Cuban boxer Andy Cruz, 27,
Cuban boxer Andy Cruz, 27, is planning to turn pro and says he left his home country "legally." Image Credit: Twitter

Havana: Olympic and triple world amateur boxing champion Andy Cruz — who was expelled from Cuba's official federation in July — is planning to turn pro and says he left his home country "legally," after speculation he had defected.

In an interview with ESPN given in Spanish, the 27-year-old Cruz did not reveal his current location, though specialized blogs said he had gone to the Dominican Republic about two weeks ago.

"Thank God, I am already taking this great step that many expected. I am here ready to face this great challenge that lies ahead of me and I plan to do great things in professional boxing," Cruz said Sunday on the network's Knockout show.

Cruz was expelled from competing for Cuba in July after what the country's boxing federation said was an attempt to "illegally leave the country" the month before.

In May, he was pulled from making his professional debut with other Cuban fighters in Mexico — the squad's first pro fight in 60 years.

The federation accused him of neglecting his training at the time.

Cruz — the Olympic lightweight champion at the Tokyo Summer Games held a year late in 2021 — explained to ESPN that his relationship with Cuba was "good" because he got an "out from the national team" and left the country "legally."

The boxer, considered the most technically sound Cuban fighter, stressed that he is "preparing very well" for his professional debut, noting: "I'm starting to take my first steps, I'm already in action, I'm already training."

"I am going to forge a new stage in my career now, in professional boxing," Cruz said.

Cuban officials told AFP that the island's sports authorities could not comment on the boxer's activities because he was no longer a "member of Cuban sports."

Known in Cuba as the "dancer of the ring," Cruz has become the most high-profile loss to the country's squad — which has racked up 80 world titles and 41 Olympic titles — since double Olympic champion Robeisy Ramirez defected in Mexico in 2018.