Iron Twin

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


At the bell ending Round 5, Urango sits down on a stool amid a corner of management-appointed strangers (icing, dousing, wiping). Pupi's face and hands crackle with emphatic advice. Urango nods blankly. Get the man.

But Rabah plays a sly matador — stabbing away with well-aimed uppercuts to grab point after point. It's clear to the ESPN announcers that he will soon be champion. On the rare occasion that Urango's tremendous blows connect, Rabah kicks and dashes like a rabbit. But it's a nonmatch: no blood, no knockdown, no knockout.

Pupi and Urango work outside combinations
Calvin Godfrey
Pupi and Urango work outside combinations
Urango is hoisted high after the fight
Jacqueline Carini
Urango is hoisted high after the fight

Early in the seventh round, the knuckles on Rabah's right hand shatter — a boxer's nightmare. As Urango steps up his charge, the wounded stick-and-move artist can only move and clinch, conserving his pained defense for dire binds.

Whump. A hook beats Rabah's body like a trash can lid. The effect is horrifying. Rather than trying to out-box Urango, the slight Tunisian struggles to keep his opponent's baneful blows from outscoring his early points and liquefying his insides.

He continues to shuffle evasively about the ring — an unforgivable offense in boxing. A referee in the 1950s might have sent Rabah to his corner for such evasion. Today fighters are often permitted to continue, but are disdained as "runners." They make for bad television.

Through the pain and occasional blow, Rabah skirts a toe-to-toe brawl, racking up jabs with his one good hand.

Just before the eighth-round bell, the mob cries for violence. "Kill him — you're Colombian!" one agitated spectator hollers. "Viva El Latino!" cries another. Soon the calls for blood subside; the audience is bored, frustrated. Walter Lopez, a petite Puerto Rican mechanic and church friend of the Urangos, leaps to his feet and explodes just as an odd hush falls over the arena. "Dale la fuerza de dios!" he thunders through the trumpet of his cupped hands. "Estás un escudero de Cristo!" he adds, red-faced and wild-eyed.

Elizabeth rises and shrieks.

Urango's advances take a wild turn — like Popeye with a bellyful of spinach. He makes hard, crazy attempts to cut off the corners, lunging for Rabah's ribs. Through Rounds 11 and 12, he fights with fervent abandon, marching double-time into a murderous blitz.

When the final bell rings at the end of the twelfth round, no one seems sure of the result. Navarro stands in a suit and T-shirt, the corners of his mouth pointing decidedly south. All is dire and down. Tortuga peeks over the judges' shoulders and begins hopping. As Rabah's corner men drape him in a Tunisian flag, stoically awaiting a decision, boos rain down on him from all corners.

Navarro doffs his jacket to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned from belly to neck with "Juan Urango, IBF Jr. Welterweight Champion."

Soon news of Urango's victory surges through the audience like panic. The ref calls the fighters to the center of the ring. Before he can finish announcing a unanimous decision, Pupi lifts Urango high into the air, hooting in victory. As the ring floods with leaping, screaming well-wishers, Rabah shakes his head, grinning in disbelief. The 28-year-old might never get another big chance.

"You see that?" Walter Lopez asks sternly as he lifts a corner rope to join the wild celebration. "That was it. You saw it. That was the hand of God."

The rest of the world would call the win a robbery. ESPN's Teddy Atlas would term the ruling "a travesty," second only to "sick children" and "people losing their lives." Joe Tessitore would be too disgusted by the decision to comment on it. The Boxing Times had Rabah winning nine rounds to three. AP reporters would claim that "many of the Miami-based fighter's home-region fans at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino even booed as the decision was read, clearly thinking Ben Rabah won the bout." Newspapers around the nation would refer to it as a "controversial" decision. But that sentiment seemed almost absent in the crowd. Rabah had spent an unforgivable hour ducking the head-on violent collision they'd paid to see. The AP got it wrong — the boos were for that damn runner. The judges sided with Urango — all three gave him the victory.

As Urango heads up to his hotel room, a small, emphatic Colombian man waving a miniature flag brushes past Urango's bodyguards and lifts him into the air by the waist. He demands a picture be taken.

Urango clutches the shiny red belt until he's inside his room. He stands next to his bed, tosses it high into the air, and lets it fall — poof — onto a down comforter. "Now I need three more," he says. Abril walks in, grinning victoriously. He took a stellar four-round win tonight and is well on his way. Footage of Mike Tyson attacking Lennox Lewis at a weigh-in flashes on the TV screen; today is Iron Mike's 40th birthday. Urango smiles.


A month after the fight, Urango ducked back into Colombia. Tortuga is on his way there to bring him back. The Iron Twin is scheduled to defend his title against Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton in December.

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