KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz is eager to get back to work in his first bout since publicly declaring his homosexuality.
Cruz (18-2-1, 9 KOs) takes on Jorge Pazos at the Kissimmee Civic Center outside Orlando, Fla., on Friday night, looking for a victory that could propel him toward a 126-pound title shot.
The veteran Puerto Rican fighter and former Olympian wants to be known as much more than the first boxer to come out while still fighting. Cruz intends to be a world champion, and a victory over Mexico's Pazos (20-4, 13 KOs) is a starting point.
"I do feel a little bit of pressure because of all of this," Cruz said. "The first few days were like a bucket of cold water (dumped on me), but it is something that I had to do. I'm not doing it for ratings. I answer all the questions now so that I can then concentrate on my career, which is what's important for me."
Cruz has been surrounded by attention since he came out earlier this month, doing dozens of interviews while receiving praise and support from all corners of sports and society.
His fight with Pazos for a second-tier WBO belt is under an increased spotlight, but the 31-year-old Cruz has attempted to keep his focus on his preparation. He spent the past week trimming down to make the 126-pound limit.
Cruz's declaration has received widespread attention within boxing and in the larger sporting world. Puerto Rican fighters Juan Manuel Lopez and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. are expected to attend Cruz's bout, and Miguel Cotto has texted his former Olympic teammate to offer support.
Even Pazos, who is fighting in the U.S. for the first time, praised his opponent's courage.
"I have to win whether he is gay or not, but I don't think about that," Pazos said. "He made a decision, and I respect him for it. That is outside the ring. It is different inside the ring."
Cruz, who moved to New York from Puerto Rico four years ago, has fought just twice in 32 months since losing consecutive bouts to Cornelius Lock and Daniel Ponce De Leon. After two straight knockout victories, Cruz is expected to handle Pazos, who has fought outside Mexico just once in his five-year pro career.
"I'm just anxious for Friday to get here and to hear the bell sound," Cruz said.