Cruz Control

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

"Where's your sister now?" Arturo Jr. asked, pinning Terri. "Think you're tough? What about this?"

He smacked her square in the face, busting her nose, blackening her eyes.

The girls never jumped him again.

Kid vicious: At 17-11-2, Arturo Cruz Jr. stares down his third shot at a world title.
John Johnston
Kid vicious: At 17-11-2, Arturo Cruz Jr. stares down his third shot at a world title.
Arturo Jr., Hazel and Terri Cruz.
John Johnston
Arturo Jr., Hazel and Terri Cruz.

And Terri, no matter how bad it hurt, never told her parents what really happened.

By the time they entered middle school, the Cruzes had a reputation. Everyone in town knew their dad was a former boxer, so it didn't take long before east-siders and jocks lined up for a shot at his kids.

"We were labeled as fighters even before we fought," Terri recalls. "Everyone was always challenging, always rivaling, always checking you over."

Arturo Jr. got it the worst. He'd inherited his mom's sandy hair and blue eyes. He was short, too, and so thin he could suck in his stomach and grab his ribs. His nickname: Bones.

"I was getting into a fight every single day," he remembers.

When her battered son straggled home, Hazel offered the advice she'd received: "If you're hit, hit back. You might not win, but at least they know you'll fight back."

Arturo Jr. hit back, but he kept getting jumped anyway.

One day, a lumbering bully appeared in a field near the Cruz home and latched onto Arturo Jr. The girls sounded the alarm, and Arturo Sr. arrived with two pairs of gloves.

"Wanna fight?" he asked. "Do it right. Box."

The bully grumbled but complied. A few minutes later, the quicker and more tenacious Arturo Jr. whipped him in front of everyone. But afterward, every punk in Raton, including the bully's cousins, sought out the skinny, asthmatic David who'd vanquished Goliath. One by one, Arturo Jr. took them down.

"In the streets, I was undefeated," he says.

Yet in his eyes, he never quite matched his dad's legacy. As a boy, Arturo Sr. had excelled in football and basketball, as well as boxing. Arturo Jr., who was too short for basketball and couldn't crack the hundred-pound football limit, was relegated to the "sissy" sports of track and cross-country. Whenever he stumbled home from a victorious rumble, his dad, hoping to mold his boy into a man, would say, "Think you're so tough? Then get in the ring."

The more his father challenged him, the less interested he became. (Fortunately, the Raton boxing ring had closed years before.)

Arturo Jr. kept his fighting to the streets. And when he was seventeen, he got caught for the third time. The judge wanted to send him to a boys' school, but Arturo Sr., who'd become a mover and a shaker and knew a few people, offered an alternative: If he could steer his long-haired, leather-jacketed, GTO-driving son toward something productive, something disciplined and spit-shined, would the judge reconsider? The judge agreed, and Arturo Sr. delivered the news to Arturo Jr.: the National Guard or boys' school.

Boot camp it was.

But down in El Paso, Arturo Jr. had to prove himself all over again. When he arrived at the National Guard training complex, he barely tipped the scales at 115 pounds. Fully clothed. As a result, he was pushed hard by drill sergeants, harder than guys twice as big and strong as he was. Harder than any track meet or fistfight he'd had to endure.

"I'd write letters home saying, 'Come get me,'" Arturo Jr. recalls. "But if you didn't meet the challenge, it would be worse for you. They'd take you out in a field and smoke you. You were too scared, so you kept going. You kept driving. No matter what, you didn't quit."

And he didn't.

Terri was a good kid, more or less.

She earned pretty good grades, attended church, ran hurdles and even wore the occasional dress, but the summer after she turned fourteen, "everything just blew up." It was boys, boys, boys, party, party, party, feathered hair, dark lipstick, baggy clothes, older friends and her first tattoo: "East Side," on the knuckles of her left hand.

"It was boring," she says. "That's why people were always partying and fighting. You either went to the lake, went to house parties, went to the park or went cruising. It was sad."

But her dad was strict, very strict. With a temper.

"He'd smell alcohol on your breath and say, 'That's it. We're going to the police station and have you arrested,'" Terri recalls. "He tried to raise us right, but we got out of control on our own."

One time, some east-siders bought a few kegs. Terri eluded her parents, and when she got to the party, there was the badass 23-year-old chola who thought Terri was after her boyfriend, Carlos, who was actually the one making the moves.

Terri's friends suggested a quick exit, but she couldn't back down in front of everyone and decided to stay put. After a few beers, she headed to the restroom.

"I see her," she recalls. "I turn around to go into another room, but then she jumps me. She grabs me by the hair, throws me down on the floor and starts banging my head on the windowsill."

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