Why Cruz and Katie mark major milestones for boxing

posted on: 05/11/2016

ALAN HUBBARD’S PUNCHLINES – 5.11.16

Orlando Cruz

Saturday November 26 marks fascinating milestones for British boxing. In Cardiff, at the Motorpoint Arena, Puerto Rican Orlando Cruz becomes the first male openly gay boxer to appear on a professional bill in this country when he challenges for Terry Flanagan’s WBO lightweight title.

On the same night at Wembley Arena, Ireland’s iconic Katie Taylor makes her pro debut, the first female boxer to do so on a major tournament in the UK.

How times change – significantly for the better.

We can be certain that the 35-year-old Cruz will be warmly welcomed in Wales, for by and large, boxing fans are far more adult than many of those who follow football.

Thankfully, these days it is no longer an anathema to declare your sexuality in sport – unless you are a footballer.

Cruz, who bravely ‘came out’ in 2013 had the opportunity to become the first openly gay world champion when he challenged Orlando Salido for the vacant WBO world featherweight title but he was outgunned by the Mexican.

Subsequently he has acquired five victories and moved up to lightweight.

Cruz, who competed in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, stunned the fight game by admitting his homosexuality.

But the reaction was not hostile. He went on to win his next fight in an atmosphere devoid of taunts or innuendo. It will be the same in Cardiff -although he is not expected to defeat Manchester’s currently supercharged ‘Turbo’.

Of course Cruz is by no means the first gay boxer. The late Emile Griffith, born in the United States Virgin Islands, was a six-times world champion at welterweight and middleweight in the sixties, now installed in boxing’s Hall of Fame.

There was always speculation about his sexuality – he talked with a lisp, had an effeminate gait and had worked as a milliner designing women’s hats. We certainly raised our eyebrows in 1964 when Griffith fought at Wembley against Britain’s Brian Curvis.

When we went to his dressing room afterwards he was passionately snogging one of his cornerman. But those were the days when no-one asked questions and to admit to being ‘queer’ (gay had not acquired its current connotation then), especially in an environment like boxing, would have been professional suicide.

Griffith died aged 75 in 2013 – ironically the year Cruz felt sufficiently empowered to finally reveal the homosexuality that was always an unspoken backdrop to his fabulous  career.

But as Cruz now says, thankfully these are more enlightened times. “I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”

If that can happen in a macho world like boxing, where double Olympic women’s champion Nicola Adams, now a national treasure, can happily publicly admit to her bi-sexuality, then we know how far we have travelled – certainly some distance from that day back in the sixties when the British Olympic figure skating gold medalist John Curry was the victim of gay bashing.

Katie Taylor

Meantime Katie Taylor’s astonishing success in the amateurs sees her widely regarded as the outstanding Irish athlete of her generation with her 15-year career garnering five world titles, six European titles and Olympic gold at the London 2012 games where she was her nation’s flagbearer.

The 30-year-old from Bray now turns her attention to conquering the paid ranks and her path to world titles begins in London on November 26 before a second pro outing before the end of the year at the Manchester Arena on December 10 on the undercard of the IBF world heavyweight title defence by fellow gold medal star Anthony Joshua.

With another double Olympic champion, American Claressa Shields making her own pro debut in Las Vegas on the undercard of the Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward light heavyweight title fight on November 19,and Adams having serious talks about turning pro, it seems boxing may soon have a formidable feminine side, with more mixed bills.

However while I have always been a supporter of women’s rights to box should they so desire I have my doubts about whether there really is sufficient appetite here for a professional side to their game.

Matchmaking will be hard because of the scarcity of good opposition – but it will be interesting to see how it works out.

At least there will be no headguards – surely a prelude to them being removed for women in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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Another quick Josh splosh?

There’s no doubt Anthony Joshua is box office. He puts bums on seats – in every sense.

Anthony Joshua

But is his upcoming IBF world heavyweight title defence against chinny TexMex Eric Molina really worthy of Sky Box Office? Not for my money at £16.95 or so.

Molina may have gone nine rounds with WBC champion Deontay Wilder but he was down four times against a champion who virtually fought fior most of the contest with just one arm.

And his other two defeats both came he was caught cold in the first round. Joshua likes to bang ‘em out early so expect another brief encounter.

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Can Yarde measure up to Conteh?

A fabulous night at the annual Nordoff Robbins show at the London Hilton recently raised an astonishing £80,000 for a brilliant charity which uses music as a therapy to improve the lives of vulnerable physically and emotionally afflicted people.

Much of this largesse was due to the energy and professionalism of former world light-heavyweight champion John Conteh, who acted as auctioneer for the night.

Conteh is terrific at this sort of thing, as well as being an accomplished in-demand after-dinner raconteur with barely a blank spot in his diary.

Anthony Yarde

We introduced him to undefeated up-and-coming light-heavyweight Anthony Yarde, who possesses similar charm and good looks. The Queensberry starlet was suitably bowled over.

If young Yarde turns out to be half as good as Conteh was, he’ll be a world champion, too.

At the dinner, Frank Warren presented the prestigious Nordoff Robbins Boxing Icon Award to another equally charismatic British boxing great, David Haye, to mark his career and contribution to the sport. ************************

Ladies know the score

Enjoyed another charity fight night out last weekend, also at a Hilton, but this time in Southampton where former England women’s boxing captain Lucy O’Connor held a successful benefit night for the Poseidon Amateur Boxing Club she helps run on a voluntary basis for the local community with husband Stuart, the Royal Navy boxing coach.

Ex-Euro champ Lucy is the daughter-in-law of Star Class ref Terry O’Connor who added his presence to a great evening of what is still truly amateur boxing.

What was interesting that all eight bouts (seven male and one female) were judged by women. Even more interesting was that there wasn’ t bad decision between them. The lady arbiters certainly new the score – and how to. Another sign of boxing’s changing times?

FIGHTING TALK

Donald Trump has been a friend not only to me but boxing itself. Somewhere deep down you pull for him to win. It would be good for politics to have some newcomer on the scene. I would have fun for the next four years. I’ve voted for lots of guys. Some lose, some win. But I’d have fun with Donald Trump being president.

No doubt which US presidential candidate George Foreman is championing.

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I’m like herpes – one minute I’m gone, then one minute I pop back up.

A rash claim by Dereck Chisora before his British heavyweight title fight with Dillian Whyte.

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When I first dreamt of Olympic gold, female boxing was practically unknown. Now because of my journey and the incredible supporters who came along with me, female boxing is as much part of the fabric of the Olympics as its male counterpart. Now I want to do the same for the professional sport.

Why Irish boxing legend Katie Taylor has decided to cash in on her unparalleled amateur achievements.

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We have seen a lot of Anthony Joshua’s fights but he has knocked out everybody, so what has he learned? Where is the experience there? You know Wladimir is almost up to 70 fights so you have got the experience and the old, and you have got the new and the strong. So which one are you going to take?

Lennox Lewis says he leans slightly towards Klitschko if and when the Ukrainian meets Joshua next year.

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I’m not sure where this came from. It is a pulled muscle, nothing major. A minor injury. Everbody’s blowing it up like he’s lost his leg.

Klitschko’s manager Bernd Boente insists injury is not the main reason the Joshua fight was postponed. No, it was the WBA’s procrastination.

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