HOPE VALLEY — There is a quiet strength to Chariho High junior Miguel Cruz Jr.
Until recently, most of his classmates only knew him as a quiet and humble person, and a very good student. But few knew of the strength coming out of his 5-foot-8, 114-pound body.
Cruz said only about 10 to 15 members of the Chariho student body were aware of how accomplished he was in the sport of boxing.
Cruz, who also runs cross country, entered territory that few others have navigated, becoming a regional amateur champion at age 16 — a Golden Gloves champ, against men, at a still tender age.
“I’m a very quiet person and don’t talk about what I’ve done,” Cruz said. His trainer, Peter Manfredo, Sr. of Manfredo’s Gym in Narragansett calls him, “an honor roll student and a very polite young man.”
In his first year of eligibility last month, Cruz won the Southern New England Golden Gloves Tournament 114-pound Open championship in Fall River, Mass., earning a three-round decision over two-time defending champ Oscar Atanacio, a 24-year-old from Fall River.
Cruz said he hurt his pectoral muscle in that fight, ultimately keeping him out of the New England Golden Gloves tournament with a berth to the nationals on the line.
“Miguel beat a 24-year-old, two-time champ handily,” Manfredo Sr. said. “If I didn’t think he could handle it, I wouldn’t have entered him. He was ready for this.”
During his 30-year training career, Manfredo has coached at the U.S. Olympic Trials and has mentored a number of decorated amateurs and pros, including his son, professional boxer Peter Manfredo Jr., a former IBO middleweight champ.
Cruz has impressed Manfredo with his athletic ability, technique and willingness to work and learn during two months of training prior to him winning the Golden Gloves tournament.
Golden Gloves has sponsored local, regional and national amateur boxing tournaments for the last 90 years and is considered the top amateur boxing organization in the nation.
Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Mike Tyson among others all got their start as Golden Gloves champions.
“He’s young and still has a long way to go,” Manfredo said. “He’s a clean liver, not a street kid roaming around. He throws combinations of punches and doesn’t stand there admiring his work. I’ve taken him to New Haven, Quincy, (Mass.), all over the place to spar. He has a lot of experience.”
Cruz was born in Rhode Island. He moved to Puerto Rico as a young child, attended Richmond Elementary when he was in the fifth grade, and moved to North Kingstown for two years before settling in Hope Valley when he was an eighth-grader.
English is Cruz’s second language.
“He’s had to overcome language hurdles that most students don’t have to overcome,” said Joe Lopes, who has been Cruz’s ESL (English as a second language) teacher all the time that Cruz has been in the Chariho school system.
“He’s an advanced ESL student now,” Lopes said. “I still work with him but he’s pretty much an independent, mainstream student.”
Cruz said he’s been boxing since age 6.
“I watch boxing closely and learn from my favorite fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Miguel Cotto,” Cruz said. “Like them, I try to use hand speed and footwork. I consider myself a student of the sport.”
When asked what his best attributes as a boxer are, Cruz: “My best quality is being able to adapt to different styles. I see what my opponent has and see what I can do, working off the jab, to hurt them.”
Lopes said Cruz is very well respected by all his teachers and by his classmates.
“He has very good values and that comes from his family,” Lopes said.
Cruz regrets missing a chance to advance to the nationals, but he is patient his time will come.
Cruz believes he will outgrow the flyweight and ultimately become a lightweight (135) or junior welterweight (140).
“Every boxer wants to be a world champ in the future,” Cruz said.
“Right now, I want to be the best I can be for me and get back to fighting for the Golden Glove nationals next year.”