In the boxing community in Arizona, you get to know people through frequent contact. You may not know someone's name, but you see them around at professional events, amateur smokers or sparring nights at local gyms. You shake their hands, say hello. If it's one of the kids that toils in the gym each night, you ask when he or she is fighting next. "Keep up the good work champ," you might say, as you fist bump the kid's glove. You say hello to the coaches and to the parents who volunteer their time six nights a week to keep these kids in the gym and off the street.
I suppose that's how I first "met" 17-year-old Alexis Urbina. I got to know him better in July, when I asked his coach and brother-in-law Andy Soto if I could interview him for the Power MMA Show. Alexis had recently traveled to the Ukraine to represent the United States in an international tournament, after securing a National title at the Junior Olympics earlier in the year. He was soft-spoken and sounded kind. I worked to get stories out of him about his travels to the Ukraine. He talked about being an eager student during his trip, watching the styles of the fighters from different countries, so he could be better prepared to face them in the future as he worked toward his dream of becoming an Olympic Gold Medalist in the 2016 games.
I finished the interview genuinely excited for Alexis. Excited for the things he'd see, traveling the world. Excited for the relationships he'd forge. Excited to see him on television, representing his country and making his sister, brothers, coach and mother, who had supported his career, proud.
When I ran into Alexis at a local event, I introduced myself as the person he'd spoken with on the phone and extended my hand to shake his. He hugged me warmly and thanked me for the article. I remember thinking that was nice.
It's important to note that Alexis was a "good kid," as are most all of the kids I've met in the boxing community. They stay away from drugs, gangs and trouble by devoting their focus to boxing. I have often thought that people aren't aware of the large amounts of time that these young athletes spend honing their craft. Between 5 a.m. runs, a day at school and two or three-hour gym sessions in the evening, their days are booked from sun up to sun down. There is no time for distractions.
Tuesday evening, I received word that Alexis had been found beaten in his home. His mother returned from being out to find him unconscious, and it appeared that items were missing from the home. He was transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital, where he would remain on life support until around 10:30 this morning, when he passed away. The Phoenix Police Department is investigating Alexis' death as a homicide.
There is no doubt Alexis was loved by hundreds of members of the local and national boxing community. One local fighter called me in tears at the loss of his friend. Prayers and well wishes for Alexis, his sister Sulem and her husband Andy flooded social media. The community was in disbelief, as a bright light was violently snuffed out.
Though I did not know Alexis well, I cried for his family and his friends, and for the loss of a good kid with a bright future. Alexis and his sister, stand-out amateur boxer and aspiring 2016 Olympian Sulem, seemed inseparable. Andy Soto, Sulem's husband and both fighters' boxing coach, talked about and treated Alexis like his son. I continue to grieve for their loss. We tend to throw around the term "senseless act of violence" with a sort of generic detachment. It isn't until a child with a good heart, loving family and bright future is lost that we are able to really internalize the meaning of senseless in that tragically overused phrase. Rest in peace Alexis Urbina.