1 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

LAS VEGAS -- Saturday's WBO featherweight title fight can be a hallmark moment if Puerto Rico's Orlando Cruz defeats Orlando Salido and becomes the first openly gay boxer to win a title belt.

But ask those in the boxing world, and they'll say it's no big deal.

"For me, it doesn't matter," said Bob Arum, the Top Rank chairman and Hall of Fame promoter who put the fight on the undercard of the Tim Bradley-Juan Manuel Marquez main event Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center (HBO pay-per-view, 9p.m. ET). "The only thing that matters to me is if he can throw punches. Anybody who makes an issue, 'Oh, he's gay, he shouldn't fight,' is stupid. A guy's or woman's sexual orientation is his or her own business."

Arum points out today's culture of embracing and supporting Cruz is vastly different from when Arum started his career half a century ago.

"If I put on a fight with (Cruz) then, there would be a thousand protesters saying it should be boycotted because it involved a boxer who had a different sexual orientation," Arum said during Thursday's news conference. "The world has changed, and it has changed for the better. Because it has changed for the better, we can all take pride in what is happening now."

Cruz's fight has created national buzz. He's scheduled for Good Morning America,ABC World News and Nightline, and a noted member of the LGBT community has taken notice.

"Boxing is such a macho sport, and for Orlando Cruz to come out and still be competing is a major step forward for the LGBT community and for society in general," tennis legend and social activist Billie Jean King said in a statement to The Desert Sun.

"Athletes like Orlando are so visible. Anytime a gay athlete allows us to enter a new arena it gives us a chance to educate one more person and step over one more hurdle."

It was anything but easy for Cruz. An Olympian on the Puerto Rican team in 2000, Cruz said he had contemplated coming out ever since he turned pro.

"There had been talk around me for many years about whether I was gay," Cruz said. "I have been waiting for 12 years. I was hesitant to make the announcement because I don't think society was ready for it and I don't think the boxing community was ready for it.

"Boxing is a macho sport, everyone yelling gay slurs all the time: 'Hey faggot! Kick his ass!' I was scared. I was worried about other boxers. I was worried about the fans. I would cry many, many nights thinking about it."

Cruz said he had to see a psychologist to help prepare him to make his announcement. Yet the reaction since he came out more than a year ago has been mostly positive.

"I feel very free and happy having come out," he said. "I am happy with the support all of the people have given me, and I just want to continue to work hard doing the things that I need to do to make history."

His opponent is unfazed by the public's focus on Cruz's sexuality.

"I don't think about it," Salido, from Mexico, said through an interpreter. "I focus on myself. I'm a fighter and I'm a warrior.

"His social life is separate. I don't think of his sexuality. It's just two human beings fighting for a world title."

After the news conference Thursday, when the two boxers posed for pictures, including the faceoff, Salido went to hug Cruz. "It's just a form of saying good luck and a form of respect, that's it," Salido said, and then jokingly threw up his hands. "I shook his hand 10 times already."

Tim Bradley Sr., the father of the WBO welterweight champion, said he looks at Cruz solely as a boxer and is impressed by what he has seen. Bradley's brother Michael, who died this year at 55, was gay.

"You identify who you are, and as a person and as a human, you're not supposed to judge anyone else," Bradley Sr. said. "It doesn't matter what a person is. Different strokes for different strokes.

"I don't judge no one. As long as a person is a great person, good heart and ... very professional inside and outside, it shouldn't matter."

Cruz said he dreamed his whole career of winning a title in Las Vegas. The social significance of a victory is not his main focus.

Salido is a former two-time champ and thinks he can rough up Cruz.

But Cruz is confident of his chances.

"It's my time, it's my moment," Cruz said. "Saturday, I am the new champion featherweight."

1 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.wbir.com/1g5HvEZ