By Russ Ham
When Edrulfo Castillo Ojeda and his sons turn on the big lights at Arena California, they are inviting the public to watch quality boxing in a family-friendly venue. Mexico has produced more world champion boxers than any other country, and that talent grows from places like this, on Calle Altamirano, one block north of Cinco de Mayo.
For an admission fee of 150 or 200 pesos (ladies get a 50-peso discount), one can see six to eight bouts featuring Paceño boxers from several local gyms — Azteca Boxing Club, Gimnasio Nuevo Sol, Molote Cota, Jorge Campos, Olas Altas, 8 de October, Guerreros, Academia Iskander, and others. The boxers work a circuit that includes Los Cabos, Ciudad Constitution, and Santa Rosalia.
There is a strong camaraderie among the fighters and clubs. When the gloves are cut off, two men who have ferociously pursued one another beyond exhaustion will often embrace and smile. As the judges deliver their decision, one fighter may worry that he has lost and the other may feel he has won, but each hopes they have earned the other’s respect and the admiration of a crowd that appreciates good boxing and good sportsmanship.
Vendors offer snacks, soft drinks, and ice-cold beers. Parents and grandparents enjoy the evening’s relative cool while children scamper over the bleachers. Don Edrulfo’s son, Brian Castillo Montenegro, emcees promotional giveaways between the fights with good humor. He says that their company, ECO Promotions, takes pride in offering quality matches at affordable prices in a secure venue.
The undercard will often feature a “debutante,” a fighter in his first professional bout, appearing in front of his family, friends, and neighbors. The night progresses with experienced fighters competing under Queensbury-style rules that call for “a fair, stand-up match.” This is not masked Lucha Libre, which is undeniably athletic, but more theater than sport. It is not hands-and-feet, mixed-martial-arts fighting. It is two gloved athletes in a 24-foot square, three minutes at a time, trading punches above the waist with the goal of knocking down or outscoring the opponent. Experienced judges tally the punches and a referee enforces the rules and is ultimately responsible for the boxers’ safety.
Because the aim of this sport is to beat the opponent until he goes down, safety is the officials’ top priority. Cuts are infrequent but inevitable, and they are promptly addressed. A fight is called at the first sign that fighter may be unable to defend himself. Dr. David Noriega sits ringside and an ambulance waits on the street if either are needed.
The level of the boxing is quite respectable. The trainers are dedicated ring veterans, like Jean Paul Ortega Moyron, a Paceño who spent eight years in Mexico City as a boxer. He trains three professionals — Carlos “Gallo” Lozano, Alonso “Cañas” Salvatierra, and Marco “Bombardero” Puppo — and “una camada” (“a litter”) of amateurs at Gimnasio Alfredo Molote Cota Orantes in Colonia Ampliación Mesquite.
There are young stars with legitimate aspirations to international success. Two hail from the Azteca Boxing Club on Calle Colima, Colonia Perla de La Paz. Twenty-seven year-old Marco Antonio “El Toto” Sandoval has been a boxer since age thirteen. He is a super-featherweight with a record of 12-3-1. He is trained by Christian Amador, a graduate of ESCUFI (the Escuela de Cultura Física) who has been in the corner for world championship bouts as far afield as the Philippines. Amador describes El Toto as “a typical Mexican fighter, always going forward, never wavering, who throws many punches; he is very disciplined and professional.” El Toto is not tall, but the power of his punches can lift opponents off their feet.
Jonathan “Tatan” Córdova is 25. He has won all five of his professional fights by knockouts. He is a middleweight, at 72.5 kilograms (160 pounds), which is large for a Mexican fighter. He is also trained by Amador, who cites Tatan’s unusual left-hand guard, good footwork, and clever tactical skills. Tatan aspires to equal his idols, Julio César Chavez and Juan Manuel Márquez — legendary fighters who have 163 wins and seven world championships between them.
Boxing at Arena California happens every six to eight weeks. Watch for the colorful banners on telephone poles around town!
Originally published in THE BAJA CITIZEN
NOTE: Since this article was written, the location of the boxing has changed. Watch for the street posters, or visit Don Edrulfo’s Facebook page for information on the next event!