Projecting ‘Pitbull’: How Good Is Mexico’s Newest Champion?

Now that he’s joined a wondrous cast of 140-pound belt-holders as Mexico’s newest world champion, Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz confronts the matter of staying power.

Does Cruz’s Saturday night eighth-round stoppage of outgoing WBA champion Rolly Romero portend a long reign, or is he a one-hit wonder ripe for exposure against either the wrong opponent or a more gifted champion?

On Tuesday’s episode of ProBox TV’s “Deep Waters,” veteran trainer Teddy Atlas joined Chris Algieri and Paulie Malignaggi to dissect the notion of Cruz’s staying power.

And based on the fundamentals connected to his attacking punching style, the crew is high on what the 25-year-old brings.

“He’s not an easy guy to hit,” former 140-pound champion Algieri said. “He got described as a mini-Mexican Mike Tyson. He stays very low in that crouch, keeps his chin tucked. He’s not just a two-fisted destroyer.”

That sparked another comparison in the mind of Tyson’s former cornerman Atlas.

“How ‘bout a mini-Joe Frazier?” Atlas asked. “One thing he does better than anyone in the game – and something I always push in the gym – he keeps his chin lower than any fighter I’ve ever seen.”

Algieri smiled at the comparison to the former heavyweight champion who beat Muhammad Ali in their famed first meeting in 1971 and gave him hell throughout their legendary, brutal “Thrilla in Manila” trilogy capper.

“[Cruz] stays very low … Joe had great head movement and he stayed low [too]. That’s something that ‘Pitbull’ Cruz does really well,” Algieri said.

That attention to detail defined Cruz’s destruction of the mouthy Romero, when Cruz (26-2-1, 18 KOs) badly wobbled Romero to close the first round, reducing him to a reluctant fighter who was hurt again to end the seventh and finished by an eighth-round battering.

“[Cruz’s] ability to stay in position [is] one of the subtle things he does very well,” Malignaggi said. “Even if you put offense on him, he doesn’t break his positioning. Even if you attack ‘Pitbull’ Cruz, he stays in this little pocket so he can punch right back at you. He doesn’t bust position and that’s why he’s consistently dangerous. That’s why you can’t get to this guy.

“It’s psychological and physical.”

Cruz outlanded Romero, 129-85, in power punches and tripled the damage in body punching by a 51-18 margin, according to CompuBox.

While Cruz’s connection to Premier Boxing Champions makes a rematch with PBC’s Gervonta Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) likely should Davis defeat Frank Martin in their June 15 lightweight title bout, Algieri would like to see Cruz meet the IBF champion who fights that same night: Puerto Rico’s Subriel Matias (20-1, 20 KOs).

“Sign me up for that. That is gangbusters from beginning to end, as long as it lasts,” Algieri said.

It wasn’t a foregone conclusion in Algieri’s mind that Cruz, a beaten lightweight title challenger as a replacement foe versus Davis in 2021, could elevate to become a 140-pound champion to join Matias, unbeaten WBC champion Devin Haney and WBO champion Teofimo Lopez as belt-holders.

Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) meets return title challenger Ryan Garcia on April 20, and Top Rank’s Lopez (20-1, 13 KOs) is due to fight journeyman Steve Claggett June 29 in Miami.

“Now that [Cruz] has a belt, now guys have to fight him, [he] has negotiating power,” Algieri said. “We live in the era of [title] unification, and [Matias], that guy wants to fight anybody. That fight makes so much sense from the business side and from the fan-friendly side. A Matias-Cruz fight is the next one that should happen for every reason under the sun.”

The worst matchup for Cruz is Haney, according to Atlas.

“[Haney’s] the guy they’re going to stay away from unless they back up the Brink’s truck,” Atlas said. “He’s a sharpshooter. He owns the outside and he looks to throw those laser shots – the straight right hand, short shots, uppercuts. Cruz could be susceptible to that [uppercut because] he leans forward and he’s always coming.

“[Cruz] is dependable. That’s where dependability works against you. You start to become predictable. You’re coming in the front door … a guy like Haney could look to catch him.”

For now, Cruz will watch how his fellow champions fare in June and position himself for a likely return date before the close of summer and another bout by year’s end Cruz manager Sean Gibbons told BoxingScene.