By Jason Pribila
At the final press conference for the July 1 Fight Night at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, USA, Hall of Fame Promoter, J. Russell Peltz called his fighter, welterweight Ronald Cruz, a “late bloomer.” Cruz did not take up boxing until 2007 but he quickly made up for lost time by fighting 28 times during a brief amateur career that spanned 13 months. Cruz hit the ground running as a professional and has been perfect in 12 fights, collecting nine knockouts along the way. By taking on his next task, Cruz hopes to show his career to this point has been in, well, cruise control.
There are many special milestones that a prize fighter experiences for the first time. He usually debuts in a four round fight before eventually moving up to six and eventually ten rounds. He plies his trade on undercards hoping to elevate his popularity and game to a point to where it is his name that appears on the marquee. And after years of chasing a sport that has migrated away from cities in favor of casino resorts, it is always special for a fighter to perform in his hometown. On Friday Night, Ronald Cruz will pull off this pugilistic hat trick.
When Ronald Cruz turned pro in 2009, his hometown of Bethlehem, PA had not hosted a professional fight during his lifetime, and the casino that was set to open in July 2008 had been delayed until May of 2009. Two years later, the stars aligned and boxing is set to make its debut.
Preparing for the biggest night of his career while dividing his time between working, selling tickets, and spending time with his 4-year-old daughter Jayshalis, would be a lot to ask of any fighter. Fortunately for Cruz, he has a promoter in Peltz that has previously experienced success working with Sands Casino President, Robert DeSalvio.
DeSalvio and Peltz promoted fights together in the Atlantic City Sands from 1983 thru 1997.
“The Sands is proud to present the first professional boxing event featuring Ronald Cruz from Bethlehem,” said DeSalvio. “The fans will see a great card from Peltz Boxing.”
The Sands Casino has also been moving at a brisk pace in order to make up for the time they lost when construction was delayed. Since their doors opened, they have expanded to include table games; and there are now plans for an Events Center to be opened for business in February of 2012. Last summer they enjoyed success with the launching of its new concert series. Remaining members of classic rock bands “Kansas” and “Foreigner” dragged their walkers to the stage to prove that the Lehigh Valley is still willing to support music based on name recognition. They were now ready to take the risk that there would also be an audience to support boxing.
2011 marks Russell Peltz’s forty-second year in the boxing business. He remains a promoter in the truest sense of the word. He has recently proven with welterweight Mike Jones that it is possible to build a fighter by keeping him active and making him a local attraction. Peltz guided Jones to the top of the welterweight ranks without the luxury of having a cozy relationship with any of the major television networks. Last year he reached the point where he had taken Jones as far as he could on his own, and he joined forces with Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. Together they have Jones in position to fight for a major title in early 2012.
Many felt that Peltz’s career would carry on as long and as far Jones would go, but there he was on a dias breaking ground at a new venue for the sport of boxing. He commented that he had been around for so long that many of the fighters that he had promoted were now training or managing fighters of their own. One of those fighters, Jimmy Deoria, who fought under the Peltz banner as a lightweight is now managing Cruz. Deoria approached Peltz about Cruz, who soon added him to one of his fight cards. Peltz liked what he saw in Cruz, and has been impressed by how much he has improved with every fight.
Peltz was also impressed with the town of Bethlehem. He also told me he was surprised by how much money was being spent the evening before at Emeril’s Chop House, located inside the casino. Like many industrial towns that have hit hard times, Bethlehem lost its identity when the Steel Business left town. Before one visits Bethlehem, they would be surprised that it could support the US$743 million dollar Sands.
“Fight Night at the Sands” will take place outdoors under a tent that will cover the ring and seating for 1,300 fight fans. Competing with a holiday weekend may not be a true gauge of the interest that exists in an area that frequently packs the minor league stadium of the Philadelphia Phillies AAA affiliate, but I did not get the sense that anyone involved felt this would be a once and done investment.
This evening became possible in August of last year when Cruz was set to face Dillet Frederick. An hour before the opening bell, Frederick pulled out due to a hand injury. On that evening the sacrifice that Cruz made by getting himself into fighting shape went without a reward or more importantly a pay check.
The sting Cruz felt on that night directly led to the biggest win of his career. When former national amateur standout Jeremy Bryan of Paterson, New Jersey was looking for an opponent to face following his first career loss, Cruz got the call. For three rounds it seemed as if Bryan represented too big of a leap in competition. Bryan boxed his way to an early lead through three rounds. Cruz remained true to the game plan, and soon his early investment of landing to the quicker Bryan’s body paid dividends. Cruz hurt Bryan in the fifth, and knocked him out in the sixth.
The confident Cruz parlayed that win into two knockout victories in 2011. In February he finally met and stopped Frederick in three. His last time out he became the first to stop local rival Manuel Guzman by forcing him to quit after three rounds.
On Friday, Cruz will enter the ring as the favorite against another intra-state rival, Doel Carrasquillo, 38, of Lancaster. Despite Carrasquillo’s dubious record (15-17-1, 13 KO), one only needs to look at his last fight to realize the threat he poses. In February, Carrasquillo stopped previously unbeaten Denis Douglin, who was also 12-0 at the time.
“Doel Carrasquillo needs to win to make a statement,” Cruz said. “I need to win to make my own statement. That’s what makes this fight interesting.”
Peltz has seen Carrasquillo plenty of times, including when he faced and lost to Mike Jones.
“Doel is very crude and awkward, but he is very strong,” admitted Peltz. “The closer this fight gets, the more I’m worried.”
Facing a rugged veteran in front of his hometown fans would be enough to cause anyone to be worried, but Cruz is approaching it all as business as usual.
“There really has been no difference (on his preparation for this fight),” Cruz said. “We train hard for every fight and prepare to go (10) rounds for every fight. We just upped the pace.”
No matter the outcome of the fight, on this Independence Day weekend, the city of Bethlehem is in store for a memorable display of fireworks.
Jason Pribila is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, or followed at PribsBoxing@twitter.com