For Pride month, we’ve dedicated each day of June to an individual athlete or coach whose shining moment changed LGBTQ sports.
Today: Orlando Cruz makes boxing history by capturing the WBO NABO Super Featherweight championship on Oct. 9, 2015.
The stage and setting for Orlando Cruz’s first shot at boxing gold since failing in his quest to become the first out gay boxing world champion in 2013 felt all too familiar.
His WBO NABO Super Featherweight title bout with Gabino Cota would be broadcast on Boxeo Telemundo, a program on which Cruz had never lost. The fight would emanate from the Civic Center in Kissimmee, FL, the same venue where Cruz defeated Jorge Pazos a few weeks after publicly coming out as gay in 2012.
The impression of home-field advantage easily translated into confidence, but a key unknown remained. Cruz was in a category unto himself as an out gay boxer, and downing Cota would push boxing into a historic place.
The former Puerto Rican Olympian wasn’t simply fighting for a title. Every time he stepped in that ring. Cruz fought for acceptance, both his own and that of the LGBTQ community he represented. Many within the boxing world celebrated his identity after coming out, but there are always outliers. Strapping a belt around his waist would prove a formidable statement to those that held such prejudice.
Cruz and Cota put on a ten-round clinic that night, with Cruz fighting back after two late-round rallies from Cota and rising quickly after slipping and falling to the canvas. But Cruz didn’t just survive that night, he triumphed. The unanimous decision victory for “El Fenómeno,” his name emblazoned in Pride colors on his trunks, signaled that LGBTQ boxers belonged to critics past, present or future.
Cruz defended his title three times, including his 2016 victory over Alejandro Valdez which he dedicated to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, before vacating the title in 2016.
We’ll share another Moment of Pride tomorrow and every day throughout Pride Month.