By Jake Donovan
Orlando Cruz should consider fighting for a cause more often.
The veteran super featherweight contender turned away a stiff challenge from a determined Alejandro Valdez to score a 7th round knockout in front of a sold-out crowd Friday evening at Kissimmee Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida.
A competitive battle changed in an instant when Cruz scored two knockdowns to put Valdez away at 1:24 of round seven.
Earlier in the week, Cruz – boxing’s first-ever openly gay active boxer – had declared that he was dedicating the fight to the victims of the horrific mass shooting one month ago at alternative lifestyle Pulse night club in Orlando.
The 2000 Puerto Rican Olympian fought with an inspired purpose in honor of the community he proudly represents, but was met with a version of Valdez who came in with nothing to lose. The longtime fringe contender from Mexico is two fights into a comeback following a four-year layoff, looking better than he has in years as Cruz struggled to enjoy a sustained attack at any point of the first six rounds of action.
Rounds five and six in particular were strong for Valdez, who bravely stalked his heavily favored foe and landing in combinations. Cruz was bewildered at times, but his emotions kept in check by longtime trainer Juan De Leon.
It paid off in the fight-ending sequence in round seven. Cruz was fighting in reverse and trading shots with Valdez when a two-punch combo dramatically – and permanently – shifted the momentum in his favor. Valdez was shook before stumbling to the canvas, struggling to make it to his feet. Cruz immediately went on the attack, throwing until referee Frank Santore was left with no choice but to rescue a battered Valdez.
The win is the fourth straight for Cruz, who improves to 24-4-1 (12KOs). It marked the second time in less than four years where he entered a Telemundo-aired fight in Florida on the heels of a major announcement. In Oct/ ’12, he held an exclusive interview with the network where he confirmed his alternative lifestyle just days before an eventual landslide win over Jorge Pazos.
One year later, he landed his lone career title shot to date. His quest fell miserably short, suffering a knockout loss to Orlando Salido in their Oct. ’13 vacant title bout. The setback was followed by a minor upset in a decision defeat at the hands of Gamalier Rodriguez in April ’14.
That miserable stretch of his career is deep in the rearview as he continues to move towards a crack at a super featherweight title.
In the evening’s chief support, Miguel “No Fear” Cartagena held true to his nickname in a 1st round knockout of Joebert Alvarez. The Philadelphia-based flyweight scored two knockdowns, the latter prompting an immediate stoppage as he bounced back strong from a decision loss to Ricardo Rodriguez on this very network this past February.