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Oscar Cruz’s long journey to the state Golden Gloves tournament
oscar cruz
Oscar Cruz, 22, of Turlock will be making a return to the California Golden Gloves tournament next weekend in Pasadena.

Life for 22-year-old Oscar Cruz of Turlock hasn’t always been the smoothest.


It was rough sledding growing up in a single-parent household alongside four siblings. After a successful football career at Turlock High School in the fall of 2019, his senior year festivities were cut off by the COVID-19 pandemic. When he took up boxing in 2022 in hopes of following in the footsteps of his cousin, he had to overcome the natural feelings of nervousness and anxiety. And once he finally found his groove six months ago, he dislocated his knee while sparring.


It’s fitting that Cruz trains out of a gym named “Rise Above Boxing Club” in Turlock. The facility, owned by USA Boxing Silver Level coach Mauricio Lopez, doubles as a Christian ministry. Despite still feeling discomfort in his leg every single day, Cruz channeled his faith last month to get back into the ring and rise above the pain to qualify for his second career California Golden Gloves tournament. The 139-pounder will be one of two Turlockers to compete in Pasadena from April 27-28, joining the 156-pound Christian Palacio of The Truth Boxing Gym across town.


“I'm very excited,” Cruz said. “It would mean a lot to me to win because I've been through a lot. Just being able to be called one of the best in the area means a lot. And it would mean a lot to be one of the best in the state.


“I feel like I have a lot to prove. I know I'm still new. I’m like two years in. If I win, I feel like it's going to get my name out there. So I want to win, for sure.”


At last year’s tournament, Cruz was eliminated in the first round. While disappointed, he took the loss as just another lesson in the grueling sport. He also put it into perspective that it was only his fifth ever fight as an amateur. Entering next weekend’s tournament, Cruz has compiled a 13-6 record. 


Lopez and the rest of the team at Rise Above have also been faced with the challenge of keeping Cruz’s skills sharp, as he didn’t have the traditional qualifications at the regional tournament — he was an automatic qualifier as the Central Valley region champion in the 139-pound weight since his lone competitor was forced to pull out of the bout with an injury. In the last month, though, Cruz has kept busy, preparing for the prestigious state tournament by competing (and winning) at a pair of small fight cards, including one last Saturday in Madera.


“The competition level (at Golden Gloves), it's the best of the best. You have to come in prepared,” Cruz explained. “And last year, it opened my eyes and showed me that this isn't anything to joke around about. If you want to fight the best, you have to be ready.”


The fact that Cruz has qualified for the tournament twice in as many years has impressed Lopez, especially considering the significant injury he suffered just a few months ago. The longtime trainer believes that there is only one explanation for the youngster’s quick and impactful return to action.


“That’s why I always preach to always give credit to God, because it's only Him,” Lopez said. “There's a lot of trials and tribulations in boxing, no different than life. And him really finding that relationship with God, I think it's what gave him that extra strength to continue to endure and overcome what he's gone through… The main thing was faith, for sure. God’s hands have been on him.”


Cruz shared the similar sentiment, sharing that his faith has only grown stronger with each roadblock he has faced in his life.


“Coach [Lopez] is always preaching Jesus on us. Before coming here, I believed, but I didn't believe before like I do now,” Cruz said. “What I've gone through and then coming here and him (Lopez) telling me what he's gone through and how Jesus helped him, I see why he preaches what he does.”


Backed by strong beliefs and a strong team at Rise Above, Cruz believes he has what it takes to bring home the gold next weekend.


“My mindset is, ‘Just do what you have to do to come out victorious. You don't gotta be pretty. It might be ugly. But do what you gotta do.’ As long as I get my hand raised, it doesn't matter.”