By MIKE SMITH
Bryant “Pee Wee” Cruz got a taste of gold on Nov. 21 when he nabbed his first professional title with a second round TKO over Engelberto Valenzuela at Resorts World Casino in Queens. After 13 straight wins to begin his pro career, Cruz is hoping that his latest victory will vault him into the upper-echelon of fighters in the lightweight division.
Fighting for the UBF All America’s Lightweight title on Friday night, Cruz didn’t take too long to get started, peppering Valenzuela, 9-4, with power shots in the first round. The referee called a half to the action just 44 seconds into the second round after Cruz’s speed, strength and accuracy proved too much for his opponent to handle.
“Our game plan was just to apply pressure because we didn’t think he could handle the combinations,” said Cruz. “I knew that he was slowing down [to start the second] but I didn’t really know when the ref was going to step in to stop it.”
According to Cruz’s trainer, Ryan O’Leary, it didn’t take long to see that his charge would be able to score a decisive victory against the Mexican ring veteran.
“We were telling Pee Wee to fire his jab in there early on,” O’Leary said. “The other guy was firing back, but it was clear he didn’t have anything on his punches, so [Pee Wee] just went for it.”
Valenzuela came into the fight well over the 135-pound lightweight limit, but O’Leary said that backing out of the fight was never an option for his fighter. In fact, he said, the undefeated Cruz used the weigh-in as extra motivation for the fight.
“I’d say it fired him up, that this guy didn’t even bother to try and make weight,” O’Leary said. “Pee Wee just wanted to fight, so we took it.”
With the win, Cruz becomes a belt holder for the first time in his pro career. Although the belt might not carry the prestige of a world title, Cruz said he is honored to have the strap around his waist.
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet, but I’m proud that I was able to accomplish this little goal for myself,” said Cruz. “I just need to stay in the gym, work hard, and hopefully sometime in 2015, I can get a big fight.”
Cruz’s latest win is just another stepping stone to bigger fights, according to O’Leary. As Cruz keeps winning bouts against more experienced opposition, the trainer said, he will be impossible to ignore within the lightweight ranks.
“He’s doing what he’s supposed to do, he was supposed to get a knockout and he got it,” O’Leary said. “Now I think we’re more comfortable on this level and hopefully this win will help open some doors.”