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Openly gay boxer eyes world crown

Terry Flanagan and Orlando Cruz pose during the weigh in

LONDON (AFP) – Orlando Cruz will aim to carve a niche in boxing history by becoming the first openly gay world champion when he faces Terry Flanagan for the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) lightweight title in Cardiff on Saturday.

The 35-year-old Puerto Rican has had nine professional fights since making his sexuality public in 2012 and hopes his example will encourage anyone else wishing to come out.

Saturday’s bout will be Cruz’s first as a lightweight after he previously lost a world featherweight title fight against Orlando Salido in Las Vegas in October 2013.

“I want to inspire the gay community by becoming a world champion on Saturday,’’ Cruz said Friday. “Everyone has been very supportive since I came out. I have the support of my family, friends and fans.

“When I look at my story, it makes me hopeful that more people will be inspired to come out. Right now my focus is fully on the big fight on Saturday and winning the WBO lightweight belt.’’

British boxer Flanagan, the reigning champion, said he respected Cruz’s position as his own sister, Chelsea, was openly gay.

‘‘I remember well when she came out and what it was like,’’ said Flanagan. ‘‘She’s had it hard, she came out in her teens and she’s a better person for it now.’’

Flanagan will be defending a 31-fight unbeaten professional record in Cardiff on Saturday in a bout that will be Cruz’s first in Europe.

Whatever the outcome of the contest, Cruz said he was glad of the support for his lifestyle that he had received from his opponent.

‘‘Terry is a great champion and a real people’s person,’’ added Cruz. ‘‘More importantly, he respects my life and my choices. He sees the man boxing him and that is it.’’