Cruz shrugs bleakly and, for such a warm man, looks briefly angry. "The sceptics will see what I am capable of on 12 October."
He's still brooding over De Leon's rough treatment of him, and it's not long since he swore vehemently at his trainer. Cruz peels the bandages from his hands. They're soaked after two hours of training. He sinks into a chair, the mess of boxing shoes and bags strewn around him, resembling a gritty old fighter rather than a gay icon.
Sweat runs down his sunken face like tears. Last October, during his first newspaper interview as a gay fighter, Cruz told me how he used to cry with his mother, Dominga. She accepted his sexuality but he still hid the seemingly unspeakable truth about himself in public. He even cackled at the melodramatic picture they made, at her kitchen table, as he sobbed about not being able to come out in two worlds, Puerto Rico and boxing, built on machismo. But now, as the Salido bout hurtles towards him, his mind is less cluttered.
"I'm so focused on winning it doesn't matter how many fights Salido has had," he says. "This will be a new psychological challenge for him."
Cruz understands how this fight will smudge the boundaries between the personal and professional. He even implies that Salido, as a Mexican, might be troubled by facing a gay fighter. "My coming out made it harder for him. He will have it in his mind that he's fighting a homosexual for the world title."
Is he suggesting Salido might be homophobic? "He's professional with me but Mexicans often have something homophobic in them. It's the machismo culture. He won't want to lose to a gay man. Salido will be much more aggressive. But he'll fall into the trap by being macho. I'll let him come at me, and I'll show him then. The only language I will use is spoken by my fists. They will do my talking."
Cruz is even more motivated by the memory of Emile Griffith - a six-times world champion who died this summer. Griffith fought more world championship rounds than any other fighter, even Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali, and he was gay. In 2005 he finally admitted in public that he was, at least, bisexual. He also still felt a haunting pain over the death of Benny Paret, the Cuban fighter whose life had been extinguished beneath his fists after their world title fight in 1962.
Griffith was a generous and cheerful man, who often said that he would have been as happy being a flamboyant milliner making ladies' hats, but he reacted with cold ferocity after Paret taunted him as a maricon [faggot] before their tragic third fight. In the ring he pinned Paret against the ropes and, as if ripping the wings off a butterfly skewered to a board, landed 26 unanswered blows which stole the life from his once mocking opponent.
I visited Griffith in Long Island last December for he was one of my favourite boxers, ever since he and his trainer, Gil Clancy, arrived in the South Africa of my childhood, in 1975. Griffith was black, Clancy was white and apartheid ruled that they could not work together at a Soweto bout. But they refused to buckle and the government surrendered. It was an early introduction, for me, to the courage and decency of some boxing men.
Our plan had been that I would take Cruz to meet Griffith - even if severe dementia had ruined the former champion - so there would be a poignant encounter between boxing's only openly gay fighters. But we didn't make it. Griffith slid away, mercifully, in June.
Tonight, in Vegas, will mark a more sombre memento from Cruz to Griffith. "I'm fighting for my family, my trainer, my team, everyone who wrote to me around the world since I came out, as well as the lesbian-gay-bi-transgender community," Cruz says. "They all brought grains of sand to the dream I've built. But I want to dedicate this fight to Emile Griffith. He had to live with the stigma of being black when there was such prejudice. And he was gay. He suffered from double prejudice - and the second was even worse because he kept it secret so long. He was a brave man, and a great champion, and so I want to win the world title for Emile."
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