18-Year-Old New Mexican Amateur Standout Sharahya-Taina Moreu of Albuquerque Ready to Defend her Backyard at next week’s USA Boxing 2018 Western Elite Qualifier
“Get yourself acquainted with the ring,” says Yoruba Moreu. “Watch out, there are a few dents in the floor.”
Yoruba lifts the ropes and invites Jocelyn, a new sparring partner for his daughter, into the backyard boxing ring he has built. She steps inside the ring, and moves around it to get the feel for the surface. She’s ready to go.
Yoruba’s daughter Sharahya-Taina Moreu is being attended to by a sibling. Gloves are tightened, head guard cinched up in preparation for sparring. Both women will compete this March in the 2018 Western Elite Qualifier. Ring experience with another competitive fighter of a similar height and weight is invaluable.
“No, wait!” calls out Yoruba before the women begin. He signals to his other daughter Ausset, working the ring timer on the porch, “Put the music on.”
Bold and brash reggaeton from Yoruba’s native Puerto Rico fills the backyard, and everyone seems to relax, swaying a little into their hips. The bell rings and the two women get to work, trainers and friends recording the rounds with phones and tablets lifted.
This is a normal Saturday’s sparring at the Moreu household, where Yoruba trains two of his children and three other local amateur boxers, six days a week. Sharaya, the eldest of the children, stands an impressive 5’10”. On social media Sharahya goes by @PuebloRican, a reference to her heritage. Her mother was of native descent from the Acoma Pueblo and her father, a proud Puerto Rican.
Despite the humble setup, this family puts in the work and gets results. Sharahya, who began boxing at 12 has 9 national titles, over 50 amateur fights, and last December participated in the Women’s Youth World Championship in India as part of Team USA.
Now at 18, she has graduated from the the youth squad and wants to claim her place on the adult or ‘Elite’ Team USA. However the floor for her, has opened up to fighters of all ages.
“It’s like stepping out of high school or something, going into the real world,” Sharahya says. “Normally you’re fighting younger kids, but [now] you’re fighting older people, people who could be like, my mother.” She mimics shock and laughs.
With less than a week until the Western Elite Qualifier, its second consecutive year in Albuquerque, amateur fighters and fans have good reason to be excited.
“If you want to be on the US team this is the best tournament you’re going to see,” she says. “You’re going to see the best of the best. You can expect everyone from the West to the East Coast. Everybody from 8 years old to 35, and up because now they’re having the Masters Division.” She refers to the first Masters Open, a division for older boxers created due to popular demand.
Sharahya will need to place in top two in her division to qualify for the Nationals later this year.
“My plan is to win it of course, ” she says with a grin, “so I can have the better, number one seed spot when I go in December.”
When Sharahya was small, she often accompanied Yoruba to the gym.
“Being Puerto Rican, boxing’s really big on the island,” Yoruba explains. “You do two things, you either do boxing or you do baseball. So I did baseball as a kid, boxing as an adult.”
Sharahya’s first experience of boxing was intended as a punishment. Sharahya had been getting in trouble at school. Yoruba was upset that she was fighting on school premises. He put her in the ring with a 25-year-old, thinking she would quit and learn a lesson. Sharahya remembers it.
“I was thinking, I do not want to spar her because she’s bigger, she’s got these muscles. I have nothing, I’m scrawny, a little skinny girl. I honestly fought from fear, but it backfired.” She smiles happily, “I ended up loving it. It’s crazy.”
It was under the purview of local boxing hero, the late Johnny Tapia, that Sharahya begun her training. “I was getting more comfortable with him as a coach and then he had to pass on.” Despite the short period they worked together Sharahya says “He taught me a lot, not just inside the ring, but outside the ring. Just to be a good person, because he was very nice and humble to anybody he met.”
“Johnny Tapia said she was going to be a world champion. He said she has all the good stuff,” says Yoruba. “Her first fight was for a national championship, she stopped the girl in the second round.”
Seeing her commitment for the sport, Yoruba built the home boxing gym, and their small team now includes Sharahya’s brother Yoruba Jr. and three other local boxers.
In preparation for last years’ Youth World Championship in India, Sharahya got to train at the Olympic facilities in Denver. “[It] was my first international competition and it had to be the world championships,” Sharayha rolls her eyes comedically, “and I had to go with the number one ranked girl, so I had it rough.”
Despite losing to the top seeded Russian, she is full of gratitude for the experience.
“I loved it,” she says, “you learn so much being in a different country. They have less but they are happier than we are. The people, they were so nice, the food, the culture! Every time they were dancing I was dancing! Whatever they were doing I was doing!”
The goal is the 2020 Olympics, but a professional career also beckons. Yoruba is patient.
“We’re going to send her pro but as of right now let’s try and get as much as we can out of the amateurs,” he says. “We’re not in a rush. Get the experience, hopefully get some sponsorship, so she can sign for the big contract.”
As a female fighter in a male dominated sport, the opportunities are strikingly unequal. “Boys that have done less than her are offered $100,000 just to go pro at 18,” says Yoruba. “She has more accomplishments than them and she can’t even get a third of that or even a fourth.”
The continuing commercial success of two-time Olympic Gold medalist Claressa Shields marks a change for women’s boxing but the opportunities are nowhere as spectacular as in the booming women’s MMA leagues. Sharahya knows women’s MMA gets more attention but laughs, “I don’t want to get kicked in the face. Boxing’s already hard enough. I trust the process. Boxing is now, it’s international too now that you’ve got the Olympics.”
Although this journey is a passion for both Sharahya and her father, there have been hard times and compromises.
“I always see my friends on social media doing all these teenage things and I’m like I can’t go today ‘cause I’m in another city or another state or another country,” she explains. “I’ve also had to really limit my friends and certain people, because a lot of people say they support me, but they don’t. They think ‘Oh, a boxer, they make millions of dollars’. They don’t really see the hard work I put in.”
“After my Mother’s death he took me and my brother in, he put us in boxing, he built a ring, a whole gym in our backyard!” she says. “That’s the dedication my Father has for us. It goes out of his paychecks to take us to tournaments. I really appreciate what he does, even though sometimes we make fun of him, that’s what he does. At the end of the day that’s the person that is going to have my back.”
You can support Sharahya and the flourishing amateur boxing scene at the 2018 Western Elite Qualifier and Regional Open Championships taking place at the Albuquerque Convention Center from March 6th to March 10th. Entrance is free for most of the even except for the finals on Saturday the 10th which are $10 per person.