Chasing peace

On Oct. 19, Orlando Cruz beat Jorge Pazos to improve his career record to 19-2-1. More significant, however, is that two weeks earlier the 31-year-old featherweight became the first active boxer to come out of the closet. As Cruz explains, his decision to reveal his sexuality in such a violent sport brings him one step closer to something he's been chasing his whole life: peace.

I KNEW I WAS GAY at 18. I didn't come out earlier because of fear. It was difficult early on, and I had a very bad experience. At the gym, there were rumors. But my mom always supported me, and I was very, very, very happy. She's the first person I explained my decision to, to say that I am gay. She said, "It's okay. Don't worry. It's your decision. It's your life. I respect you." She wasn't ignorant. She always showed me respect.

Everyone on my team is happy for me and supports me. At first I was scared. I was scared for my team and the people of Puerto Rico. I didn't want anyone to look down on us. But Miguel Cotto, through Twitter, said he's happy for me. Ivan Calderon, happy for me. All Puerto Rico champions support me. It's unbelievable, the world champions here say they respect me. That is very important to me.

It's easier to train now because I am relaxed. I'm focused on training and being the champion. I am No. 2 in the world, and I want to be No. 1. People all over the world have shown me so much support and I am happy, but I want their respect -- for my life, for me as a person. Right now I am single. See, no rings on my finger. But one day I want to go out to eat with my boyfriend, sleep with my boyfriend, shower with my boyfriend, watch movies with my boyfriend.

Am I a hero? I think I am a hero for my family but also maybe for other people. The fans, the gay community and people in Puerto Rico, Miami and New York are very happy for my decision. Sometimes when I walk down the street someone would say, "Are you Orlando Cruz, the boxer?" And I say, "Yeah," and they say, "Congratulations on your decision." When they first call my name, I'm thinking they may push me away or ignore me or say get out, but no, they want pictures with me. It's incredible.

Before I came out, I talked with the activist Pedro Julio Serrano, and he helped me a lot before I made my decision. I did it because I want to be free, and I hope I help kids. There are children in the streets and in the schools that have the bullying, and sometimes their father and mother don't support them. I want to go into the schools and try to help if I can.

Right now I'm training for my next fight, sometime early next year. Carlos "Sugar" De Leon, the four-time cruiserweight champion, is helping me train. He called and said he can help, and I was like, "Really?" And he said, "Yeah." I can't believe it. He's such a legend. I hope to box for two or three more years and then maybe become a trainer, help other kids. When I'm done, I want the other guys to say Orlando Cruz is a good boxer, Orlando Cruz is a good guy, Orlando Cruz is a champion. In and out of the ring.

LZ Granderson interviewed Cruz on Nov. 14, 2012. Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.