By Gary Purfield
It’s fight week in Bethlehem PA. Yes, you read that correctly, not Philadelphia or Atlantic City but Bethlehem. This Friday, July 1, rising welterweight Ronald Cruz will look to remain undefeated when he goes for win number thirteen against Doel Carrasquillo 15-17-1 (13 KO). This will be the first time he will be fighting in his hometown of Bethlehem PA. Cruz has fought primarily in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, but with the new Sands Casino in Bethlehem, he has the opportunity to ply his trade in his own backyard.
Cruz 12-0 (9 KO) draws very well in Philly and Atlantic City so it is expected that he will do even better at the gate in his hometown. This will be the first boxing event at the new Sands Casino in Bethlehem. The fights will be held in a large outdoor tent configured for 1,500 spectators.
Cruz’s manager Jimmy Deoria, a Police Officer and trainer at a Police Athletic League Gym in Phoenixville PA, explained how everything came together.
“I met the casino president Robert DeSalvio about 2 years ago. We discussed the possibility of someday putting Ronald Cruz in a Main Event at the Sands Casino when he was ready for that. DeSalvio told me that he used to work with Russell Peltz (Ronald’s promoter) back in the 80’s running shows at the Casino’s in Atlantic City NJ. Each time Ronald fights, I send DeSalvio an article about the fight letting him know that Ronald is proving that he is ready for this type of event in his hometown. The casino does not have a ballroom set up yet for indoor boxing, but DeSalvio suggested we try the first boxing event on the grounds of the casino with the outdoor arrangement.”
I caught up with Ronald and trainer Lemuel “Indio” Rodriguez at Shuler’s Gym in West Philadelphia this past Friday. Cruz trains at his home gym the Bethlehem Boxing Club and Allentown Boxing Club. He then heads to Philadelphia and New Jersey gyms for more competitive sparring including, Shuler’s, which is well known for having top notch sparring in a city known for having tough gym wars.
Today would be the last day of sparring before winding down camp for the fight a week away. Instead of taking it easy, Cruz would go ten rounds with two of the best in Shuler’s gym. Next Friday Cruz will be at home, but on this day he was the visitor to one of the toughest gyms in Philly.
First up, five rounds with highly touted prospect Julian Williams 6-0-1 (4 KO) who was signed shortly out of the amateurs by Gary Shaw. The welterweight Cruz would be battling a height and size disadvantage against Williams who is a Jr. Middleweight, but that did not stop him from giving as good as he got with the young talent.
Next up, there was a complete 180 with sparring partner Hank Lundy. Williams is a traditional boxer with solid fundamentals. Lundy is extremely talented and often unorthodox. Cruz had the size advantage on the lightweight Lundy, but “Hammering” Hank is an ultra-speedy fighter who comes from every angle and fights in both stances with ease.
During the sparring session, Cruz displayed a wide skills set. Some aspects I was aware of and some surprised me. Ronald displayed the strength and heavy hands he is known for. He is at his best with an opponent trapped in the corner, but he is certainly capable of fighting in the middle of the ring as well. He usually keeps a good defense with slight head movement and a high guard but as he has done in previous bouts, he will sometimes drop his guard possibly to invite his opponent into a counter shot. Cruz displayed his sturdy chin during the sparring session. As stated above when you spar with the best you take some shots but the punches from Williams and Lundy did not faze the young fighter.
Two things became evident during the sparring session that this writer had not previously noticed. First, Cruz has good agility and can be light on his feet when needed. He displayed an ability to almost square up to his opponent but then bounce back and forth while turning away from punches.
The second aspect I learned was his ability to stay calm under pressure. Both Williams and Lundy brought a lot of pressure (Lundy brought the pressure with plenty of verbal jabs as he is known for), but at no point did Cruz allow this to take him out of his style of fighting. This writer would guess that while the fighter inside of Cruz wanted to engage in a full fight, he had the sense to stay calm and stay within his game plan. Being one week out from a fight, you don’t need to be engaging in full gym wars. Many intelligent boxing insiders will tell you to save that for the ring. You don’t get paid in the gym.
Cruz came up tough after a short amateur background where he went 25-3. He was signed early in his pro career by hall of fame promoter Russell Peltz who noticed his abilities after several pro fights. Cruz scored his best win as a pro when he stopped Jeremy Bryan in the sixth round. Bryan was unbeaten at the time and favored, but Cruz withstood the early onslaught to wear Bryan down for the stoppage. In addition to the work he gets at Shuler’s Cruz has also sparred and worked out with Philly’s brightest young star Mike Jones.
Now for the first time Cruz will headline as a professional in only his thirteenth pro bout. He is steadily making his way up the rankings and growing as a fighter. And maybe more than anything he is getting his chance to do all this in his hometown in front of his friends, family, and growing fan base.
I asked Cruz about being excited to fight at home. His face lit up as he stated that he can’t wait. Later I turned to Lemuel Rodriguez and asked if he was concerned about the typical distractions of fighting at home and he stated that he has no concerns for Ronald. Both Cruz and Rodriguez were also confident that he would stay composed to stick to the game plan and not fall into the traps including getting caught up in the adrenaline of fighting at home or coming out to aggressive. Rodriguez was very confident in his student that he was well prepared and ready to fight. The student will now look to please trainer and fans come Friday night.
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