Iron Twin

A Colombian boxer, training in the subtropics, squares off for a championship

The chase is on.

Juan "Iron Twin" Urango, a Colombian-born fighter hunting for a world championship, marches forward and swings at his opponent, Naoufel "Chocolata" Ben Rabah, with a huge left arm. Rabah jukes him and pops off a pitty-pat of punches. Urango lashes out again; Rabah ducks and leans his shiny head away from every shot, launching guerrilla assaults from the ropes.

At the opening bell for the second round, a scattered crowd of Colombians, Pentecostals, and minor celebrities erupts. Chants of "U-rang-o!" fill the bright 5500-seat arena at Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Casino as their man pursues his Tunisian opponent from corner to corner. Urango shoots forward. Rabah parries, dumping mean flurries of crosses and jabs in his wake. His white gloves flutter about Urango's intractable face like a heavy hail. Pit-pat-pah.

Jacqueline Carini
Urango swings at Rabah like he owes him money
Jacqueline Carini
Urango swings at Rabah like he owes him money

A weird tension settles over the crowd; many were afraid this would happen. The slight Tunisian runs like a devil and racks up quick points with each evasion. Urango longs to carve a dramatic victory out of his foe's face — a knockout, a knockdown, a stoppage, a gash, something that will be good for TV and business. If the fight goes the distance, Urango's future will be put before three judges — old men, who could hand the match to Rabah, the underdog. Two arbitrary opinions could rob him of a rich, bright future.

At 25 years old, Urango has never tasted canvas and boasts a sterling record (sixteen wins and a draw). Still, plenty of fighters with that kind of success never get a title shot. Though there are more than 60 "world champion" boxers on any given day, a championship belt means money and choices, two things that are about as rare in the sport as shin kicks. He needs to win.

Just a few hours earlier, before the weigh-in, he had found himself in a large casino room that was as dark and quiet as a tomb. His image, rendered on a nearby ESPN monitor, made him look gigantic: A pair of impossible biceps framed an expansive, bulging chest. His back and shoulders rippled with seemingly superhuman muscles. Was this man digitally rendered for an action movie or a soda commercial?

Only his narrow, hairy calves suggested he was real. Urango stands merely five feet eight inches and weighs (for the purpose of this fight) 140 pounds. His physique and relentless knockout assaults have earned him the moniker "Little Tyson."

Joe Tessitore, a puffy play-by-play man, started in with questions that Urango dodged like so many punches. "Yes, my hand is better and ready to punch him out.... No, I don't have much interest in the World Cup.... There's not much interesting from when I was a kid.... I don't have any sad stories to tell.... I'm gonna be a bull in the ring. This victory is for me and God."

Urango stomped and sighed. He'd had enough. Tessitore wrapped it up.

The fighter returned to the weigh-in room and sat on a cooler full of Gatorade. His wife, Elizabeth, leaned her curly blond mop on his knee; her blue eyes were glazed over with exhaustion and anxiety. This was one of the rare moments they had shared outside of church in recent months. For a second, they seemed to have found peace.

A few months back, the International Boxing Federation's junior welterweight champ, Ricky Hatton, had decided to move up a weight class. Urango (ranked number three) and Rabah (then ranked number two) were set to fight for the top spot. Sore ex-managers and indignant promoters poured out of the woodwork, dusty contracts in hand. They had been waiting years to pounce on this kind of scratch. Urango had waited his whole life.

Juan Urango grew up in a little Colombian mountain town called Jaraquielle, on a farm dotted with chickens and pigs. Milk came from the teat, and huge fish were roasted directly on the bank of a nearby river. Despite the richness of the land, poverty was poverty, and Urango, to this day, is sickened by the sight of plain, white rice.

He grew up in a house with four older sisters and his twin brother Pedro — hence his nickname. Their father abandoned the family when their mother was pregnant with the Iron Twins.

"But now I have a father," Urango says, his small, dark eyes beaming over a pair of sharpened cheekbones. "He's the richest in the world; he's the Son of a King."

Urango has little patience for discussion that doesn't involve God. Questions about his personal life and his past agitate him. Soon after the queries begin, he lets loose huge leonine yawns, tosses playful jabs into your ribs, and pulls at your foot like a bear toying with a camper. These moments make you eminently grateful for Juan Urango's relationship with Jesus Christ.

When he was a boy, his mother worked at surrounding dairy farms as a caretaker. He and Pedro grew up scrapping and wrestling under the weary eyes of their grandparents. The boys' sisters doted on them but lacked the authority for discipline.

When they were eight years old, their uncle, Alvaro Albán, began teaching the twins to box in a stark, dirt-floor gym, a ten-minute walk from the farm. Sparring helmets were made from tape and towels. Conditioning was worked into their daily regimen.

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