This Friday, Golden Boy Promotions will be hosting a fight card from the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The main event will feature the return of light heavyweight Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (41-0), going up against Sullivan Barrera (22-3).
This card is filled with some competitive matchups, which include three world title fights.
One of those title matches will feature a battle between WBA Flyweight Champion Naoko Fujioka (18-2-1) and Sulem Urbina (12-1).
Sulem Urbina is a 31 year old flyweight out of Phoenix, Arizona who has been a pro for five years. Making her debut in July 2016 against Eloisa Martinez (1-3-1), Sulem earned her first pro victory by way of decision. She quickly found out that how she fought in the amateurs needed to be adjusted now that she was a pro. While not being signed to a promotion in the states, Sulem fought under Zanfer Promotions out of Mexico.
It wasn’t until her fight on April 6th, 2019, when she was booked on a Golden Boy Promotions show down in Mexico against Luz Elena Martinez (6-2), that she caught the attention of the boxing public. In what was an all-action brawl, Sulem won the fight by decision. But most importantly, she won over the executives at GBP who were hosting the event.
Shortly after that fight, it was announced that Sulem was officially signed to Golden Boy Promotions. Sulem felt like GBP would get her the opportunities she has been looking for since turning pro. First, she needed to once again prove that she was ready for the big stage.
A fight against Noemi Bosques (12-12-3) was booked for February 2020, marking her debut in the U.S. Once again, Sulem came away with the unanimous decision victory.
At this point, GBP realized that Sulem was ready for that step-up challenge she had been desiring so they booked her to fight 2012 US Olympian, the bronze medalist Marlen Esparza (10-1).
With these two having history going as far back as the amateurs, there was some bad blood between them. Sulem felt that Marlen was trying to “play it cool like she doesn’t remember me” and that added to the tension between them. Both ladies had some choice words for each other leading up to the fight and there was plenty of attention given to the matchup.
Last October and in front of a handful of people, due to COVID, Sulem Urbina faced Marlen Esparza.
In the fight, it seemed as if Sulem allowed her emotions to get the best of her and came out quite aggressively. This can work but often, when you are aggressive and it’s fueled by emotion, it can sap your energy prematurely… and that’s exactly what happened. Esparza picked up on it, settled down and stuck to her game plan, which led to a unanimous decision victory.
Prior to our call, Sulem woke up Wednesday morning, checked her weight to make sure she was on track and then gave me a few minutes of her time.
I asked her, when looking back, if there were any learning lessons that she gained from the Esparza fight. “There were a lot of learning lessons from that last fight,” she said. “I allowed too many people to talk in my ear to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do.” Sulem admitted that she went into the fight “hot headed” and wanted to “rip her head off” but that in the end, it didn’t work well for her.
Being brutally honest with yourself, especially in the fight game, can be difficult. Too many times we see fighters with a huge entourage and plenty of “yes” men or women to go around. When hearing that from Sulem, it was refreshing.
Another thing Sulem mentioned that she didn’t do: use her jab to setup the other punches. Those were key factors in her decision loss to Esparza.
Sulem’s situation is a pretty unique one, as her trainer Andrew Soto is also her husband. While she has mentioned to me in previous articles that it has its pros and cons, for the most part, she prefers to have Soto in her corner than anyone else.
Are there misunderstandings?
Absolutely, after her first loss, she stopped communicating with hubby for a spell. Sulem and Andrew sat down, put it all on the table, and hashed things out.
Often, when fighters suffer their first loss, they look towards the corner to blame. With Sulem’s situation, she was approached by people and told that she should consider dropping her husband as a coach. The subject was discussed. They both, according to Sulem, “made adjustments” so their communication improved.
That communication consisted of Sulem needing to tell her trainer how she is feeling and the things that have to be worked on. Sulem now feels that their relationship is “much stronger” than it was previously. With things ironed out within the team, it was time to get back to work.
When asked about how this championship opportunity presented itself, Sulem said it was an idea that was discussed among those that cover women’s boxing and GBP. When Sulem heard about it, she jumped on the opportunity and the fight was booked, for this Friday.
Of course, this title shot after the Esparza loss created some negative comments as a scattering of people felt as though she doesn’t deserve it. Sulem has seen those comments and responded by saying, “Who are they to tell me to say no to an opportunity like this?”
Now that the fight was signed, the challenge became this: how do we prepare for this test?
What can Sulem do differently to get ready for this one?
Sulem admitted that in the last camp, she didn’t rest enough and felt that maybe she may have over trained. She was quick to point out that it’s not her making excuses but assessing the whole situation. Sulem then went on to say, “I couldn’t recover after the weigh-in and I usually come in around 120-122 on fight night. For the Esparaza fight, I was at 115 with my boxing uniform on.”
Because of that situation, she needed to add a strength and conditioning coach in order to get her size back and work on her agility. The other adjustment Sulem made was on her recovery and resting more than she has in the past. She felt that this was much needed within her training regimen.
When it came to sparring for this camp, she went out and trained with fighters in L.A and Coachella. She was also able to mix in some women in order to gauge their timing. This was something Sulem did not have for her last camp and she believes the tweaks will make a difference.
Sulem Urbina is extremely motivated for this fight, and she had this to say to those who will be tuning in: “I’m going to be the same entertaining Sulem Urbina but just a little more disciplined. It’s going to be an exciting fight for the fans!”
Sulem also wanted to recognize those that have supported her. “I would like to thank everyone that didn’t leave my corner after my last fight. I appreciate everyone that has been there since day one. I’m also very fortunate to have my sponsors Legends, Extreme Stitch and Los Amigos.”
My Three Cents:
Sulem Urbina is a flyweight who has worked hard to get to the position she is in. The champion she faces is going to make it tough and WBA fly champ Naoko Fujioka will not just give up the title.
If successful on Friday, Sulem may get the chance to right the wrong with Marlen Esparza in a rematch. But for now, tune in on Friday and see if she can make her lifelong dream come true.