Flyweight word title contender Sulem Urbina (12-1, 2 KOs) is currently ranked in the top ten by the WBA and the WBC. She’s on the path to fighting for a world title in the near future, quite likely.
Sulem and I discussed her accomplished amateur career and her journey into the professional ranks. She opened up about her fight with Olympic bronze medalist and WBA interim flyweight champion Marlen Esparza (8-1, 1 KO). We also discussed her goals for 2021 and she confidently said that she is determined to win a world title this year.
Please enjoy this Q n A with Urbina, a 30 year old native of Mexico who makes her home in Arizona.
JR: You’re not a stranger to the boxing world, you’re well recognized. But for those that casually know of you, or those that may have not heard of you, briefly tell us about your boxing career.
SU: I started boxing when I just 11years old. I grew up undocumented here in Arizona. Unfortunately, because I was undocumented, I couldn’t fight at any of the national tournaments here in the United States. I had a few local fights here and there, nothing big.
When I was about 11 years old and then my mother unfortunately made me stop boxing because she didn’t like it. She wanted me to be home tending to the house, doing chores of a traditional Mexican household. When I turned 16, I started driving, and I drove myself to a local boxing club and I fell in love with the sport. At this point I took it seriously, I wanted to compete, I wanted to go to nationals, I wanted everything. When I turned 18 years old, I left the U.S. and went to Mexico knowing that I wouldn’t be able to come back. I became a national champion in Mexico and became number one right away. From then on, I represented Team Mexico on their national team, I participated in the Central American Games, and I qualified for the Pan-American Games. I went to the Olympic qualifiers but unfortunately, I fell short and I didn’t qualify for the Olympics in 2016. That’s when I decided to come back home to the U.S. and turn professional. In 2016 I signed with Zanfer Promotions and worked my way up to a record of 10-0. After my contract ended with Zanfer, I started working with Golden Boy Promotions. I am currently 12-1 and I’m ready to capture a world championship.
JR: So much of the success of a fighter relies on the relationship with their trainer. Your trainer is Andrew Soto, who happens to be your husband. Explain the dynamics of that relationship and how he motivates you to be better.
SU: Yes, he’s my husband and we’ve been training together for about 14 years now. Actually, he was my coach before we became a couple. I already knew the way he trained, the way he worked, and the strong attitude he had in the gym, so I understood the way he was already. Once I became his wife it was a little tough for me because he didn’t take it easy on me. He was way harder on me than everybody else and it took me a little while to adjust to that. But no one wants what’s best for more than he does. He truly wants the best for me and wants me to accomplish my goals one hundred percent. He’s very supportive and I appreciate that. He knows how to pull out the best of me and I believe in our team.
JR: What’s your training regimen like? What does a typical day of training consist of?
SU: It depends, when I’m getting ready for a fight, I have 3-4 strength and conditioning sessions in the morning. I usually run 3-4 times a week, that include sprints and time distanced runs. The evenings consist of 3-4 hours of boxing training. In those hours we work on technique, agility and anything that is needed to enhance my boxing skills. Boxing is such a unique sport in that you have to work every single aspect. Andrew organizes everything around what I need for my next fight. Whether that be speed, power, or working just a little bit of everything.
In regard to sparring, I am fortunate to have teammates that are very good. Like Mariah Martinez, she is ranked number one by USA Boxing in her weight class. Other sparring partners include Leslie Hernandez and teenage boys that are my size. Teenage boys are the best work because they are experienced, fast, crafty, and they are not at the point where they can hurt me. Men will take it way too easy on me and I understand they can’t go all out, especially with my size. That’s why teenage boys make the best sparring partners for me because I’m a small woman and they go all out, that’s the best work I can get.
JR: You’re only professional loss was to Marlen Esparza. It was tough and exciting fight. Tell me about that fight and how are you a better fighter since that loss.
SU: I’m not a sore loser, it was her night and I give her all the credit. She fought intelligently and fought her fight, she outboxed me very well. (Click here to watch video of the Esparza win over Urbina.) For me, I know the mistakes I made that night, not only during the fight but before the fight as well. We pushed a little too hard. The focus became wanting to win the fight and the importance of this fight got to me a little bit. I was listening to too many people’s opinions about what I should or shouldn’t do. I should’ve just gone in there had fun and done my thing. I’m a way better boxer that what I displayed that night. I’m not happy with my performance, I didn’t use my jab at all. I was just trying to rip her head off, instead of setting up my punches. I knew she was going to box, I kind of hoped she was going to trade with me a little bit. It is what is, I have definitely learned a lot more from that loss than all my wins. It was a great learning experience, it was a loss I take and own up to, and it’s a loss I will come back from.
JR: Is there a rematch in the future against you and Marlen Esparza?
SU: Of course, I would love a rematch. I believe that I am better that what I displayed. But I also understand that I must have something to offer for her to consider having a rematch with me. Maybe she wins a belt and I win a belt, and maybe we can unify. It’ll definitely happen, right now the ball is in her court.
JR: Almost everyone I talk to in the fight game has a boxing hero or idol. Who’s yours?
SU: I look up to a lot of people. But recently someone that I admire a lot because he has been a great mentor to me and shared words of wisdom with me is Jamel Herring. I started talking to him on twitter recently and he’s a great human being. I’m surprised I didn’t know him personally before because he has an amazing story. He’s been through hell and back, and he is still a nice and genuine person. He hasn’t let life turn him into a bad person, that happens to a lot people. He’s been there to give us good advice and telling us not to give up. With my recent loss, I appreciated the friendship and mentorship he gave me. He’s someone I truly, truly admire.
JR: Who was your first example of a fighter outside of boxing?
SU: My father. My father grew up very poor. He sits down and tells me the story of his childhood. His family didn’t have food, they lived in a house made out cardboard. His mother washed clothes to make a living. Recently he told me a story about a time when he ate a sandwich that he found while digging through the trash, and to him that sandwich was tasty and good. He wasn’t able to go to school, because he didn’t have shoes or clothes to wear. He bought us here to the United States looking for a better way of life, without knowing English and not having an understanding of how things work in a different country. In spite of that, he was always working, there was not a day he missed work, even he was sick. We didn’t have a lot of luxuries when I was growing up but there was always food on the table, a roof over our head and clothes on our back. He still works and hopefully through my accomplishments I can get him out of working. My father is my biggest role model and I admire him very much.
JR: When is your next fight and with whom? What are your goals for 2021?
SU: I don’t have a date right now. With Sergey Kovalev recently having tested positive the January 30th card was canceled and all the Golden Boy cards have been backed up. I was hoping to fight in March, but I don’t think it’s going to happen anymore. However, I’m still going to stay in the gym and stay ready and hopefully a fight gets made in April. I don’t now against who. I don’t have any opponents in mind other than world champions.
My Take: Sulem Urbina is a tough, aggressive boxer puncher who is at the top of the female featherweight division. She poses a threat to any world title holder and she is hungry to capture a belt. She definitely has the skills, team and work ethic to shake things up this year, I suspect. Whether her next fight is for a world title or not, you better believe Urbina is poised and ready for any opponent that steps in the ring with her.