By Patrick Lujan
PXC bantamweight champion Justin ‘The Shocker’ Cruz has a wealth of cage experience with 22 pro fights. He will be putting his belt on the line in PXC 31 on July 14 against one of the Philippines’ hard-charging fighters in Crisanto Pitpitunge at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City,Manila.
Despite having 22 bouts as compared to his opponent’s four pro fights, Cruz has fought only once in the last 18 months – that which turned out to be a decision win over Trevin Jones for the belt last October.
The reason? The Shocker was busy getting his career underway as a certified Emergency Medical Technician, where he now works for St. Joseph’s Medical Transport.
“That was my safety net,” Cruz said about his career as an EMT. “Before, when I first got out of high school, I thought I can make a living out of fighting, but now it’s like a part-time job. I was concentrating on my full-time career, that’s why I only fought a couple of times the last two years.
“I realized when I was having a baby girl, I had to change my focus on her. I want her to have a better life then what I had growing up.”
Now that he’s settled in on his career and daughter Fejera (with fiancé Gabby Fejeran) is now two-years-old, the 26-year-old champ is back in the cage ready to defend his belt.
Cruz took his training to the title-defense mode more than a month ago, and with the fight less than four weeks away, the champ has been able to avoid any serious injuries.
“So far, knock on wood, I’ve been injury-free limbs wise. I’ve had a couple of cuts here and there, but that’s minor. My last fight, I injured my knee one month before my fight with Trev (Jones). If I stay injury-free, Crisanto is going to have problems. I just pray for an injury-free camp.”
Like most fighters, Cruz’s biggest challenge after all the hard training will be cutting the weight.
“That’s the hardest part for me. I was the heaviest I’ve been going into a training camp (at 160). I’ve always walked around at 150 fighting at 135. It’s kind of hard when you’re eating out with your family and they’re eating the good stuff and you’re just eating a salad or fruit bowl,” said Cruz, who’s won eight of his last nine fights.
The Shocker said the mental game comes easier to him when fighting someone not from Guam.
“When I fight off-island guys, I tend to have a different mentality – I’m a little more (aggressive) where fighting the local boys, I’m more cautious because I have a lot to lose and little to gain. I like my mentality when I fight off-island guys.”
Pitpitunge, coming out of Baguio’s Team Lakay MMA with a heavy emphasis on Wushu, has won three straight PXC fights in Manila that earned him the title shot.
The Shocker is well aware of what that team brings to the table since he’s fought two of them in the past including Crisanto’s coach Mark Sangiao whom Cruz submitted in 2009 at URCC 15.
“Those guys like to come in and bang. They love to kick, they love throwing the overhands and they’re very scrappy on the ground and they’re always coming in strong. They’re really, really tough guys but I’m going to use my experience to my advantage and take whatever openings he gives me.”
Cruz not only is fully aware of what his opponent will bring to the cage, but he’s just as apprised of the home court advantage.
“We have to play smart, but at the same time, we have to finish it because we’re in his hometown. The game plan is to finish it in one of the five rounds. You can’t let it go to a decision there, even if you’re dominating a fight. It’s happened to me once, I’m gonna have to finish it.”
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