Cruz: Martinez win is first step to Garcia

Orlando Cruz, right, is wary of getting ahead of himself in his quest for a featherweight title. AP Photo/Reynaldo Sanchez

The fact that Orlando Cruz was mentioned by featherweight titlist Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia's group as a possible future opponent is something that greatly pleases the top challenger.

But it isn't Garcia's name that has been on Cruz's mind lately -- particularly in recent days, as the debate opened over who would face the 126-pound belt holder. That's because Cruz (19-2-1, 9 KOs) is focused on Friday's meeting with Aalan Martinez, a clash that could open the door to a Garcia fight -- or, if things go poorly, might have the opposite effect.

"Right now, I'm not thinking about what might happen after this fight," said Cruz, a 31-year-old from Puerto Rico. "I'm thinking of Aalan Martinez. If I don't defeat Martinez, I can't defeat Mikey Garcia neither.

"But if Mikey Garcia is thinking about me right now, that's good for me. He must know that I'm a good boxer and that I've earned the position. Right now, I'm focused on this fight. Then we will have time to sit and talk and think about the publicity."

Cruz's most recent fight, last October's unanimous decision win over Jorge Pazos, turned into a bit of a spectacle that captured the attention of many media outlets, including HBO, as it was Cruz's first bout since publicly declaring that he is gay. In addition to his recent performances -- three wins since a 2010 knockout loss to current featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon -- Cruz's landmark announcement seems to have helped fuel his career resurgence.

"We want to take advantage of this good moment we are living in," Cruz said. "I'm very happy with everything that is happening around me. And you can be sure -- both my people of Residencial Quintana and my fans in Puerto Rico -- to expect a lot from me."

Cruz arrived in Kissimmee, Fla., last week after three months of hard training in Buffalo, N.Y. He says the sparring work he got in with a number of good New York-area prospects -- most of them active between 122 to 165 pounds -- will be a difference maker against Martinez.

"We got what we wanted with them: speed and good movement," Cruz said.

And what of Martinez (14-1-1, 10 KOs), a southpaw from Mexico whose only defeat came to new featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich? Might he upset Cruz's future plans for a Garcia fight and disrupt all those recent good vibes?

"Martinez is a strong boy," said Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti, who added that Cruz hasn't yet been mentioned as a possible opponent for Garcia. "Orlando has to pass this test first before they think about a possible fight with Mikey."