Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Cruz (25-4-1, 13 KO) travels to the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, Wales on Nov 26 to challenge Terry Flanagan (31-0, 12 KO) for the Englishman’s WBO lightweight world title.
Flanagan, 27, defends his WBO strap for the fourth time since winning the belt over Jose Zepeda in 2015.
Manchester’s “Turbo” Flanagan sits near the top of the ever-evolving lightweight class after shattering former title challenger Diego Magdaleno and outbrawling Liverpool rival Derry Matthews. It is a division revitalized from years of obscurity by fighters who actually like to fight.
Jorge Linares recently outboxed the surging Anthony Crolla and Robert Easter Jr. solidified his place in 135-pound upper echelon after an excellent tussle with Richard Commey. Former pound-for-pound claimant Mikey Garcia will also be bursting onto the scene when he battles the dangerous Dejan Zlaticanin in a couple of months.
Fight fans were eager to see Flanagan join the fold, especially after a sloppy performance last time out opposite of the 42-year-old Mzonke Fana in July.
So why is he fighting Orlando Cruz?
In fact, the 35 year old has never officially competed in the division.
Cruz’s last ring appearance, in October, came under the super featherweight limit of 130 pounds against Gabino Cota (record: 19-7-1), an unheralded opponent Cruz already decisively beat one year prior.
Even the aforementioned Garcia, for example, an esteemed pugilist at 126 and 130 pounds, took care of at least one tuneup match above the junior lightweight limit before securing a title match with WBC beltholder Zlaticanin.
Why is Cruz allowed to jump up in weight and right into a legitimate championship bout without ever proving himself at a high level?
This weekend’s contest marks the Puerto Rican’s second attempt at a world title.
In 2013, Cruz met up with Orlando Salido for the vacant WBO 126-pound belt but was ruthlessly chopped down to size en route to a seventh-round knockout loss.
The only recognizable name on Cruz’s ledger to that point was Daniel Ponce De Leon (at featherweight) who folded him in three rounds. Two other losses also mar the veteran’s 30-fight record.
While Cruz has only stopped 13 of his 30 opponents, he has shown off more determined fists as of late. He knocked out Cota in seven rounds and flattened shopworn former title challenger Alejandro Valdez four months ago in Kissimmee, Florida. It was an inspiring effort, to be sure, in dedication to the Pulse nightclub victims.
Cruz was tagged up but proved to be a fairly scienced boxer, indicative of his appearance at the 2000 Summer Olympics—where he was bounced in the first round of the tournament.
He made his professional debut that same year just a shade above the bantamweight limit—continuing to demonstrate why he does not belong in the same ring as a sizable counterpuncher like Flanagan. The Englishman has almost six inches in height on his challenger.
Now closer to 40 than 30, Cruz has since been offered numerous trinkets from the WBO, from makeshift crowns like the NABO and Latino titles to headlining Telemundo-aired shows.
This matchup in Wales is just another gift in Cruz’s favor, leapfrogging the top-two contenders to Flanagan’s WBO throne, the world ranked Petr Petrov and Felix Verdejo (albeit returning from injury).
The Frank Warren-promoted Flanagan has until March to tackle his mandatory challenger but that does not change the fact that the WBO and Queensberry Promotions set Cruz up for an opportunity he does not deserve, in a weight class he has never competed in.
Combat sports writers are too quick to level criticism at the sanctioning bodies and promoters for farcical (and often dangerous) matchmaking, so where is the heat now?
Boxing is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy, where you create your own luck with what you do inside the ring by way of those two leather gloves.
That leaves fans to wonder why exactly Cruz is fighting for a world title on Saturday.
Photo by Andrew Cleary