Ron Cruz is very happy to be back in business.
That would be the “hurt” business, better known as boxing. The North Hollywood resident and super welterweight will be fighting in the main event on a July 17 professional card in Red Rock, Iowa.
“We’re going to be the main event, and hope it’s a catapult to put us back in the limelight a bit,” said Cruz, while preparing for his upcoming bout with trainer and mentor Edgar Ponce at the 818 Boxing Club in San Fernando.
His opponent, Chris Gray, is not exactly a top 10 talent, with an overall record of 13-22-1. But Cruz, still eager to establish himself in the public’s mind as a contender, will take nothing for granted because a loss or poor performance would be devastating to him.
Cruz also feels lucky to be fighting at all.
It wasn’t only the pandemic that disrupted his career in 2020. Cruz had developed a cyst in his lower back that became infected, causing a level of pain that made it hard to stand or sit. With COVID-19 canceling many sporting events in the Southland, Cruz underwent surgery last March.
Even though the procedure was considered a success, the surgical area had to remain open almost another month for the infection to be completely gone. Cruz said he couldn’t exercise or work out. “I couldn’t even sweat,” he said.
“This was the first time [since going pro] that I was out of shape because there was nothing I could do other than walk my dog,” Cruz said. “A few weeks [of doing nothing] can do you harm, especially mentally.”
Cruz got back in the gym in May. But he and Ponce “kinda had to start from ‘Ground Zero’ again,” he said. “Trying to get back to where I was, it was really difficult.”
Still, the 29-year-old boxer refuses to let himself be defined by his setbacks. When Cruz first decided to turn pro back in 2014, he did so without the glittering resume of a Golden Gloves national amateur champion, or the name recognition of a USA Olympic medalist. His fighting background was in martial arts as a Muay Thai boxer, but he wasn’t interested in moving into the mixed martial arts fighting world.
A boxing career — and any reward from it — would have to be built piece by piece, fight by fight. So the hardscrabble has been the norm for Cruz. And he has gone about it without complaint or ego.
Ponce said he is seeing Cruz return to his old self.
“He started ‘coming back’ about two months ago,” Ponce said. “He was looking better, moving better. At first he wasn’t the same and I told him, ‘look, you’ve gotta pick it up or you’re not fighting.’ And he’s done that.”
Cruz has a 17-1 record with 12 knockouts (according to the website BoxRec). Now he needs a ‘name’ fight while in his physical prime. The Craig fight is probably not the one. But a win gets Cruz closer toward fulfilling the personal timetable he established at the outset.
“The goal has been to get to 20 fights, and then take a big fight,” Cruz said. “After this fight, we want to see the offers we get; we want to take a risk. We’ve played it safe. We’d gotten some TV offers, but we didn’t feel they were the right ones, or I needed to improve some other aspects of my game.
“This fight, I have to prove to myself and my coach that we are where we need to be, and we can take that risk.”
Some breaks you make for yourself. But others drop out of the sky.
Cruz was out for his daily run last August when he got a call from Ponce with some incredible news. Former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was coming out of retirement for a charity exhibition match against former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Roy Jones, Jr. in November, and Tyson was looking for sparring partners.
“[Ponce said] ‘they’re asking me if we have somebody fast enough and strong enough to spar with him,’” Cruz said. “I’m like, ‘sign me up, you know I’m there.’
Ponce said Tyson’s representatives first asked him if he knew or had a heavyweight who would spar. “I said, ‘no, but I have a super welterweight who walks around at 170 pounds.’ I sent them some video [of Cruz] and they replied, ‘we love him. Bring him.’”
Cruz spent more than two months at Tyson’s training camp. And, considering Tyson —now back in fighting condition and still possessing sledgehammer power in his fists — outweighed him by 50-plus pounds, Cruz fortunately did not have to absorb the typical amount of punishment sparring partners can receive.
“Mike Tyson took care of me,” Cruz said. “I said, ‘Mike, I’m here to be your sparring partner, go ahead and hit me.’ He just smiled at me, patted me on the shoulder, and said, ‘nah, man.’ That’s all he said.
“I was there to make him move around, throw punches at him at full speed and power. But he was slipping them. I’m thinking, ‘there’s no way this man’s 54 years old.”’
Cruz also got to meet and soak up knowledge from six-time world champion Zab Judah while working at Tyson’s camp.
Being able to connect with the two former champions was like getting a front row seat in a Master’s Class of the “Sweet Science.”
“They made sure I was comfortable. And I got to watch, work, and learn,” Cruz said. “I got to see things you don’t usually see unless you are right there when they happen.”
He felt rejuvenated enough to ask Ponce to get him a fight. Cruz did box this past March 18 in Tijuana, and stopped Ernesto Olvera in five rounds, but was admittedly “rusty and sloppy.” He said he feels much sharper and better prepared for the July 17 fight against Craig.
Cruz can’t and won’t predict the future. He’ll either get that big fight or he won’t. But he’ll control what he can control, and exhaust every opportunity to make it happen.
“I’ve always said I’d rather find out than live in the ‘what-if,’” Cruz said. “I’ve never been afraid to fail, of getting knocked out. But I am afraid to wonder what could have been. No matter what, I’m gonna give it all I got until the wheels fall off. And, as I tell everybody, I’ll enjoy the ride.
“Not everybody gets to live their dreams. And I remind myself every day that — no matter how hard it gets — I’m still living my dream. I’ve gotten to work with Mike Tyson. I’ve gotten paid to do what I love. God-willing, we’ll get to that Big Stage and show out.”