Olympic champion Andy Cruz chose to resist Cuba's well-trodden path

Andy Cruz consciously chose to resist following the same paths as other professional Cuban fighters when he relocated to Philadelphia to work under Derek “Bozy” Ennis.

On Saturday at the Masonic Temple in Detroit against Juan Carlos Burgos of Mexico, the Olympic gold medallist makes his eagerly awaited professional debut.

When he does so Ennis will be in his corner, despite his compatriots Ismael Salas and Jorge Rubio – respectively located in Las Vegas and Miami – once seeming likelier appointments.

Cruz’s former teammate and friend Robeisy Ramirez has developed admirably under Salas. One of their predecessors, the great Guillermo Rigondeaux, spent periods under both.

The technique and instincts that made Cruz such a fine amateur will have to evolve to make him more suited to professional boxing – particularly in so competitive a lightweight division in which Gervonta Davis and Shakur Stevenson, if not Devin Haney, are expected to reign – and it is also largely for that reason that Ennis was identified to help Cruz realise his potential.

“Everything is different,” the 27 year old said. “I’m gonna have to protect myself more. I’m not gonna stay the same, tactically, because I know here it’s more dangerous. There’s different gloves; different bandages; everything is different.

“I just want to make everything different from all the Cuban boxers that come to the United States. I know that in this place I’m gonna make the best transition, because I saw the work that Bozy did with his son [Jaron “Boots” Ennis] – he’s one of the greatest fighters now. 

“His dad is one of the best trainers here. So it’s the best place to make a transition in the United States because they are the best here – in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a city of boxing; I’m gonna learn a lot.

“I feel very happy here. I feel more comfortable, because of the way they received us here. They want to work hard with me; they pay a lot of attention to me; they’re always very good at teaching me to do everything.

“I’m just trying to adapt to this new world. I want to achieve everything – just like I did when I was an amateur boxer. I’m just focusing on making my life better. Doing what I came here to do.

“The only [other] thing I do is rest, since the training here is very hard. Everything is new for me, so I just rest.”

Cruz has been living in a hotel in Philadelphia with his co-manager Yolfri Sanchez, who also regularly transports him to and from Ennis’ gym and sometimes helps translates instructions the trainer would otherwise struggle to communicate.

“I chose [Bozy Ennis], then I talked to [Andy] and let him know,” Sanchez explained. “He’s very humble; he listens to everyone. The whole team wants to make everything different [from other Cuban fighters’ more traditional route] with him, and he’s comfortable with it.

“[Ennis is] serious with his boxing. I’ve seen all the videos; I’ve seen how Boots trains; he trains three times a day; he works a lot. Sometimes it’s not good to have the same people from your country around you – you could lose focus. Here, he’s alone. He’s working and training every day; no distractions.”

In the same way Cruz had to leave Cuba – he lived in Matanzas – to pursue his career as a professional prizefighter, Sanchez leaves his family behind in Atlanta when Cruz is committed to his camp. 

Cruz has a one-year-old son, Anthony Taylor, growing up without him in Cuba. He is also aware that the sacrifices he is making could come to little if his discipline isn’t maintained.

“I miss my family a ton,” he said. “The most difficult thing about all of this is missing my family – being away from them. I have one son who is one year old now. I wanted a different name [for him], and I liked the name [Cruz and the mother of his son have separated, but his girlfriend remains in Cuba].

“It’s very hard, because all fathers want to be there for their son. It’s very difficult to miss the first steps of my son. I’m doing this all for him and my family.

“It happens to a lot of Cubans when they come to the United States and have all that freedom. When boxers get freedom, a lot of boxers start doing a lot of things – they lose focus on their work. There are a lot of boxers that train and do everything well. [But] freedom is one of the things that could drive one crazy.

“I want to be different. I came to this country to get everything – to be one of the best boxers in the world. I didn’t come to play.”