The crowd’s roar sent my blood pressure pounding when, seated at ringside in the press section, I saw a giant green sombrero floating down the aisle, in the center of a group of moving heads.
"¡Chapo! ¡Chapo! ¡Chapo!" the crowd cried, and a cute little light-tanned, slender kid in a strawberry-and-green sarape stepped through the ropes and hopped gracefully around the ring.
"¡Chapo! ¡Chapo! ¡Chapo!" the crowd cried, then broke into boos when the other guy, a black man in a spangled gold robe, slid through the ropes in the opposite corner. Fine-freatured, tall, and thin, he was so beautiful and graceful as he skipped around the ring that he made the people cheer for him too. Still, a man behind me called out, "¡Chapo! ¡Chapo!" when he danced near our ropes.
The ring was filled with officials, the ring announcer, the seconds, the referee, many others. I saw Ignacio Huizar, the promoter of this World Boxing Association bantamweight championship fight, standing in the back line, behind the fighters. I'd met him only once, if you can call it being introduced. Yet he was the reason I was here. Ignacio was the manager of two-time former world champion Jorge "Marmero" Páez, the darling of the Mexican people, and was rumored to be Mexico's answer to the American boxing promoters Don King, Bob Arum, and Dan Duva. I was here to see how he operated. Right now he seemed preoccupied, concentrating on putting on a good show on a world-class level, but without the big American TV coverage. He'd seemed that way when he rescued us at the small Pases door, cut in the round white wall of the Tijuana bullring moments before.
At that moment a big guy stepped forward. He was wearing a dress shirt unbuttoned at the top, with the sleeves rolled up to his forearms, a single pen in the breast pocket, and no coat. He looked at me through light-brown horn-rimmed glasses. From his round face and narrow mouth under a thick moustache, I knew immediately it was Ignacio Huizar.
"He can't find our passes," I said, and without speaking, Ignacio leaned over the cardboard box, pulled out a fat white envelope, said, "They're in 'San Francisco,'" and tore open the envelope. The usher looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and I smiled. I took Igancio's picture from the side when he was bent over the cardboard box and from the front when he tore the envelope open. He smiled. We're from Berkeley, really, and I would never have told the usher to look for a city's name anyway. We'd have had problems if Ignacio hadn't appeared right then. It showed he was on the ball, too, because he was a very busy man. When I thanked him and put on my press pass, he said, "i'll talk to you later tonight," and walked off.
In the taxi on the way to the championship fight at the bullring, I had asked the driver if he knew anything about Ignacio Huizar and Don King. He answered in slow Spanish. "The only difference between Ignacio Huizar and Don King is that Don King has more money."
Claire and I both laughed. Even my contact in Tijuana had said, when I asked him if I should wear a suit to the fights, that Ignacio was really democratic, not arrogant like Don King, that he'd never even seen him wear a tie. So I showed up in a shiny blue "CAL BOXING" jacket, corduroys, and a turtleneck shirt, but dress boots for "formality's sake." My lovely lady had on black slacks and short black leather jacket and black lace-up boots, which she could wear anywhere, to go with her long, thick, dark, lustrous hair. I was turned on by the whole trip. I hadn't been in TJ in 17 years and then only for a couple of hours. So I was happy. This looked like fun. As soon as we drove into Tijuana in a cab, Claire looked at me and smiled, and that's how it went all the way through to the end. A joyful, broadening bellyful of fun.
The emcee's voice rattled off in rapid-fire Spanish, then slowed and stopped, and he bowed his head as the ringside bell started tolling. Some boxing personality had died. People stood with their heads bowed for a guy who took the final ten count. The fight itself was a symbolic battle of survival that captured out own passage through life in a heroic way. The fight symbolized the life struggle. Chapo was a champ at it. "El Toro de TIjuana," the bull of Tijuana, they called him. To me that meant he charged when he fought, and I wanted to see if it was true. That's why the crowd loved him. They fought the death battle beautifully through him, here in the bullring, where another bull would die on Sunday to symbolize man's struggle against the killer elements.
The Mexican national anthem blazed over the loudspeakers, and Chapo, bareheaded, standing in front of the Mexican flag, bent his head and held his right hand out from his heart, his forearm straight and horizontal against his chest, his elbow sticking out, soldier-stiff, proud like a cock, like a bantam rooster, bantamweight contender that he was. A lovely girl in a black velvet dress and gold spangles — Indian beauty, brown skin, black hair, looking like La Malinche, who guided Cortez from the coast to Mexico City — led the singing. Everybody sand, and the crowd cheered at the end: ¡Viva MEH-hee-co! ¡Viva MEH-hee-co!"
It was a joyous spectacle! The air was charged with energy. It was good to be alive.
Then the Colombian national anthem came on, and the black fighter, Jorge Julio, took the mike; and, as proud as Chap was to stand at attention and sing with the crowd, Julio led the singing himself. He was joined in the anthem by a gorgeous blond woman with golden-brown eyes, sitting beside Claire in the first spectator row, just behind the photographers and officials who sat up against the ring apron. She had an official press pass clipped to her elegant white dress, decorated with what looked like a chestful of military medals, gold chains dangling over them from her neck, rings on her fingers, and diamonds on her wrists. I wondered who she was. Clarie said she was probably the wife of Julio's manager.