By Jason Pribila: On Saturday night the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, USA will host the latest edition of NBCSN’s Fight Night Series. While the televised portion of the show will feature a heavyweight clash between Tomasz Adamek and Vyacheslav Glazkov along with the light heavyweight scrap between Isaac Chilemba and Denis Grachev, the main event for many in the arena will have already been decided. Hometown hero and draw Ronald Cruz and former welterweight titlist Kermit “The Killer” Cintron are scheduled to enter the ring 100 minutes before the broadcast goes live.
Cruz (20-2, 15KO) will enter the ring in the house I dubbed “The House that Ronald Built” for the seventh consecutive time. In fact, Cruz, 27, has been fighting on the property for so long that his first fight took place before there was even a roof on the arena. In July of 2011, his promoter Russell Peltz put on a card that took place in a tent covering the parking lot as the Event Center was being built. On that night, Cruz stopped Doel Carrasquillo in six rounds and boxing in Bethlehem was reborn.
In a case of “if you build it, they will come”, when the Events Center opened its doors for boxing, Cruz returned along with Main Events and NBCSN. Cruz was victorious on that night, but then suffered consecutive losses to Antwone Smith and Ray Narh. Cruz rebounded to stop three straight opponents and along the way began calling his foe on Saturday night.
Kermit Cintron (34-5-2, 28 KO) has fought a who’s who in the welterweight and junior middleweight divisions. After 31 professional fights he had been a welterweight titlist and his only losses came at the potentially plastered hands of Antonio Margarito. In 2005, Cintron was on the rise fighting out of nearby Reading, PA. He was 24-0, with 22KO when he stepped into the ring on an ESPN PPV against Margarito. The heat of the lights and the pressure of Margarito’s attack got the best of Cintron physically and emotionally. He was stopped and left sobbing in the ring. After that setback, questions of his mental toughness have followed him throughout his career.
His career rebounded from 2006 – 2008 under the watchful eye of Hall of Fame trainer, Emanual Steward. He won a title when he defeated Marc Suarez, and he stole the show when he knocked out Walter Matthysse on an Arturo Gatti undercard. Another loss to Margarito followed, and his career has been more down than up since then. Cintron has been all but ruled out as a player in the deeply talented welterweight and junior middleweight divisions since his stoppage loss in 2011 at the hands or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Cintron has been an afterthought by most, with the exception of Cruz, who began calling him out after his last two fights.
Cintron recently told Boxing Scene’s Thomas Gerbasi, “I didn’t know anything about Cruz,” he said. “A buddy of mine called me and he said, ‘hey, Ronald Cruz has been calling you out.’ So I went to his last fight. I’ll fight whoever, so let’s make it happen.”
I have had the chance to meet Ronald Cruz several times. He is soft-spoken, humble, and very respectful. He has been willing to fight whomever his team puts in front of him, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear him calling out anyone. Especially someone as dangerous as Cintron.
Challenging Cintron makes sense for Cruz, who is at the point of his career when he needs to find out how good he is. Cintron has a name and resume, and a victory over him, even at this stage will be a feather in Cruz’s cap. The fact Cintron holds a victory over common foe, Antwone Smith, a victory on Saturday night could also put the Smith loss behind him.
That being said, the calculated risk could be a major setback for Cruz. Where he may not get the credit nationally with a victory, a loss could do irreparable harm for him not only on a national scale, but more importantly as a local draw.
There is the chance that Cintron is looking at Saturday night as a final payday, and a farewell to the local fight scene. He has accomplished more than most, and he could leave the sport moving on to enjoy the next phase of his life with his family.
The fight is the definition of a crossroads fight. I could make a case why each fighter could have their hand raised when the bell rings. But, I do have an argument to counter those who think that Cintron is showing up to collect a check.
I’ve never been a fighter, but a lifetime ago I was an athlete. My friends and I achieved some success at the high school level, and for a short time we were big fish in a small pond. A few years passed, and when we returned home for the holidays, I would hear about how kids were lifting more weights than I did, and how their teams were better than mine. Although I’d try to laugh it off, my reaction would soon be, “Who the bleep are these kids? And what do they think I’ve been doing since I’ve been gone?”
Although Cintron is no longer a big fish in the fight game, I would imagine that he thought he would always be able to return home and be greeted with respect. Respected for what he accomplished by those who wanted to follow his path. I’m guessing that after Cintron laughed that he was being called out, it left a bad taste in his mouth and ignited a fire in his belly.
The timing of the fight may also be an advantage to Cintron who has brought familiar faces back to his corner. Cintron has reunited with his former strength and condition coach, Joe Pastore, as well as 2013’s breakout trainer of the year, Javan “Sugar” Hill. The nephew of Emanuel Steward has guided Adonis Stevenson to the light heavyweight championship, and he hopes to be the calming voice that will bring out the best in Cintron.
If Cruz fails to shake Cintron’s confidence early, he may find out why Cintron was once recognized as the welterweight division’s hardest puncher.
I’m grateful that I will be ringside as the drama unfolds.
On Tuesday afternoon it was announced by Russell Peltz that all of the tickets for Fight Night have been sold. Cruz supporters who were counting on cheering on their favorite fighter from their living rooms also found out that the fight they most cared about will not be televised.
Main Events, who has invested a lot of money in the light heavyweight division, is instead leading off the broadcast with the Chilemba – Grachev bout. The decision makes sense, as they are potentially showcasing a future opponent for Sergey Kovalev.
Lesson learned for those who are disappointed that they are missing out on the Lehigh Valley’s biggest fight. Even though fight tickets could be pricey, the best way to support your fighter is by buying your ticket. This investment is the only way to guarantee bigger fights for your fighter, but it will also guarantee that quality fights will return to your hometown.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter.com @PribsBoxing.
March 13, 2014