Andy Cruz and Juan Carlos Burgos faced each other on a stage set up in a hotel ballroom in downtown Detroit, staring each other in the eye, doing what boxers normally do when standing face to face.
The two lightweights, who are scheduled to fight Saturday night, tested each other for signs of suspicion or dehydration, which was exhausting for the fighters to reach the 135-pound weight limit. Evidence that it is possible.
Burgos, a 35-year-old fringe contender from Mexico, glared blankly at Cruz, a 27-year-old Cuban who won gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Cruz, who left Cuba last year, said with a faint smile. Burgos nodded lightly. The confrontation ended with a handshake.
For an experienced pro like Burgos, it’s a familiar ritual to look at an opponent and measure his size during a pre-fight press conference. But for Cruz, an athlete widely regarded as the best boxer of his generation to come out of Cuba’s storied amateur program, the routine is all new. Cruz is a three-time world amateur champion, Record database BoxRec He has 140 wins (9 losses) as an amateur.
After leaving Cuba, he became the hottest free agent in the sport. He signed a three-year contract with Matchroom Boxing in May. His bout on the undercard of Saturday’s world title bout between Alicia Baumgardner and Christina Rinaldatu will be boxing’s most eagerly awaited professional debut in years.
Cruz’s amateur track record highlights his talent and skill, but it is no guarantee of professional success. Professional boxing not only emphasizes punching power, but also imposes a heavy burden on the competitors in terms of promotion. Making him known through being stared at and other appearances is now part of Cruise’s job. This is yet another transition for an amateur to bounce back and forth between his sport of boxing and the professional prize-fighting business.
“Photography, video, it’s a completely new process for me, but I’m learning very quickly,” Cruz said in an interview. “No problem. I really like the camera.”
For Matchroom, simply signing Cruz was a win. The Cruz deal promises the fighter seven figures over three years, and the promoter thinks the rookie deal fits his resume.
But cruises also present unique challenges, said Eddie Hearn, president of Matchroom Sports.
The boxer turns 28 next month, but it doesn’t always pay to beat the overwhelming opponents so often featured in starfighter early career records. If boxing were to be compared to baseball, Cruz could be Yurieski Gurriel. Yurieski Gurriel is a Cuban superstar who came to the United States entirely professionally. Gurriel appeared in just 15 minor league games in 2016 before the Astros promoted him to the majors. he was 32 years old.
Hahn said Cruz already has the power to beat elite lightweights like undisputed champion Devin Haney and popular power puncher Garbonta Davis. But he also recognizes that chasing fighters at high speed can lead to dead ends.
“What’s actually smart is that when he’s actually ready, I want to throw him into those fights. We have to get the balance right,” Hahn said. rice field.
Warning stories abound.
Cuban Robesy Ramirez won Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016, but lost in his professional debut in 2019. Ramirez, the current World Boxing Organization featherweight champion, blamed his loss on his inability to adapt from amateur to professional style boxing.
2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Vasily Lomachenko challenged for the professional world title in his second professional event in 2014. His opponent, Orlando Salido, a beefy veteran, used his size (he weighed more than two pounds over the featherweight limit) and experience advantage to crush the diminutive Lomachenko and win by 12-round decision. I got it.
Cruz’s debut match against Burgos is a secondary main event under the spotlight between Baumgardner and Rinaldatu for the women’s super featherweight belt. Cruz and Burgos will battle for the International Boxing Federation’s “International” men’s title, a step below the world championship, similar to the two MLB teams, in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
Saturday’s bout was the first time the IBF has sanctioned a title bout involving a fighter making his professional debut, a sign that regulators already consider Cruz a veteran. But for Burgos, Cruz is new until proven otherwise.
“If Andy Cruz wants to show that what is said about him is true, he has to come out and fight,” said Burgos, who is 35-7-3. “It’s said that boxing is hit and miss, but people want to see the action. They want to see the punches.”
Cruz knows he’s battling both Burgos and the perception among boxing fans that Cuban boxers are technically brilliant and skilful tacticians but boring to watch. ing. Cruz already understands that amateur boxing rewards the winners, while professional boxing rewards and entertains the winners, he said.
“He’s going to come out and use his experience. I’m going to go out and show that I’m ready to fight the best guys in this division,” Cruz said. “The goal is to win and do well. To shine and show the public.”
After securing a visa and signing with Matchroom, Cruise moved to northeastern Philadelphia to learn professional-style boxing under trainer Derek Ennis. The trainer’s job isn’t to reprogram Cruz, but to teach him punches with authority, to stand his ground, and to new opponents who, like Burgos, prefer rumbling at close range to boxing at long range. was to be prepared.
“Put all your shots together and be ready for that guy to come back. That’s where the defense comes in,” Ennis said.
Burgos’ record includes a unanimous decision loss to Haney and Cruz’s amateur rival, Keyshawn Davis, who is currently on the rise as a professional. Saturday’s results will therefore help determine how Cruz compares to his elite peers. Moving forward from there will require balancing the relevant but not quite aligned interests of Cruz and his team.
Ennis wants to improve his boxer skills. Cruz wants to live up to the myth that has sprung up around him. Hahn wants to produce the most profitable match possible.
“Trainers and managers decide. We have to convince them of the strategy,” Hahn said. “I have to tell them the realities and facts of the commercial world.”
Their business is now in a brighter stage.
“It’s going to be difficult, but that’s what I prepared for this time. I’m a person who works well under pressure, so I’m going to show it this Saturday,” Cruz said.