Lamont Roach Jr. eyes contention with win over Orlando Cruz

Junior lightweights Lamont Roach Jr. (left) and Orlando Cruz. Photo credit: Cotto Promotions

 

Four years to the day of his professional debut, junior lightweight prospect Lamont Roach Jr. will step into the ring this Thursday night, and the 22-year-old looks to show how much he’s grown in a step-up fight against veteran Orlando Cruz.

 

“Patience,” Roach answered, over a phone call with UCNLive.com on Sunday, on what he’s learned since being a teenage pro. “These four years flew by so fast, now that I think about it. You can’t rush everything. As soon as everyone turns pro, they want to be a champ – it’s not gonna happen unless you have an extraordinary amateur career or you’re knocking everybody out with the huff of your breath but it takes time. It takes patience and however long you stay on your grind, you stay true to your grind. Stay loyal to your team and everything will come to fruition.”

 

Roach, 16-0 (6), and Cruz, 25-6-1 (13), will take part in the main event of an ESPN2 (9:30 p.m ET/6:30 p.m. PT) card, on Thursday night, from the Jose Miguel Argelot Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

Fighting out of Washington D.C., Roach is coming off a showcase bout last November, in which he was able to fight in front of a hometown crowd and headline for the first time on ESPN2. His opponent that night, Rey Perez, looked every bit the journeyman against Roach but the Filipino would later decision a another young Golden Boy Promotions prospect, Christian Gonzalez, months later on the network. Roach made it look easy against Perez, winning by unanimous decision in front of an audience that knew how important the fight was personally. Just weeks prior, the man who introduced him to boxing at nine years old – James “Boogaloo” Roach – passed away and, even now, Lamont’s tone will change, once you bring up his cousin.

 

“I know for a fact that his spirit was there with me in the ring,” Roach said about that night. “I just want to carry out his name throughout every performance that I have. All the things he taught me inside and outside the ring will forever stay with me. I know he’s looking down on me and watching. I know he’s proud…That was a great experience. I have a real huge family. I have a big following and my whole family is from Washington D.C. or Maryland. It was a nice turnout. It didn’t really hit me until I saw it on TV, then I saw how good of a show it was.”

 

Roach won’t have the same kind of support this Thursday night in Puerto Rico and he couldn’t recall if he was even booed by the fans in attendance. It’s expected that Cruz, a crafty southpaw, will have their full support, as he looks for one last shot at contention. Cruz, 36, has had some opportunities before, against Orlando Salido and Terry Flanagan, but has come up short.

 

“Strategically it’s a little different,” Roach said about fighting a southpaw. “You have little tricks and stuff southpaws like to use. I think I’ve fought like five southpaws in my pro career already. It’s nothing new, nothing weird or awkward about it. There’s nothing too spectacular about a southpaw fighter to me.

 

Photo credit: Cotto Promotions

 

“I think he’s a crafty fighter and a veteran of the game,” Roach elaborated further about Cruz. “He’s a former Olympian and we’re not overlooking him. He’s kind of old in boxing but we’re not overlooking him. We’re focused and ready to bring what we have to the table and not worried about what he brings to the table. We’re gonna let him worry about what we have. He thinks his experience is gonna get over me – that’s not gonna happen. I’ve been a professional for four years but I’m a very experienced boxer. I have an extensive amateur background and over 130 fights, 11-time National champion and here I am today. I’ve been in the ring with plenty of professional champs, both older and younger, so everything we’ve acquired over the years in my boxing career will come in the ring with me on Thursday.”

 

For what he lacks in power, Roach makes up for it by being a technically sound boxer out of the orthodox stance. His quick hands will be an issue for anyone who can’t react fast enough and the sharp counters can also startle those who don’t can’t see them coming. When he does get stoppages, Lamont makes them quick. Four of his six have been in the first round and, in all of those outings, Roach showed a concerted effort to blow out his opponents, once knowing they weren’t near his level.

 

When asked whom he considered the best in his division, or whom he enjoyed watching at 130 pounds, other than himself, Roach declared it to be none other than WBO titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko, describing the Ukrainian in a way unheard before, yet so simply fitting. “He’s not fundamentally sound; he’s fundamentally spectacular,” said Roach, before claiming to take bits and pieces from the hi-tech programmer and apply them to his game. “After that, there’s some pretty decent fighters like (WBA beltholder Alberto) Machado, (WBC titleholder Miguel) Berchelt,” he added. Although Lomachenko heads to the lightweight division in his next fight on May 12 vs. WBA champion Jorge Linares, Roach expressed an interest to one day fight him but, for now, he may end up thanking Lomachenko for vacating the WBO junior lightweight title in the process of going five pounds north.

 

In the meantime, the sanctioning body presented some sort of regional belt at Tuesday’s press conference in San Juan. Neither Roach nor Cruz are in the Top 15 of the most recent division rankings but securing the WBO trinket will certainly get one of them there, where he’ll be eligible for a title shot. After his flight to Puerto Rico on Monday, Roach stepped foot on the island for the first time ever but he’s fought overseas before, over the course of his amateur tenure. “I fought internationally with the USA team in the Klitschko brothers’ tournament. I got a bronze medal in that,” he mentioned. During that time, Roach has history with another top dog at 130 pounds, former IBF beltholder Gervonta Davis, losing to him twice in the Junior Olympic regionals and nationals. Roach described the fights as being close but hopes to one day have an opportunity at revenge. You won’t go far when trying to ignite a rivalry, however, as they’ve been mere neighbors in Maryland and he described their relationship as cool, despite many other fighters clashing with the brash youngster.

 

Photo credit: Cotto Promotions

 

Perhaps it’s a testament to the cooler head Roach has, both in and outside the ring. At Tuesday’s press conference in San Juan, Roach cordially took the podium thanking everyone who had brought him to this point and introduced himself to the Puerto Rican crowd that is sure to be there, when he looks to propel himself into contention.

 

“If you guys don’t know me, you’re going to know me Thursday night,” Roach said. “Orlando Cruz said this is the best camp of his life and I’m so glad about that. I don’t want any excuses. I’m glad he’s in the best shape of his life. I’m glad this is his best training camp because, after I get this victory, I don’t want people to say I beat an old Orlando Cruz, or I beat a washed-up fighter. I want to beat a great fighter and a great contender, such as Orlando Cruz. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and I’m going to show that I’m champion material this Thursday night.”

 

 

 

You can reach Michael Baca II at mikebaca2@gmail.com and follow him at twitter.com/mikebaca2

 

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