In his first exhibition fight, newly minted amateur boxer Jorge Cruz faced off against World Boxing Council champion Boyd Melson.
“I’m gonna be honest, I got my a– handed to me, but it was good,” says Cruz. “I learned a lot from him, what I can work on. It was all love. When it came to my second exhibition that November— domination.”
In a small, dimly lit gym on East Main Street in Waterbury, Cruz, a junior sociology major, trains ringside on a Thursday night in preparation for an exhibition fight that Saturday.
“It was always a little passion inside of me, but here in Waterbury, there was no way to get into the sport,” says Cruz.
But that would change. Already having a passion for basketball and football from his high school days, Cruz would incorporate himself in the boxing world when Ring of Honor Gym opened in 2018.
Interested in the sport at a young age, Cruz recalled watching Floyd Mayweather face off against Miguel Cotto, a Puerto Rican boxer in 2012. Watching someone with a similar ethnic background, Cruz says, gave him the inspiration to enter the ring himself in 2019.
“It’s been history ever since,” says Cruz.
Since then, Cruz has been able to juggle a busy school schedule in addition to spending several nights a week at the gym.
Cruz is aiming to use his university education to become a probation officer after graduation, and given the chance, would continue toward a pro career in boxing.
The goal? The coveted Golden Gloves.
And the endgame? Competing in the Olympics.
In these training and exhibition fights, Cruz finds similarities and parallels to life in boxing—the art of the comeback, training, practice and the importance of relationships and communication.
“Other than for turning professional, [the benefits] would be the discipline, the health benefits,” says Cruz. “It makes you more of a humble person.”
In high school, Cruz recalls seeing fights in the hallway on a daily basis, and can draw a contrast between the fight of an angry, upset person and a professional, calm and respected athlete.
“Growing up here in Waterbury, you always see the instigators,” says Cruz. “Everyone wants to be a boxer, but no one wants to make the sacrifices.”
After several years of learning the ins and outs of the sport, the most important lesson Cruz says he learned is respect, with his coach Michael Melendez, adding that it is important that each fighter recognize each other after each bout—not just as fighters, but as people.
“You get a lot of respect [as a boxer,]” says Cruz before his sparring exercises.
“People love fighting, but they don’t want to really fight, to put the work in,” continues Melendez.
Every time he enters the ring, Cruz said that the work he puts in every day makes him a better fighter, and a better person.
“The ability to get knowledge every day when I go [to the gym]—I’ll take it,” says Cruz. “I don’t want to be last in line, I want to be in the front of line, a lot like in life.”
By Jason Edwards and Kenneth Baah