ABC News' Linsey Davis reports:
Boxer Orlando Cruz is fearless when he faces an opponent, but it's what he was fighting on the inside that proved the toughest challenge of his life.
For years, he said he feared that if he came out as a gay man, his career in the boxing ring would be ruined.
"I'm in a sport that is very macho," said the 32-year-old fighter, currently training for Saturday's World Featherweight Championship fight.
In October 2012, Cruz didn't pull any punches and shared with the world that he is gay.
"I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican," he said in a USA Today interview. "I have always been and always will be a proud gay man."
During the summer he made another courageous move: Cruz posted a video on Facebook in which he proposed to his longtime boyfriend.
"I don't recall very many, if any, professional openly gay male athletes to be considered the best in their sport. This is what makes his story so unique. He puts his name in the history books," said LZ Granderson, an ESPN commentator.
Cruz's announcement came alongside other pro athletes such as Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Robbie Rogers who have all recently spoken out about being gay.
Atticus DeProspo, a Cornell University soccer player, said the recent announcements had encouraged him to stop keeping his sexuality a secret.
"It really takes a toll on a person emotionally, physically, mentally," DeProspo said.
Cruz said with this burden off his shoulders, he isn't just determined to be the world's first gay boxing champion, he is fighting to break barriers, dispel stereotypes and inspire others.
"It's simple," he said. "I am free!"
With a record of 20 wins, two losses and one tie, Cruz will fight Orlando Salido in Las Vegas.