Iron Twin

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

In May 2004, a scout from Warriors Boxing Inc. — the Hollywood promoters who handle many of the area's top matchups — offered Urango a fight at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and a promotional contract. Urango hopped on a plane a week before his first American bout with a Russian named Sergey Sorokin.

Two long years later, he would return to the garish casino for his shot at the title.

Pupi (left), Tortuga, Urango, and Abril watch boxing on a back porch in Little Havana
Calvin Godfrey
Pupi (left), Tortuga, Urango, and Abril watch boxing on a back porch in Little Havana
Early sparring with Danny Santos at a gym in the Design District
Calvin Godfrey
Early sparring with Danny Santos at a gym in the Design District

Around 10:00 a.m. on June 14, Urango wakens from his post-run nap and pulls a bowl of watermelon from the fridge. He eats it over the sink, juice running down his chin. It is his first food of the day. Tortuga rouses Abril from his room; he is deeply ensconced in a telenovela.

By 11:00 Tortuga has wrangled them back into the car and sets off for the doctor (weekly checkup) and physical therapist. Tense, swollen backs are rubbed down with oil, heated, and hooked up to therapeutic electrodes.

From these appointments, it is straight to the gym, a white cinder-block hangar amid the broken and rotting warehouses of Miami's fashion district. The grimy cube houses a ring, four heavy bags, two speed bags, and a Soviet crop duster that was hijacked in 2004 by a Cuban family of eight. The U.S. government seized it, stripped it, and reassembled it in the gym. Abril thinks he remembers seeing it fly overhead while he was eating mangos in his front yard on Isla De Pinos.

After greasing himself with more heat goop, Urango sets to work for 30 minutes of uninterrupted jump rope. By the end, his sneakers squeak with each tiny leap into a growing mandala of sweat.

Drenched, he climbs into the ring and proceeds with the ostensibly schizophrenic ritual of shadow-boxing — jabbing, upper-cutting, and hooking an imaginary foe to unconsciousness. He methodically punches from one corner of the ring to the next and back around.

"He's working on his form," Pupi says from the corner. "His own form."

As Urango punches in furious circles, he must know that a loss to Rabah, even on points, would set him back a year. A second loss could keep him from another title shot forever. It is an odd business that has men pounding success and security out of one another like candy from a piñata.

At 3:30 p.m., Tortuga and Pupi go to work wrapping his hands in gauze, placing them snugly into gloves, and taping them to his wrists. Pupi slips on a pair of hand-held punch pads and climbs into the ring. Boxer and trainer commence a weird dance, slowly building combinations in a dramatic pantomime of a fight. "Bam, bam, bam," Pupi mutters, calling for punches. Deep thuds echo over the Christian tunes as Urango fires forth like a precision jackhammer. "Gracias, Señor," he sings.

After six rounds of pads, Urango is sent to work the heavy bag. He knocks the 150-pound sack into the air like a child on a swing, while Abril spars in the ring with Lamar Murphy. The 33-year-old once had nineteen straight wins and a bright, big future. Now he sleeps on a futon in the corner of the room and spars for $20 a match. His presence haunts the gym — a constant reminder that a trip to the canvas can hurt you in more ways than one.

After the timer buzzes, Pupi and Tortuga remove Urango's gloves to reveal that his left thumb is bleeding. That's it for the heavy bag. Owing to the nasty gash, which erupted a week ago, Urango will not punch flesh until he steps into the ring with Rabah.

"If he's gonna injure it," Tortuga says gravely, "it's gonna have to be during the fight. He'll just have to fight through it."

When he finishes his workout, it's nearly 5:00 p.m. There's just enough time to dress and go to church. "Boxing is not forever," Urango says as he gathers his things. "God is forever. If God tells me to leave boxing...."

It is Sunday, a week before the fight. Urango sits attentively outside his church, Segadores de Vida, a long strip of a building nestled amid the commercial jumble of State Road 7 just south of the Hard Rock. Inside, a low drop-ceiling hangs over thousands of occupied folding chairs.

As moody keyboard riffs fill the massive multipurpose room, Pastor Ruddy Garcia paces in a dapper cream-color suit, speaking in tongues. A stampede of Hispanic parishioners rises and floods toward the large open space in front of the stage. Urango follows.

"Receive him!" Pastor Ruddy commands. The stout Dominican preacher approaches the trembling and weeping masses before him and touches them on their heads, grimacing as he cries exultations into the microphone. With each touch, a body collapses to the carpet. Many are in tears. Sweater-vested church leaders appear with light-blue blankets, cover the incapacitated, and leave them to writhe in religious ecstasy.

Urango worships at the rear, teeth barred, eyes clenched, and arms raised heavenward. An ear-splitting speaker blares Pastor Ruddy's voice overhead; no one seems to mind the volume. Urango's wife Elizabeth stands at his side, her head bowed, her hands folded in front of her.

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