Iron Twin

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

"Urango and I used to drink together," Elizabeth says later as she shifts her faded green Mitsubishi into neutral to prevent it from stalling. "Now we get drunk in the Holy Ghost. It's much better." The whole vehicle rumbles and shakes each time she accelerates. "This is the car I taught him to drive in," she says with a titter. "He messed up the gear shifter."

Urango sits in the passenger seat, smiling.

"If God wants us to have this victory, He'll give it to us," Elizabeth adds a moment later in her Flatbush-drenched Nuyorican accent. "If he doesn't...."

Urango at Mile Marker 2 in Golden Beach
Calvin Godfrey
Urango at Mile Marker 2 in Golden Beach
Pupi wraps Urango’s right hand
Calvin Godfrey
Pupi wraps Urango’s right hand

The day after the fighter's arrival in the United States, a boxer friend took him to Elizabeth's apartment, she recalls. She was cooking soup. They all sat down to eat. "What a caveman!" she comments, her eyes aghast. "I mean, he ate without breathing!" Today she affectionately refers to him as "caveman."

At the end of the meal that night, he handed her a ticket to his first American fight. Though in the past she had run summer boxing camps for some of Don King's small-time fighters, this would be her first fight too.

Elizabeth showed up dressed in green — a nod to Urango's service in the Colombian infantry. "I was all the way in the back, but I was the only voice you could hear." Urango won the fight by unanimous decision — knocking the Russian, Sorokin, off of his feet in the third round and dealing him the only loss of his career. "I knew then he was going to be a world champion," she says.

After that, they spent nearly every day together. She began shopping for his family — sexy underwear for the mothers, little outfits for the kids. He taught her to climb trees and swim. She ran with him before fights and translated when necessary. Urango continued to win.

In August 2004 he announced he was heading to Colombia. When he arrived in his homeland, he discovered authorities were after him for nonpayment of child support. While driving the streets of Montería — his home state — his friends would push him to the floor when they spotted police cars.

"They're gonna get me!" worried his twin, Pedro. But they finally did get Juan and nearly incarcerated him. "If you put me in jail," he remembers arguing, "how am I gonna support my family?" The mother wanted 200,000 pesos a month. Urango got off with paying 30,000. "Even if I was the president, I couldn't afford 200,000!" he pleaded.

After a three-month holdover, Urango returned to the States and his life in Florida — alone and largely broke.

On Wednesday, June 28, two nights before the fight, Elizabeth, Urango, Abril, and Urango's head manager, Luis Navarro, show up at Segadores de Vida for the sermon. Rudy, a rippling Italian bodyguard, accompanies them. ("There are a lot of people from Urango's past who don't want him to succeed," Tortuga said of the hired muscle.) "I'm gonna grab a headset for the bodyguard," Urango tells his wife as he jogs down the back row. "I'm gonna convert him."

Ultimately it was this church that brought Urango back to Elizabeth. During their separation, they spoke only a few times. She felt spurned. But then one day, as she was packing her life into boxes, preparing to move into the Davie townhouse, she caught an old Urango fight on television. As she chided herself for having let him get away, her phone rang. He wanted her to come to church with him on Sunday.

She soon converted (she was Episcopalian). They moved in together in July 2005 and were married in a quiet ceremony at her home in October. When a Colombian beer company offered him more than $20,000 for an endorsement, Urango turned it down. The church frowns on drinking.

Now they attend church together three times a week, plus events and outings. Urango says the church saved his life and his soul. "I have a passion in my life and my family," he beams. "I'm faithful to my wife. I don't drink. Depression, anxiety — gone."

Even while training, Urango is on the hunt for converts. Abril accepted Jesus in early June. (The bodyguard didn't — at least not that night.)

Pastor Ruddy Garcia opens a sermon about tithing and prosperity — one of his most prevalent topics — with a video testimony. The video features a woman named Amantina Ruiz, who stated she had given the Lord (the church) her entire salary and has been prosperous ever since. Tithes at Segadores de Vida are understood to be ten percent of one's earnings. But in a previous sermon, Pastor Ruddy divided Christians into three classes: those who don't contribute, those who give within their means, and those who give beyond their means. "If you want a bigger miracle," he said, "give more."

During the ceremony, Urango turns in his seat and collects donations from Navarro, Abril, and the bodyguard. He then pulls out an enormous wad of cash — money that has been advanced to him by his managers. He has been donating all along, but this is the largest drop of them all.

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