Cruz Control

Educated in the school of hard knocks, Terri and Arturo Jr. still come out fighting.

"I love hype," Mestas says.

Terri blasts hot air through her nostrils and bounces quickly on her toes, tack, tack, tack. Her cheeks and shoulders turn slick and rosy, and her thick, dark ponytail thumps on her back. At 31 and 124 pounds, Terri is compact and powerful, with a wide face, broad nose, perfectly arched eyebrows, Jacuzzi-green eyes and carefully sculpted bangs.

Later this month (tentative date: August 23), Terri and her brother, Arturo Jr., will share a fight card at the Regency Hotel. Terri, with a 5-2-2 record and four knockouts, is scheduled to fight Arizona's Jessica Mohs, 5-4-0. Terri is riding a four-bout winning streak and is either ranked 11th or 23rd nationally, depending on who's doing the ranking; she's established herself as a hard-hitting up-and-comer who stepped from a bar brawl into a pro ring three years ago, turning heads along the way. Mestas thinks she's only two wins from a WIBF title shot.

No train, no gain: Terri Cruz works out with coach/promoter/boyfriend Steve Mestas at the House of Pain.
John Johnston
No train, no gain: Terri Cruz works out with coach/promoter/boyfriend Steve Mestas at the House of Pain.
Eyes on the prize: In February 2000, Arturo Jr. won the Colorado State Championship lightweight belt.
John Johnston
Eyes on the prize: In February 2000, Arturo Jr. won the Colorado State Championship lightweight belt.

"She has great footwork," he says, watching Terri slip through feinting drills. "Almost nicknamed her 'Sugar' Cruz, because she moves so sweet."

Arturo Jr. is seeking the World Athletic Association title in a twelve-round headliner against Rogelio Castaneda Jr., 14-7-2, of California. It's Arturo Jr.'s second chance at the belt, and he's lost to Castaneda before, so he's training right, he's training hard. At 33 and with a 17-11-2 record, he's gutting his way back up the light-welterweight ratings, which, despite his talent and tenacity, place him 68th nationally and 247th internationally.

Sister and brother, although old by traditional boxing standards, are the real deal, observers say. Terri has everything to prove. Arturo Jr. has nothing to lose.

The upcoming fight is important, Mestas says. "Way important."

Terri grinds through crunches with a fifteen-pound medicine ball.

"Feels like someone punched me in the stomach," she growls.

"Like those?" he says, smiling.

Terri grimaces.

"What's that in your eye?" Mestas asks. "A teardrop? Come on, bud. We're just getting started."

Heart. Corazón. Big as a fist, heavy as a porterhouse steak. Beating 100,000 times a day, squeezing 2,000 gallons of blood every 24 hours. Not the place of logic or contemplation, not the place of should or maybe, but of instinct, action, driving on through fear and doubt. Relentless. Pumping, pumping, pumping...

In Spanish, ratónmeans "mouse." Raton, New Mexico, is a coal- and steel-mining town of about 8,000 people just over the formidable lump of mountains flanking southern Colorado. It sprouted with the railroad in 1879 and took its name from the rodents flourishing on piñon nuts in the tree-speckled hills.

On the surface, Raton is picturesque, with an assortment of pastel wooden homes, stately brick storefronts, Route 66-era motels, a functional drive-in theater and a crumbcake of a hill topped with the Raton version of the "Hollywood" sign.

But people with roots there remember the grittier side of the Interstate 25 postcard. They recall a rough and violent town divided by the proverbial railroad tracks. For them, Raton was New Mexico's version of The Outsiders, where people were often categorized as Anglo or Hispanic, jock or east-sider, rich or poor.

Hazel Arguello was poor. She was also blond, blue-eyed, light-skinned and pretty. Growing up in the late '50s and early '60s in her grandparents' east-side home, in a quadrant called "Little Chihuahua," she might as well have worn a big target on her back. She's Hispanic but doesn't look it, and almost every day, it was fight, fight, fight, all the way to class, all the way home. The nuns at St. Joseph's kept her at grade school until 4 p.m. so that bullies wouldn't pick on her, but they picked on her anyway.

When she was eight, a bully followed her as several classmates egged Hazel on. "Come on. Don't be scared. Go beat her up." Hazel and the bully squared off at a park. The bully charged, scratching and slapping as she came, but Hazel snatched a handful of hair and slammed the girl's head onto her knee, knocking her out. After that, Hazel was popular.

"In Raton, it was good to be bad," she remembers.

Years later, a woman told Hazel she skipped school because of her.

"I was scared to death of you," the woman said. "I thought you hated me. I thought you were going to kill me."

Deep down, Hazel is softhearted. As a girl, she attended church, chopped wood for her grandparents, got A's in English. But in Raton, most people never saw that. They only saw the person who knocked out the bully. They only saw the mean girl with the tough friends. They only saw the brawler, the troublemaker, the person they made her.

Arturo Cruz Sr. wasn't the best athlete in the world. He was always kind of lanky, to be honest about it, but he did pack a wallop. In Raton, he'd get jumped by two or three guys, fire the right, and down they'd go.

"I could run fast, too," he recalls. "In case there were too many."

It's in his blood, Arturo Sr. thinks. His dad was a pro boxer for a time in Denver, although Arturo never knew his dad and was raised by an aunt and uncle. But he sure heard about him. When his dad was 75, he visited a guy who owed him money. The guy wouldn't pay, so his dad knocked him out cold, then waited until the man woke up and calmly collected his cash. His mom was tough, too. At eighty, she was arrested for beating up a man. Arturo Sr.'s granddad was an Apache, and they fought everyone, even the Navajos, so maybe that's where the family gets it.

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