BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
When featherweight Orlando Cruz climbs into the ring Friday at Kissimmee Civic Center near Orlando, he'll remain focused on Mexican opponent Jorge Pazos.
"I am going to fight. Going to walk to the ring. Going to walk in like a man," Cruz tells The Miami Herald, three weeks after posting on Twitter: "I am proud to tell the World that I have always been and always will be a proud Puerto Rican gay man."
Within hours of the announcement, the Internet was abuzz about Cruz, believed to be the first openly gay professional boxer. Tweeted another famous gay Puerto Rican, Ricky Martin: "Congratulations for your courage! How happy I am for you! Force! Much peace to you and yours! Hugs!"
Cruz, 31, says he's happy with his decision to come out.
"The public supports me, the team supports me," said Cruz, whose father, cousin and aunt live in Miami.
"My father is happy," Cruz said during a break from training. "He respects my decision, He says, 'Don't worry Orlando, I support you.'"
Cruz -- now five-feet-five and 126 pounds -- says his father taught him to fight at age 7, to protect his small son from school bullies.
"Every day fighting in school, the street," Cruz said. "My father said come on and took me to the boxing gym. 'You need boxing and respect."
Cruz, who won 179 amateur bouts and represented Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics, says he loves boxing, that "it’s my life."
"I’m the only professional boxer who is gay," he says. "I respect my life and I respect my sport."
It took 15 years for Cruz to take the big step, stop dating women and publicly come out.
He has advice for gay and lesbian teens on the cusp of coming out. "When you’re ready, it's OK. No problem. But if you’re not ready, do not talk," reminding them that some families won't be as accepting as his.
"My sister, my brother support me, my decision. Everyone in my family," said Cruz, who is single. "I am free! No relationship. Not now. Maybe in the future. I am focused on my sport now."
As a boxer, I am proud to tell the World that I have always been and always will be a proud Puerto Rican gay man: bit.ly/T1VN7T— Orlando Cruz (@ElFenomenoCruz) October 4, 2012