Tijuana’s Sandra Robles Bides Her Time
By Felipe Leon
There might not be anything worse for a fighter to be so close to a world title yet so far.
Sitting on the top of the challenger heap for the WBA 108-pound rankings since November of last year Sandra “Perla Negra” Robles (17-2, 9KO) of Tijuana, Mexico, is chomping at the bit to get another shot at a title.
Robles is also ranked #5 by the IBF and #11 by the WBC.
“A world title is what I want the most,” Robles said recently after an arduous training session with her coach Gustavo Enriquez. “I know that will open more doors in my boxing career. I know it will force me to work even harder since everybody would be gunning for me and I would have to defend it against the best.”
She gets closer this Friday night Aug. 4, in her hometown, when she faces the already overmatched Jessica Rangel (1-5-1) of Salamanca, Mexico, in a scheduled eight rounder.
“I always expect to fight the best. That would be the best for my career and speaks well of me. I’ve had some dates fall off and I just want to fight. I know this is not the best opponent at this point in my career but I have to give a good fight and I train for that.”
The 23-year-old mother of one received an opportunity in September of 2015 to challenge the long-reigning WBA 105 pound champion Anabel “Avispa” Ortiz for the title. As expected the cards where stacked against her as the fight was in Mexico City, Ortiz’s adopted home town and at a weight Robles had never competed at.
“I felt very strong for that fight, I made weight with no problem,” she said of the fight she lost via a technical decision in the sixth. “For the fight I felt stiff and tense. I didn’t know what was happening, I had never felt that before, I think it was the nerves that got to me.”
The fight was broadcast live in all of Mexico by the Azteca channel and it was Robles’ first at that level.
“After the fight I felt very disillusioned. I wanted to win and more than all I wanted that belt. I feel things happen for a reason and perhaps it just wasn’t my time to be a world champion. I kept working at it and continued with the sport.”
After her parents forced her to join a boxing gym, ran by trainer Victor Godoy, at the age of thirteen with hopes of slowing down her street fighting tendencies, Robles fell in love with the sport despite amassing a pedestrian 8-22 amateur record.
It didn’t help she began boxing in the same city and era as current interim WBC light flyweight champion Kenia Enriquez and the undefeated Tania Enriquez.
“When I started there was only four girls,” she reminisced. “My sister Carolina, Kenia, Tania and me. Since Tania was much too small, I ended up fighting Kenia in my first amateur fight. It was a street fight; we fell twice each, not from punches, but from holding and just pulling on each other. I ended up losing.”
Not to be discouraged, she kept training and fighting inspiring her younger brothers to also try the sport. Now there are three Robles siblings in the professional ranks in Tijuana with the fourth coming this fall.
Despite her lack of luck in the amateurs, the stubborn Sandra never thought of quitting but she had to take a respite because at the tender age of seventeen she found herself pregnant with her daughter Poleth.
“I cried when I had to stop fighting because of my pregnancy. I loved to fight, I would always give a war and never give up despite of losing,” she said.
In October of 2012 Robles made her pro debut once her daughter was eight months old. She made her debut at bantamweight with fellow first timer Kealoni Vanderleest.
“I prepared myself very well for that fight. She had an impressive physique and I got a little nervous at the weigh in but I beat her easily, I was surprised it was that easy,” Robles recalled.
Vanderleest never fought again.
Robles suffered her only other loss only three fights in against fellow Tijuana fighter Brenda Flores (11-3-1, 2KO) in a four rounder in May of 2013. Both fought under the same local promotional banner.
“We had different opponents and as luck would have it, both fell out,” Robles explains of the circumstances. “They decided to face us against each other since we were programmed on the same card. I never say no to any fight. I had to drop down to flyweight in two weeks because at the time I was fighting at 118 pounds. I feel they protected her because they set the fight at her weight and not at a catch weight in the middle.”
“She dropped me in the first, after that all the other rounds were close,” she continued. “A lot of the people in the crowd thought a draw would have been fair. It was my first loss and I learned from it, I learned to be more disciplined.”
After the fight Robles left her first trainer and joined the stable of common-law husband Gustavo Enriquez, the father and trainer of both Kenia and Tania Enriquez.
Her career and Kenia’s are intertwined. From her loss to her in her amateur debut, to working with her day in and day out in the gym with the same trainer while seeing her become a two-time world champion in two separate divisions, including her own. Does she ever feel as if she is fighting in Kenia’s shadow?
“I have never thought of it,” she said choosing her words carefully. “I think we are two different fighters. We are both focused on our respective careers and I think it helps me she is a world champion so people can see that in Tijuana there are quality fighters. I think we both shine with our own separate light.”
Motivated by her now six year old daughter, Robles is biding her time for a world title but first she must impress against a rugged Rangel to inch a bit closer to another world title shot.
“I’ve seen her fight before,” Robles says of her next opponent. “I think she was a bit bothered by the speed of her opponent but once she got the timing down she got the confidence to attack. I think she’s going to throw a lot of punches in our fight but I need to prove that I am ready for much bigger fights and I need to finish this fight before the distance.”
Rangel dropped a six round unanimous decision to the aforementioned Flores back in March.
With a win here, Robles expects for the title fight to be next, but it might not be against the WBA light flyweight champion Yesica “Tutti” Bopp of Argentina.
“Last year they offered me that fight in Venezuela,” Robles declared. “The purse wasn’t what it should be. They tried to give me the excuse the country was in crisis. She is an elite fighter and you are going against the odds fighting so near her home so I didn’t accept the opportunity.”
Now it’s fight. Then wait.
Photo by Zanfer