There has never been a time when being a professional boxer was easy. To have any measure of success requires a resolute approach, a single-mindedness, an unbridled desire that ensures that every sacrifice that needs to be made, is made and ill-discipline is not succumbed to.
The early runs, the daily multiple gym sessions, the weight cut, the diet, the isolation, missing out on so many social and family occasions. That’s the lifestyle, that’s the sacrifice, it’s never easy, but it seems particularly harsh that with the current ambiguity surrounding boxing during these unprecedented times, professional boxers have no end result, no reward and no stream of income.
A global pandemic that prompted a full lockdown is something no sportsperson could foresee or affect, and unbeaten Mexican Flyweight Sulem Urbina has a case to be as aggrieved as anyone with the timing of the enforced period of inactivity.
Urbina's two previous fights have been under the Golden Boy banner, a dream collaboration with iconic boxer and founder of the company Oscar De La Hoya, an eight-time World Champion and someone who understands the US and Mexico correlation as well as anyone. That relationship is something Urbina and her team will undoubtedly hope can be resumed and cemented in a more permanent capacity as she was on the cusp of orchestrating big fights, moving to 12-0 after victories over Luz Elena Martinez and against Noemi Bosques on her US debut.
However, during the opening gambit of the interview, an upbeat and positive tone offered up the first hint that she did not intend on using the situation to complain or express that she was ‘owed’ anything. When questioned (a little unfairly) on the predicament she and her fellow boxers find themselves in, she said, “None of us (boxers) are working, we’re not essential right now, especially as a female athlete, it’s a little harder because we don’t get paid as much as the men do and I mean, I think I should have fought again in May and now that payday has been cancelled, so it’s extremely difficult, but the way I look at it is, I’ve already travelled this far in my career, I can’t just give up now.
“If things get worse, I mean there are jobs I can apply at and get to working, I’m not afraid of getting a job.”
Urbina who lives in Phoenix Arizona, comes from a family of four brothers, two older and two younger and was introduced to boxing as a youngster through a trip to the gym with her two older brothers.
Despite enjoying the experience, it was short-lived as her mother, a traditionalist was not in favour of her daughter fighting. The 29-year-old Flyweight recalls having to wait until she was a little older to realise her boxing ambition. “My two older brothers started attending a local boxing club when I was 11-years-old and you know, I tagged along and I fought a few times but my mother didn’t actually like it very much, so she pulled me out and I didn’t officially start boxing until I was about 17.”
Despite her disappointment, Urbina fully understood the stance her mother took at that early age, “My mother didn’t really like me boxing because we’re a traditional Mexican family, where the woman stays at home, helps with the chores at home and cleans up, cooks and everything, so that’s why my mother didn’t support me at first, but now she’s a huge fan of mine, my biggest fan if anything, she cheers me on and goes to my sparring and everything.
“For me, if I was to have children, if they decided they wanted to box, I would support them but I wouldn’t put it into them to start boxing, I think any boxer can tell you they wouldn’t like their children to box, it’s a very difficult sport, where you miss out on so much of life because of boxing and I personally wouldn’t like my children to do it.”
In fighting terms, there is often a broad stereotype that Mexican boxers are rugged and resilient, and Urbina has certainly had to call upon those qualities having had to deal with personal adversity as well as professional. The progression of her career was only part of her disappointment at the cancellation of her bout in May. She had another, very poignant reason for being disheartened. “I had aspirations to fight this Cinco de Mayo card because it landed on my late brother’s birthday and I wanted to do him that honour. I have hopes that I’ll be on a major card in the future.”
The ‘Cinco de Mayo’ card is an important one for Mexican fighters, Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration, remembering the Mexican Army’s win over The French Empire on May 5th 1862, but has become synonymous with big boxing events on the corresponding weekend. There have been so many high-profile fights over the years that have marked the occasion. Mayweather v Pacquiao, Canelo v Chavez Jr and Mayweather v De La Hoya to name but a few that have graced the significant event.
For the unbeaten Mexican, those are the occasions that she dreams of being involved in, having harboured the ambition of becoming a World Champion herself from a young age. “When I was a kid there wasn’t any women in the Olympics, so it was just about becoming a World Champion.
“At that time, I was seeing a lot of stuff on Kristy Martin, she was the woman I looked up to the most, I thought it was so cool how she was boxing and the way they introduced her and everything and she was a World Champion and so I wanted to be like her.”
It’s not lost on Urbina that despite women’s boxing being in a good place, there needs to be a continuous drive to propel them onto bigger platforms and share main events with more televised bouts. “I think it’s in a good place right now, the US is slightly behind countries like China for example but fighters like Terri Harper and Ewa Wahlstrom headlining cards is what we need more of. That’s what we want as female boxers and I want those big fights.”
During the lockdown period, there have been plenty of videos showing boxers meting out punishment to hastily acquired heavy bags, some will be staying in shape where others may take a hiatus from the rigours of training. Recently Andy Ruiz Jr left Manny Robles following defeat to Anthony Joshua and joined forces with Canelo Alvarez’s coach Eddy Reynoso and fellow Mexican fighter Urbina believes it’s a matter of discipline. “We will see who has taken care of themselves and who has not.”
Drawn on Ruiz’s situation she added, “I felt Andy was great with Manny Robles, it was more his lack of discipline that hurt him. Canelo’s team are great coaches but unless he is disciplined it will not matter who he trains with.”
Urbina has no such worries surrounding her coaching team. Her husband Andrews Soto is her trainer and has been throughout her career and the understanding and trust are key components to the success of their partnership. “He trained me way before we got together when we entered the relationship we sat down and had a good talk about it. At first, maybe it was tricky but honestly? I can’t imagine anyone better to guide me, sometimes no words are even needed, we understand each other so well.”
There have been plenty of potential future fights touted for Sulem Urbina to prepare for and if her previous fight is the prelude of what is to come, then there could be some very exciting nights in store for her fans. Some sumptuous combinations during the fight nearly stopped the wily and experienced Noemi Bosques on numerous occasions, not least a moment within the fight which saw a beautiful right hook to the body, rising up to a left hook upstairs which had her opponent floundering. Urbina also dipped the shoulder and landed several left uppercuts, swiftly followed by successive unseen right hands over the top, which also rendered success during the fight.
One of the potential opponent names which seems to resurface is Marlene Esparza, an old amateur foe who has beaten her in the pre-professional ranks. On the prospect of facing Esparza, she said, “Yes, I’m happy to be in the big fights, that’s what I want, amateur boxing is a completely different discipline and I have adapted to the professional game, I’m sitting down on my shots more, fighting in the professional ranks is a very different proposition. I’m looking forward to getting back out there in the big fights.”