During the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s decade the city of Tijuana was a common destination for many a Southern Californian.

Recently, the stream of tourists and visitors from Southern California and other parts of the United States has reduced to a trickle.

But I always loved visiting Tijuana, Puerto Nuevo, Ensenada, Rosarito Beach and especially Tecate. Many times I drove through those towns and enjoyed some great times.

So when Top Rank and the city of Tijuana invited members of the media to visit the recent boxing card called Tijuana Thunder last Saturday, photographer Paul Hernandez and I accepted the invitation to cover the fight card.

We weren’t disappointed.

On Friday, we first had an assignment to cover a Goossen-Tutor boxing card held at the Nokia Theater in downtown L.A. featuring heavyweights and three Southern Cal local phenoms. That was our first destination.

Early Friday afternoon I jumped in my car in Riverside and trekked the 60 miles west to downtown Los Angeles. It took about an hour to reach the area and another 15 minutes to find parking that wouldn’t cost $20. We found it.

The Nokia Theater is located in L.A. Live, an entertainment area across the street from Staples Center on Figueroa Street. As we approached the credential pick-up point we could see the other boxing writers and photographers waiting for the doors to open. It would be another 40 minutes of waiting.

Big Joe Miranda, Raj Sharmba, Roberto Raijar, and several others were standing in front of the entrance talking. Later Golden Boy Promotion’s Raul Jaimes arrived along with Norman Horton, who handles public relations for Jermain Taylor.

The fights went smoothly and predictably for me. Those that were supposed to win came out on top; the only real question mark was the main event in which Fast Eddie Chambers beat former WBC heavyweight world titleholder Samuel Peter by majority decision.

After I sent out two stories, we ate at ESPN Zone located across the lot. Soon we were on our way to Tijuana, Mexico.

During the Nokia fight card I had asked most of the media members if they were planning to attend the Tijuana fight card. Only German Villasenor of Maxboxing.com nodded yes. In fact, Villasenor had visited Tijuana the week before.

Mexican Border

Two hours later we approached the Mexican border around 1 a.m. We looked for parking and walked across the heavily gated area. While entering the gates, a busload of undocumented men were exiting too. They walked right behind us as we passed two masked soldiers holding automatic rifles.

I didn’t worry about the soldiers but I did worry about whether we would find any taxis that late at night. I shouldn’t have worried. On the Mexican side there were about 100 taxis waiting for fares.

Ten dollars later we were dropped off at the Grand Hotel of Tijuana, a luxurious hotel located near Caliente Racetrack. The reception desk was waiting for us and after showing identification we were quickly given hotel card keys. It was 1:30 a.m.

Inside the hotel room it was somewhat an L-shape room. It was pretty large and had large curtains and a large television. I opened the shades to see what was outside but all I saw was darkness. Strange.

Whenever I drive long distances it takes me a while to simmer down. By the time I slept it was nearly 3 a.m. One more thing, in Mexico they are one hour behind. They don’t use Daylight Savings Time rules.

I finally awoke at 9:30 a.m. thanks to Hernandez who called me on the hotel phone because I didn’t answer my cell phone. The loud buzzer woke me but I was groggy as a Navy drunk. Hernandez said he was already in the lobby. I opened the shades to my room and discovered why I only saw darkness in the night. Outside was a beautiful golf course that straddled the side of the hotel. Further up was a ridge of expensive looking homes that resembled parts of Beverly Hills.

Pretty ritzy stuff.

Fifteen minutes after awakening I reached downstairs. In the large lobby a milieu of boxing guys sat in the many sofas. I was still half asleep and greeted many with sleep still in my eyes.

One of the first to greet me was Armando Garcia, the former Executive Director for the California State Athletic Commission. We talked a bit and soon I asked to be excused to grab a cup of coffee.

All writers need coffee.

Walking into the buffet area was like walking into the grand ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. It was a very big and sunny room. The receptionist at the buffet palace was a very attractive brunette with green eyes. It’s always a very attractive brunette in Mexico. They seem to be everywhere.

The first person to greet me inside was Bill Caplan. He was sitting with Top Rank’s other p.r. expert Lee Samuels and several other TV producers. They invited us to their table.

Caplan is perhaps the greatest of the boxing publicists and has been around for many a decade.

Nobody is nicer and more accommodating than the great Bill Caplan. He met Joe Louis as a child and was bitten by the boxing bug ever since.

Samuels is one of the other Top Rank guys and a very friendly person. The third Top Rank publicist is Ricardo Jimenez who was a crackerjack boxing writer for La Opinion who decided to cross over to the role of publicist. These two guys along with Caplan form the triumvirate of most Top Rank cards.

As I sipped my coffee, which was plenty tasty, a few of the fighters dropped by, like Giovanni Segura the new light flyweight world titleholder who just recently took the title by knockout in nearby Mexicali.

Segura exemplifies Mexicans as a whole to me. He’s sharp, well spoken and has a never-say-die mentality that exudes through every pore. We talked about his recent win over Cesar Canchila and he explained that Mexican spirit that the good ones possess.

“I decided that I was going to take two of his punches to give two of mine,” said Segura in explaining the last two rounds of his fight with Canchila. “I knew he couldn’t take them.”

That’s Mexican boxing.

It reminded me of what Sugar Shane Mosley said to me during dinner a few days after his win over Antonio Margarito. The Pomona fighter said that is the stark difference between East Coast fighters and West Coast fighters: “East Coast fighters don’t want to get hit. West Coast fighters don’t care.”

A few others stopped by, like Martin Honorio, Fernando Montiel, and Bob Arum. It was a smorgasbord of boxing people. And the Mexican food was delicious. Too bad we didn’t have time to explore.

Taxi ride

A bus was waiting to pick up the media at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. But nobody informed the bus driver who calmly waited outside the bus and told everyone he could not leave without orders.

Bill Caplan decided to order a taxi and invited me, Hernandez and California boxing judge Lou Filippo to come along.

Our taxi driver was named Enrique and he provided the ride of a lifetime. I was sitting in the backseat near the window and saw the near misses by at least a dozen cars as we zigzagged through Tijuana traffic on our way to the bullring located on the beach.

A couple of times I covered my eyes.

Believe me. I feared for my life during that drive.

But we made it to the arena in one piece and the taxi driver bluffed his way all the way past dozens of police officers until we reached inside the bullring confines.

Enrique gave us his phone number in case we needed a ride back.

He must be kidding.

The bullring was guarded by dozens of policemen outside and inside. All of the fans seemed pretty excited about the fight card. It took a few minutes to locate my seat and soon the fights began.

Fight crowd

During the dozen fights held on that cool Saturday night, the 16,000 fans or more cheered enthusiastically and shot off human waves that raced around the arena in seconds. If you’ve ever attended a Major League Baseball game and witnessed “the wave” circle the stadiums, then magnify that by 20 and you have the Mexican wave. They do it in seconds.

Of course they favor the Mexican fighters and of course they favor the Tijuana fighter over other parts of Mexico, but if you are from another country and give a good show they will cheer you. They love machismo.

One of the television announcers was New York City’s Maureen Shea. She recently fought for the world featherweight title and was spotted by Top Rank, who liked her personality. That’s Shea, she has a wonderful personality and one more thing, she’s Irish-Mexican and speaks Spanish fluently.

We talked briefly before the fights and the next day. Though I’ve only known her a few months, it seems I’ve known her for years.

All of the fights went quickly with Antonio Diaz and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. going the distance in their respective contests, and Fernando Montiel and Humberto Soto winning by big knockouts.

The Mexican girls were in force. There were plenty of girls dancing and cheering throughout the fights.

Soon we trotted back to the bus, yes we took a bus back to the hotel, there were about a dozen boxing writers mostly from Mexico that came along. The only U.S. representatives from American newspapers were me and Hernandez.

Several web site guys made it too. But overall the media was mostly Mexican press. I was a little surprised.

It seems during the last few weeks the media has pummeled Tijuana with bad press. But in the time we spent I never saw any violence or hints of disorder in the big city of more than 2 million people.

Dinner at Don Quixote’s

Earlier I had planned to go to Uruapan, a Mexican restaurant specializing in carnitas. Generally I don’t like carnitas but I love their cooking. We discovered that the restaurant was closed. It was 11 p.m.

Across the street was an Argentine restaurant called Don Quixote’s, so we crossed the big boulevard and took a seat at the swanky place. About a dozen people were already dining inside.

Paul and I always search for the perfect margarita so of course we asked for one. It was pretty darn good. And strong.

We ate a ton of tasty meat. By the time we finished eating and drinking I could barely cross that broad boulevard.

Finally I was back in my room. It was the end of a perfect day.

The next morning I woke at 8 a.m. and headed back to the border early so I could begin my boxing column and stories. I really wish I had spent more time exploring Tijuana. I really missed being in Tijuana. There is so much vitality. The women are beautiful too.

It went as expected. Tijuana is like any other big city. Sure there are going to be bad parts. You’ll find the same thing in New York, Washington D.C. or even East Los Angeles where I grew up. And you will find many exciting things as well.

On Monday, during the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton press conference in Hollywood, I ran into Bob Arum again and asked him about their next show in Tijuana. I just want to make sure I have plenty of time so I can plan a bigger stay.

Tijuana, here I come.