By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
At age ten, Urango and the more taciturn Pedro spent their days diving nine meters to the bottom of the Sinú river and surfacing with sacks of stones. Albán believed this lifting would help their punches. The boys sold the stones to builders for a meager wage.
Despite his jagged, action-figure build, Urango swears he has never lifted a dumbbell. Pedro has the same physique a fantastic product of Colombian high-mountain blood and a life of hard work. "Sometimes he wasn't so into it," Urango says of his brother. "Sometimes he didn't want to get hit."
Urango claims he didn't get serious about boxing until age twelve, when a kid three years his senior cleaned his clock. "Then I decided I would train for real." From then on, he did little else. "I came back and knocked him out," Urango says, as though it couldn't have happened any other way.
"Juan would leave school and go back [home to train]," comments his older sister Janet, from Colombia. "Generally neither of my brothers went to school very much.... They just didn't go."
At age fifteen, Urango won the first of four amateur national championships. He received no money for his fights, "just free Cokes," says Janet. "He told me he wanted to be a champion. That was all he wanted." After that, Urango took three minor Latin American titles.
During his amateur career, Urango says he fought more than 100 young men. He remembers no names. His amateur record, according to Colombian boxing records, was 123 and 22.
At age eighteen, he had his first child in Colombia. He says he's fathered seven "that I know of." When asked their names, he can recount only five. The other two, he says, "I don't know."
Following the loss, Urango began his mandatory two-year stint in the Colombian infantry. They had a nice ring and good facilities. "I never saw combat," he says with sincere relief. "Thank God."
In April 2002, he began a pro career in Colombia. In his first eight months, he won eight fights. Five of them ended in a knockout before the second round. His raw fitness and uncanny natural power quickly became renowned. In November of that year, he signed a blank, shady contract forfeiting half of everything he would earn to a promoter named Hernán Gómez. The document covered his entire career. He needed the fights. It still hounds him today.
Trouncing Rabah at the Hard Rock would make the sum insignificant. Even weeks before the fight, the tireless, robotic execution of exercise after exercise revealed his hunger. His eyes shone dull and driven like a mule pulling heavy weight. "This is an opportunity to move up in the boxing world," he said. "But this isn't about me. This is about God. God put me here for a purpose."
Urango wakes at 5:00 on the steamy morning of June 14 in Little Havana. It is two weeks before the fight. His plush mattress is surrounded by cracked pink walls. Peeling white paint dangles from the ceiling. The blinds don't close, but it's just as well: Urango and the sun keep similar hours.
He shuffles into a cramped, windowless kitchen to find Tortuga, a.k.a. Louis Fonseca, who sleeps very little in an adjoining room. The jocund Miami smoothie began promoting clubs before he finished high school. For the past two months, Tortuga has been Urango's chauffeur, quartermaster, bank, and day-planner something between drill sergeant and soccer mom. Everyone calls him Tortuga because he's built like a turtle: stout, round, with an upper lip that comes to a little apex at the center of his pointy grin.
While Urango waits for the brown water to run clear from the bathroom faucet, Tortuga packs a massive duffel bag with everything they will need for the day. They have been here for five weeks.
It's a typical morning at the Spartan bubble, set up to prepare Urango and another fighter, Richard "El Tigre" Abril. Abril will be boxing a local up-and-comer in a televised fight before the main event. Here life is reduced to boxing and, ideally, nothing else a training montage run in slow motion, but no one seems to mind. Urango needs to beat Rabah if he wants to make any kind of money. Tortuga needs him to win for the same reason. He occasionally refers to Urango as "the jewel in the crown."
On the way out, Urango and Tortuga pick up Abril from the apartment across the hall. Few people in town know it, but the stringy 23-year-old junior welterweight was a terror in Cuba. Abril is only 3-0 in the States and he's on the card to fight before Urango. Abril says he stopped counting his Cuban amateur fights in earnest when he hit 130. When pressed for an estimate, however, the fighter puts his record at roughly 134 and 11.
In life, Abril is quiet and gentle. In the ring, he is serpentine wrapping his opponents like a boa and striking like a viper. He has been training and praying alongside Urango for a month now; they act like brothers.