am a man. I am not a girl. I have to fight on Saturday night,” Cruz even said at Monday’s news conference.
It’s the oldest and most offensive insult in the trash talking book to tell your opponent he “hits like a girl.” If you dominate a fighter in the ring, you’ve “made him your bitch.” And let’s not forget all the times someone has been called a faggot during a premium cable company’s hype show, because it makes for good TV.
Femininity is not allowed in the squared circle, or anywhere near it.
Don’t believe me?
Run the tapes back and watch the media and fans slap their knees and chuckle at Paulie Malignaggi and Adrien Broner commoditize and slut-shame women and hurl homophobic slurs back and forth at their press conference earlier this year. Makes for great copy!
Or, you know, tell me when the last time a women’s boxing match was shown by HBO, Showtime or ESPN.
Cruz’s coming out has put the mainstream spotlight on the sport for one of the few occasions per year, so everyone has put on their Sunday bests and been on their best behavior. But it’s time to start behaving this way every day of the week.
Orlando Cruz is most definitely a hero, but he is far from a savior.
Photo / Chris Farina-TOP RANK
Corey Erdman is a staff writer for RingTV.com, a host at Fight Network and SIRIUS/XM in Canada, and a regular commentator for WealthTV. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.