30 minutes later, I make an attempt to swim. The heat is brutal but refreshing at the same time. Surrounded by Spanish spoken at a rapid clip, drenched in the Mexican sun, with the second beer of the day waking me up, I lay in that pool, feeling at peace. While painfully aware of my linguistic handicap, it felt comforting to be surrounded by my people. As long as I didn’t speak, I was as Mexican as the next person. It was an awakening of sorts. I silently promised myself I would return to Mexico knowing Spanish sometime soon.
Around five, I get a text from Red, who handles various things for the Leave-it-in-the-Ring.com radio show which I co-host with David Duenez. Red is covering the fight for the website and I have his credential. Somehow, I have to track him down and get it to him. We actually don’t make plans and he proceeds to get across the border as fast as possible. He should make it by 7:00, he says. As the venue is just a few blocks away, we should be able to cab it there with time to spare before the first fight at 7:30.
7:15- I call Red. “Where are you?” I ask him.
“I’m at the stadium,” he says.
Uh-oh. I realize I never told him to come get me. Having sent Ray ahead as I was moving slowly with the receding hangover, heat, two beers and enchiladas mole still weighing me down, I would now have to get a taxi and get there myself.
Dressed in my customary fight night black, I headed down the hall to the elevator. I boarded it with a WBC official who stood closer to the controls than I did. I laughed hard on the inside as this man, probably about to judge some fights and decide some life and career outcomes, looked absolutely confused as to how to turn on the elevator.
“One, please,” I said and he smiled and hit a button. Away we went.
On the next floor, the third, Joseph Gomez, who would be facing Angulo that night, stepped on to the elevator, team in tow. I had tried to track him down for an interview as well but he was nowhere to be found at the weigh-in, apparently asleep the night before. This was my big chance.
“Good luck,” I offered.
“Thanks,” he said and kind of looked ahead as if to say, “I’m focusing over here.”
I smiled and turned to the opening door. Stunning stuff, I know.
To get to the stadium, I chose to ride in the taxi closest to death in Mexicali. This poor guy, who looked like Avery Schreiber from those old Doritos commercials, ground his gears and screeched his brakes around every corner and at every stop sign along the way. Luckily, there was a ton of traffic as the 20,000-plus headed into the stadium. I got to hear the symphony of a dying car.
I finally meet up with Red around 7:40 and we head ringside of the Nido Sports Center. The stadium is old and worn-down. I half-wondered why Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander hadn’t been brought here with Angulo as a co-feature but shook it off. Too much on the beaten path, I figured.
Red and I walked down a long tunnel on the north side of the stadium onto a dirt track that led to the ring. In the distance, I saw the first bout of the night already in action, two young Mexican fighters, reinforcing the face-first Mexican fighter stereotype. The ground from this point on the far side of the arena was covered in a white plastic tile that they rolled out for occasions such as this. It made watching the drunks try to walk all the funnier. There were two large screens on the north and south side so the cheap seats could get a good gander at their hometown hero, Angulo.
The ring itself was 20 x 20, a phone booth special designed to up the action and discourage runners. Red and I took our ringside seats inside a fenced-off area guarded by a guy with a gun. To the left of us stood a man who looked more like a mechanic in his blue coveralls. The only thing to identify him as an EMT was the stretcher and first aid kit behind him. I’m not one to judge a book by its cover but I am pretty sure his hands weren’t sterile. Just sayin’.
If you want to see great infighting, go to Mexico. While these two would never be confused with Fred Astaire, they did bring a special quality to the ring, both banging inside and making the other miss while doing it. Fight after fight was like this, each one as hard to score as the last. The blows landed so often and so forcefully, it all became a blur.
While I took this all in, I also took in a local delicacy: homemade potato chips, thick style, smothered in hot sauce and lemon juice. I’m telling you, I will never go back. Good to the last Tapatio-soaked drop. That and the $3.50 beers brought to me by a kind lady every few fights (nine in all. Fights, not beers) made me feel all the more at home. A side effect of the heat was that I don’t think I ever felt the effects of the beer. All I ever got was dehydrated. It was awesome.
Finally, it was time for the return of Angulo. He made his way to the ring unceremoniously, rather quiet even. Gomez, having already come into the ring, looked a little out of sorts. While he is Mexican from New Mexico, this was not that. This was Mexicali, home of Angulo. There was not a person in the crowd hoping Gomez would pull it out.
In the States, people watched anxiously on ESPN Deportes and ESPN3.com. It should be noted that both of those entities became involved because of Perro Promotions. From the moment Angulo announced his return, ESPN Mexico covered him well and it was Doug Loughrey and Carlos Trillo who helped secure Deportes and ESPN3. Angulo’s new promotional firm, Golden Boy, helped get him on Televisa, important to note because, had Angulo not taken the power for himself and started his own company that actually promotes him, unlike some fighters’ shell companies (that serve more as tax write-offs but never get licenses to promote), he might not have gotten on TV. Companies jumped on board only after he was selling well in Mexico. Proof again that a fighter’s ultimate power might be the ability to put asses in seats.
The fight began all at once. Angulo pressed forward, patient in his attack, cutting off the ring and boring in with pressure while Gomez became the first person to dance all night. Left and right he moved with Angulo in pursuit. Jab, jab, right hand and off Gomez went. None of them landed but it was a nice effort. Angulo pressed forward more and shot a one-two to the pit of Gomez’s stomach. Gomez moved backward to the ropes. Finally, Angulo let loose full throttle and a left followed by a right to the body thudded home. A right curled around Gomez’s head and down he went to his knees.
It happened so fast, we almost missed it. Actually, Red did as I told him to look at something else and he did. Oops.
“Perro” stood in the neutral corner, his constant stern look unchanged. Referee Jose Cobian counted at Gomez as the latter stayed on his knees, wondering what the hell hit him.
“[Angulo] hit me in the dressing room to the body and I knew he was strong,” laughed Darryl Hudson afterwards.
Gomez probably hasn’t laughed since this fight, the shots having knocked any fight or wind out of him.
The ref waved it off and Angulo, despite what he would tell me afterward, had to be at least a little disappointed.
The crowd attempted to boo but it was no use. “Perro” was back and that could not be anything but good on this night or any other. Action fighters particularly at junior middle to middleweight are few and far between. With his return, we can look forward to possible matches with Vanes Martirosyan, Saul Alvarez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., James Kirkland, and maybe, if all goes well, Sergio Martinez. A fighter who can draw is even rarer still. Angulo is both.
After the fight, there was a mad dash for Angulo. Tons of Mexican reporters, both print and TV, surrounded Angulo, who was paraded from one end of the ring around to the other. Along the way, I chased him down but was unable to get close to him. I passed the disinterested-looking round card girls and tried and tried but eventually, Angulo went around the ring and out to the lockers where I lost him.
Back at ringside, I watched Frankie Leal get dropped in the fourth, get back up and TKO Leopoldo Gonzalez. He looked good in winning despite the knockdown.
After local favorite Juan Romo stopped Vicente “Bufalo” Sandez in one and proceeded to do “The Worm,” I wrote out my report on my iPhone, sent it off and headed out to the dirt track to take some final notes and head off to find Angulo. There was a concert being held with some band named Enigma. I should have made note of that.
As I stood waiting for Red and his crew of Randy Caballero and his father Marcos, along with Red’s son and two others- a grandfather/grandson team- a group of very attractive senoritas approached.
The lead asked me something in Spanish and I blushed, kicking myself inside.
“No habla Español,” I said.
“Oh,” she responded, visibly disgusted by my coconut ass. “Is Enigma playing outside?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I replied.
So much for international relations.
We headed back to the hotel after hearing that’s where Angulo was going. Thank Buddha. That Ranchero music was not my thing at all, all accordions and the same vocals over and over, added to which, I needed some quotes for y’all.
“I love this song,” I lie as we head out of the parking lot, five of us packed in a tiny car, the distant strains of a new accordion song playing. “It sounds exactly like the last one.”
We get to the hotel around 11:00 and finally, I see “Perro” standing in front of the hotel. He smiles shyly and approaches and we shake hands. He seemed changed from the day before and there is a feeling that he has come to the end of a very long journey. This is not the grumpy fighter I saw at the press conference but a man confident in his ability to make a decision for his destiny and carry it out successfully. Angulo is happy.
“I am ready for all of them,” he said in English, his soft voice belying his rugged exterior.
I asked him about Martirosyan, whom the WBC has ordered Angulo to fight for a shot at WBC titleholder Saul Alvarez.
“He’s a good fighter. He has a good record. That’s him,” he said simply.
As for Saul Alvarez, “He’s a good boxer. He’s young. That’s it. If he is a champion, he should fight the best in the world,” said Angulo.
“That’s his problem,” I said.
Angulo laughed and agreed. “When you are champion of the world, you fight the best.”
At ringside, Nacho Beristain told me that Angulo would beat “Canelo” Alvarez in five or six rounds. At dinner the night before, he told me Angulo could beat Chavez Jr. and “Canelo” on the same night.
“‘Canelo’ will probably fight Nacho next instead of you,” I joked.
Angulo laughed and translated for Nacho who laughed and nodded.
“It would be better for him if he fought me instead of Angulo,” said Nacho. “[Canelo’s] a killer of old guys.”
Nacho went inside and Angulo and I spoke a little more. He didn’t seem bothered that the fight did not last long.
“My work is done in the gym. How the fight goes…?” he trailed off with a gesture of his hands and a shrug.
“This is my work and I love my work,” said Angulo.
Angulo didn’t know if he would continue fighting in Mexico or if he would soon come to the US. His visa status unknown, he may just have to stay busy there in Mexicali for now. With attendance like that, he’ll be fine doing it. Fighters fight and Angulo proved that on Saturday night.
As for the rest of the evening, Angulo went off for a quiet dinner with his people. I went out to party.
On the way back from the bar, with Grandpa driving and singing us “Rancho Grande,” among other songs, we headed to have what he called the best tacos in Mexicali. On the way, we got stopped for going through a stop sign none of us saw.
All I have to say is God bless the Mexican judicial system. They have an all-in-one-type deal. The cop decided Grandpa might be a little drunk and so we would have to go to the police station to do a breath test. The cop got back in his car and we drove about 100 yards before he pulled us over again. This time, the cop, now a judge, fined Grandpa a mere $30 American and we were allowed to go. Now that’s service and a justice system I can get behind. Fastest, cheapest DUI ever.
Advice for Mexico travelling, if someone says, “I know where the best tacos in Mexicali are,” go back to the hotel and eat. While they were delicious, they were also, shall we say, long-lasting? Yeah. The place was cool, though. They placed all the fixings (salsa, guac, radishes, grilled onions and peppers) in bowls before us. Then, they brought as many tacos as we could eat and we did the rest. And the horchatas were delicious.
Around four or so, I arrived back in my room and packed up. I grabbed a quick nap and by 5:30 or so, Ray and I were back on the road. We passed through the border with zero problems and soon, I was fast asleep, useless in the Mexican heat, leather jacket over my head.
Around 9:45 or so, Ray woke me up at the Oceanside train station where I would have to wait until 10:20 to catch my train home. We said our goodbyes and promised to do this again. Good traveling companions are not easy to find, especially ones willing to drive to Mexico.
As I waited in the train station, I was hit up by no less than three able-bodied, Caucasian males in their 20’s for money. None were selling anything. None had a little store they wanted me to visit. They just wanted cash and they were rude as they asked for it and were turned down. Imagine that. I spent two days and nights in a country so poor that I felt like a baller with my few hundred in travelling cash and was never hit up by a beggar. Yet in the US, I’m back five minutes and I get hit up by homeless beggars. I have to imagine there is a sense of entitlement and lack of work ethic at play here.
The train was interesting too as I made my way to a seat, the only seat, which was near a couple and their loud-ass kids. Americans smell funny, covered in perfumes and colognes, all of them bumping into each other as they passed, heads glued to cell phones or eyes glazed over in conversation. They never said they were sorry when they bumped into each other or me. In Mexico, I had a few people bump into me and all made sure to let me know it was cool. There is a common decency missing here, a lack of the sense that we are in tune with each other. What I experienced in my short time in Mexico was a feeling of community, a feeling of a town welcoming home a fighter and favorite son to the place he feels best. It is a feeling I won’t soon forget and one I hope to return to in the near future.
While it felt good to be returning home, I left Mexico with a question of where that might actually be in the long run.
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.