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Cruz of the Matter

Whatever happened to Roberto Cruz, the first and only world boxing champion from Baguio City?

Long before Manny Pacquiao ruled the 140 pounds plus division, there was a boxer from Baguio City who wore the belt, although for a short time.

On March 21, 1963, a little known boxer from the Philippines flew to the Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, California to fight a beast of a fighter from Mexico for the vacant World Boxing Association world light welterweight crown.

Photo shows Roberto Cruz, second from left, with the fighters in the triple header at the Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles before the fight of his life that made him the first Baguio born world boxing champion. Who remembers that historic night 58 years ago? Who would even know where Cruz went after hanging his gloves in 1968? Credit to the Owner

The 5’10” Cruz, who was born on November 21, 1941 and barely a month before the Japanese Imperial Army arrived here, was practically a nobody when the world title fight materialized. It was his first fight outside of the Philippines and, who, being the Philippine Games and Amusement Board welterweight champion had an unimpressive record of 13 wins, eight losses and two draws, was drawn for that big fight.

He debuted in February 2, 1955 as a 14 year old who lost to Laureano Llarenas through points. He won his next five bouts but bowed to Dixie Logan on his seventh fight two years later. After beating Flash Panio through points in July 26, 1959, Cruz fought for the interim GAB featherweight title against Gil Flores (10 – 1 – 1) on June 5, 1959 and won via knockout.

A second fight against Panio four months later primed him to face veteran Leo Espinosa (45-12-1) for the GAB featherweight title and win through unanimous decision.

He won two more fights including a third and sweep on Panio before he was stopped by Young Terror on points on January 23, 1960.

He returned with a win over Thai Sompong Pitakasmut two months later but was stopped twice by Solomon Baysow. He drew with JD Ellis in the next fight setting up the GAB bout against Rocky Kalingo in the higher welterweight division on April 26, 1961 which he won via unanimous decision.

He won two more fights including a third and sweep on Panio before he was stopped by Young Terror on points on January 23, 1960.

He returned with a win over Thai Sompong Pitakasmut two months later but was stopped twice by Solomon Baysow. He drew with JD Ellis in the next fight setting up the GAB bout against Rocky Kalingo in the higher welterweight division on April 26, 1961 which he won via unanimous decision.

It was a roller coaster ride for the Baguio pride in the next four fights – beat Gary Cowburn (16-4-1) in the next, lost to Johnny Gonsalvez (56-20-3) in the next fight, then win over Munchai Rorfortor (2-2-1), then knocked out by a young Japanese Shigemasa Kawakami (3-0-0) before giving Terry Flores a beating for the GAB welterweight belt on September 15, 1962.

That was his ticket to California against the Mexican Raymundo “Battling” Torres, who at 47-4-0 is a known puncher of some repute, and with the WBA World light welterweight crown at stake.

Though a puncher, the 22 year old Mexican, had difficulty of taking punches that saw him floored in many of his more important fights.

He was born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas in Mexico and was known as the “Reynosa Rattlesnake” who shot to fame after compiling a pristine 31-0 record. That attracted the handlers of then reigning world junior welterweight champion Carlos Ortiz who set up the fight sometime in February of 1960.

It was a good tough fight but he was floored and ruled out in the 10th round.

His second chance to wear the belt came on that fateful March 21 of 1963 against a total unknown from a small highland city in a country across the Pacific fighting for the first time in a foreign soil.

It was the headline of a triple header that featured Eddie Griffith and Luis Manuel Rodriguez in welterweight and the hard punching Havana native Sugar Ramos going up against featherweight king Davey Moore, a rather tragic match that hogged the headlines the next day. But that is another story.

The underdog Cruz scored a sensational first round stoppage of the Mexican who Ring Magazine listed as one of the all-time 100 greatest punchers.

It was a victory for a small city of 58,000 people, who were not aware that one of their sons is a world champion.

But it was a brief stay at the pinnacle of boxing for the Baguio fighter, a story so short like those written by Ernest Hemingway. Three months later in his first title defense, in front of 25,000 countrymen at the Rizal Baseball Stadium, Cruz put up a gallant stand against American Eddie Perkins. Perkins was aiming to add Cruz’s belt to his waist which already have the straps from the World Boxing Council world super lightweight and WBA world super lightweight.

It was not just Cruz’s night, Maloney Samaco wrote on PhilBoxing.com, where the Filipino was knocked down on the first round and was at the receiving end of a Perkins flurry in the third and sixth rounds leaving him dazed and confused. Though he finished the 15 round fight, Cruz came up short on points.

Cruz never fought for another world title and retired from boxing after losing to Fel Pedranza on September 28, 1968 in Angeles City.

But then, just like that, Cruz was never heard of. Cruz’s last address on BoxRec is just Manila. He could be 80 now.

Some 25 years later, in April 29, 1978, another Cordillera fighter went to the biggest stage of boxing but the result was not good. The jet lagged, overweight Rey Tam, who spent the night before the fight sweating out the excess weight, failed to beat Nicaraguan legend Alexis Arguello for the latter’s WBC’s world super feather weight belt when he gave up after five rounds.

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