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Boxer Orlando Cruz leading Chicago's Pride Parade
by Bronson Pettitt

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Professional boxing's only openly gay star is coming to Chicago.

Orlando "El Fenonemo" , of Puerto Rico, was the grand marshal in the Puerto Rican People's Parade on June 16—and will fulfill the same role in the 49th Chicago Annual Pride Parade.

Cruz came out as gay in 2012—first to his family, then to the public a few weeks later—becoming the world's first professional boxer to do so. He currently lives with his boyfriend in Miami.

Windy City Times: How are you feeling? Are you ready for these parades?

Orlando Cruz: I'm as ready as I can be. I'm completely out. [Laughs]

WCT: Can you talk about your decision to come out when you did, in 2012?

OC: I felt that I was lying to myself at first. I had a girlfriend and I was also lying to her. I spoke to my mom—she's always supporting me through my life and my career—and I talked to her and she said, 'You do it and I'll back you up.' The whole family actually backed me up. My father and I had a little misunderstanding at first, but then he came onboard as everybody else and he still supports me to this day.

WCT: How was the reaction from other boxers when you came out?

OC: One of my best friends since I started, him and a lot of other guys, who came into this boxing career with me, I'll say 100 percent they backed me up. They supported me, and to this day we're best of friends.

WCT: Were you surprised by it? Did you expect that reaction, that they'd be supportive?

OC: I expected that reaction from maybe one or two, but the support was overwhelming. As everything else, you got supporters and you got haters, but everybody does. It's not just because I came out.

WCT: Did your fans react just the same? Were they supportive as well?

OC: You've always got haters here and there. But the majority—98 percent of my followers—are people that admire me.

WCT: Do you know of any other boxers who have come out?

OC: Honestly, no. I don't know of any that might or not be [gay]. I think there might be more, because we're humans.

WCT: What advice would you share with someone who's in the closet and a boxer or athlete, based on your own experience and perspective?

OC: No one has approached me directly on the subject, but what I do is just tell that person, whether a man or woman, struggling to come out, with family or whatever, that once they can accept themselves first, the rest is a lot easier.

WCT: Are you currently boxing?

OC: Yes, I'm still boxing. I had a fight with a younger guy last May, with Lamont Roach; I trained a lot for that fight, I knew it was going to be hard. It was a draw. But people can expect to see one or two more fights, probably by the end of this year.

WCT: How do you prepare yourself physically and mentally for a match?

OC: It's a marathon. I have to wake up at four in the morning, start running, come back and relax; then at midday I have to go to the gym and make another training, and then two hours later, go back and start again—it's hard. You have to keep your weight down; my weight is 130 lbs.—that's my fighting weight.

WCT: What's on your mind when you're in the ring?

OC: When I'm in the ring, I'm all boxing mode. Sometimes I can't even hear the crowd. I'm just focused on the fight. If you get distracted, that's it. That's the end of it.

WCT: Have you been back to Puerto Rico since September, when Hurricane Maria hit?

OC: The hurricane hit before the last fight. I was here in Miami when the hurricane hit. A few months after, I was there.

WCT: Can you talk about what you saw there?

OC: It is bad, but we are very proud people in Puerto Rico. Even when we struggle, we come back up. We fight and we stand up all together and we make it a better place regardless.

WCT: It was brought to our attention some Facebook posts from, I think it was 2014, mocking overweight people on your profile—have you gotten any negative reactions about those posts?

OC: Negative reactions about overweight people?

WCT: It would appear to be Xavier Rivera Rivera who was tagged in some memes with images of overweight people—

OC: Like I was saying a few minutes ago, overweight people are people; regardless of their physical appearance, they're people. There's no difference between overweight people or a skinny person—what's inside the person is what matters. What makes the person.

And as I said before, you're going to find haters, and even, you know, you see an actress with and without makeup on the web and then people start commenting right away. ... It's an actress, but she's also a human being, and she has the right—whoever she is, or he is, to post whatever they want. Haters will be haters—congratulations, live your life; we're living ours.

WCT: I mention that because I looked at your Facebook profile and that was the first thing that came up—they're older posts from four years ago, and they're tagged to a person called Xavier.

OC: I don't remember exactly how, but it could be an inside joke.

WCT: How did you get your nickname, "El Fenomeno?"

OC: My manager—he named me "the Phenomenon" because of my ability to punch people [laughs] and win battles. I started when I was seven, so I've been boxing for the past 30 years.

WCT: What drew you to boxing at such a young age?

OC: I was always fighting at school, and my mom was called by the teachers a lot of times, so she had me try boxing and see how it went ( laughs ) and I liked it so much that when I didn't want to do my homework or something, my mom used to tell me, 'if you don't do your homework, I won't take you to the gym today, and you won't box.' Just because of that, my grades improved tremendously, my behavior changed totally, and that's how I became a boxer.

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