Cruz Control

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

On April 14, 2001, her conviction was tested. While she waited for a fight, Terri watched as paramedics wheeled nineteen-year-old Crecencio Mercado from the ring in Pueblo after he collapsed with a brain clot. (He died a week later.) She cleared her head, and as the ambulance left, won a unanimous four-round decision against Nicole Gallegos.

Mercado's death bought home the dangers of boxing, especially for Moses. Terri smoothed her son's hair and promised him that if she got hurt, she'd quit.

Then she returned to the ring.

May 5: The "Brawl 'Til They Fall" in Pueblo. As her family cringes in the audience, Terri drops to one knee in the first seconds of the first round, stung by the phantom right of Brandy Leon.

"Whoa. Damn. This is reality."

Chris Cozzone writes this for FightNews.com, posted on the New Mexico Boxing Web site: "Cruz came out strong, rocking Leon back with shots...but then Leon threw a right hand and it caught Cruz unaware and dropped her on the seat of her trunks. She got up rubber-legged, and Leon made the mistake of letting her recover. Recover she did and just past the one-minute mark, both fighters threw a right hand that connected. While Cruz staggered a bit, Leon got the worst of it: She found herself staring up at the chandelier lights and was counted out at 1:22."

Recalls Mestas: "Have you seen The Wizard of Oz? It was like that. When Terri hit that girl, it was like, 'There's no place like home. There's no place like home.'"

Arturo Jr.: "When she got right back up and dropped that other woman, I've never been so proud of her in my life. I jumped into the ring and picked her up on my shoulders."

Arturo Sr.: "That's mi'ja."

Hazel: "Thank you, Jesus. But then I thought, 'That other girl looks like she went to sleep.'"

Terri: "I jumped up right away. I didn't feel shaky at all. In fact, I felt more focused. Stronger. When I hit her, it felt good. And she didn't even touch me when I dropped her, either, not like they said. And they said she was looking at the chandelier lights, too. She didn't see no lights. She was out."

A storm boils outside, flooding the gym with lavender light and the cleansing aroma of rain. A lean woman pumps combinations in front of the mirror, a surly guy grunts through sit-ups, and a pretty brunette with an eyebrow ring slouches on a stool, looking thoroughly bored.

Arturo Jr. peels the tape from his hands with his teeth. His eyes glow against his ruddy skin like turquoise, and his dark hair is spiked sharp by sweat. Normally, he's not the reflective type, but on this blustery evening, he feels like talking. His two daughters sleep in the Cruz'N Hardwood Floors van at the curb, and he has a little time. He takes a long pull from a water bottle.

Never in a million years did he think he'd be here, he says. When he was gang-banging, he didn't know whether he'd last through the week. But now he's fought two world-title bouts and he's staring down his third. He's appeared on HBO, Showtime, Fox and Univision fighting world-ranked contenders. He's made new friends, become closer to his family and amassed an impressive collection of memorabilia that includes fight posters scribbled with his daughters' "I love you, Dad" and "Good Luck."

"I never thought I could be an amateur, never mind a pro," he says. "Before, fighting in the streets, you were always running from the cops, getting caught, going to jail, getting bonded out. You were always getting put down by your parents, by society, by everyone. But in the ring, you're getting complimented by your parents, your peers and even your old enemies. If some dude walks up to me on the street now and calls me a pussy, I just say, 'How much money you got in your pocket? I get paid to fight.' And once you start winning, there's no feeling like it."

But it's hard, he says. Real hard. He's a single parent. He runs his own business. He travels a lot. And he's tired. Always tired. Still, he can live with all that. The hardest thing, the absolute hardest thing, is being the opponent.

Being the opponent means knowing no one expects you to win, he says. Being the opponent means keeping your day job, training in your spare time, traveling where they send you. And traveling means someone else's hometown, someone else's hometown crowd and, all too often, someone else's hometown decision. Arturo Jr. isn't pointing fingers, but of his eleven losses, ten were on the road. Of those, he lost maybe four.

"I've dropped some of these dudes three times, been the aggressor, chased them around and around the ring, but when the final bell rings, they raise the other guy's hand," he says. "And I'm like, 'What?'"

He would like to say that the money makes everything worthwhile, and the money is nice, but it's not what you might expect. The most he ever made was $8,000, during the WBO title fight against David Sample. He bought a new bike, but he couldn't help but wonder what Sample made. And now Hector Camacho Jr. is calling. He's a top contender. A great opportunity, right? But you know what they're offering? Only $7,000.

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