A Guide to Major Competitions Around the Peninsula
Thirty or forty years ago, professional competitions in Baja were largely limited to fringe sports like fishing and off-road racing. There was the SCORE Baja 1000, Bisbee’s Black and Blue marlin fishing tournament, and that was about it.
Times have changed, however. Over the past decade, the world’s most popular sport, soccer, has established a major foothold in Tijuana; and residents and visitors in areas across the peninsula have regularly been treated to world-class games, matches and contests in competitive disciplines as diverse as baseball, boxing, cycling, golf, kiteboarding, mixed martial arts, running, surfing and tennis.
This August alone sees boxing champions going toe to toe in Rosarito, an ATP tennis tournament in Cabo San Lucas, and a major fishing competition on Baja California Sur’s beautiful East Cape. And there’s more, much more, looming on the horizon.
With that in mind, here’s a guide to some of the major professional sporting events now being held on the Baja California peninsula.
Baseball might not be woven into the national fabric in Mexico in quite the same way it is in the U.S., but the sport has a proud history and some rabid fans, particularly for tradition rich teams like the Tomateros de Culiacan and the Naranjeros de Hermosillo (named for the tomato and orange growers of their respective mainland areas). Those two teams are the powerhouses of the Mexican Pacific League, which runs each year from October through January. Baja is represented in the league by the Aguilas de Mexicali, and the fighting “Eagles” have had their own moments of glory: three league championships and a Caribbean Series championship in 1986. And, since the U.S. and Mexican league seasons run at different times of year, visitors to El Nido (or The Nest), as Mexicali’s nearly 20,000 seat stadium is known, are often able to watch current or future MLB stars: Mike Piazza, John Kruk and Fernando Valenzuela, for example, all played for Mexicali in years past.
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Baja has always been a hotbed for boxing talent, but rarely has the peninsula hosted the sort of high-profile headline event so common to Las Vegas. That all changes on August 13, when former welterweight champion Antonio “El Tornado de Tijuana” Margarito and current IBF light middleweight champion Ramon “Inocente” Alvarez – older brother of Canelo Alvarez – square off for a 10 round “war” at the convention center in Rosarito (for ticket information, click here).
Mixed martial arts events have been even less common, and with substantially less star power. But that situation is also starting to change thanks to WTC (Welcome to the Cage), an organization founded and headed by Mario Martinez, who also owns Malosos MMA club in La Paz. Baja California Sur’s capital city was the site for the first two WTC events. The third was held earlier this month at outdoor theater of the Pabellon Cultural de la Republica in Cabo San Lucas, with 20 fighters from Baja and beyond battling it out against a Land’s End backdrop. WTC expects to host another event in Los Cabos on Saturday, December 3. Stay tuned for more info.
It should come as no surprise, since fishing drove so much of the early tourism to Baja California, that big-game bill and game fishing tournaments are among the peninsula’s most popular sporting events. These tournaments are significant yearly events in many coastal communities, but Bisbee’s annual tournament in Cabo San Lucas has been the gold standard since 1981.
Billed as the “World’s Richest Fishing Tournament,” Bisbee’s Black and Blue billfishing tournament is legendary for its enormous payouts. The $4.165 million awarded in 2006 is still the largest cash payout in sportfishing history. Today, teams often pay more than 70,000 across the board (including daily jackpots) to compete for the biggest blue, black and striped marlin, as well as sailfish, spearfish, tuna and dorado.
Over the years Bisbee’s has added two more tournaments in Baja California Sur: the East Cape Offshore, based in Buenavista on the state’s beautiful East Cape, premiered in 2000; and the Los Cabos Offshore, better known among fishermen as “Little Bisbee’s,” has been a staple since 2002.
This year’s Black and Blue is scheduled for October 18 – 22. To register or to find out more, click here.
Los Cabos is one of the most remarkable golfing regions on earth. Three of its 14 currently operating courses – Querencia, The Dunes at Diamante, and the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol – are ranked among the 100 best in the world by Golf Digest. But unlike Scotland or Northern California, for example, where world-class loops can be found in close proximity, Los Cabos has virtually no history and little tradition. The first course in the area wasn’t built until 1987, and that was the nine hole municipal course in San Jose del Cabo.
Jack Nicklaus kick-started the Cabo golf boom in the early 1990s with gorgeous seaside layouts at Palmilla, El Dorado and Cabo del Sol. But it was a Senior Slam event at Cabo Real in 1996 that put Los Cabos on the international map, when humpback whales were caught by television cameras breaching spectacularly near seaside greens. Since then major champions Greg Norman, Tom Weiskopf and Davis Love III have joined Nicklaus with prestigious area loops, and new layouts are expected soon from Norman, Woods and Fred Couples.
Professional tournaments appeared with some regularity during the 90s boom – including two Senior Slams, three Taylor Made Pro-Ams, and three Las Americas Tournaments – but in recent years the biggest draw has been the Los Cabos Pro-Am, the 9th edition of which is scheduled for January 16 – 20, 2017 at Cabo del Sol’s Ocean and Desert Courses.
For more information, click here.
During the winter months, when powerful El Norte winds blow down the Sea of Cortez, small, strategically situated Baja California Sur coastal communities like La Ventana and Los Barriles become capitals of the kiteboarding universe. The latter has been hosting the peninsula’s premier windsports competition, Lord of the Wind Showdown, each January since 2010. The event took an enormous leap forward this year when it was named the North American Kitefoil Championship, and televised on 20 networks in nearly 100 countries. Contestants compete in categories like slalom and big-air, with the winner walking away with thousands of dollars worth of prize money. Affiliated fiestas like reggae concerts and tamales cook-offs are also an annual tradition.
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Baja is more associated with off-road racing than any single region on earth. The sport’s signature event, the legendarily rugged Baja 1000, has drawn both professional drivers as well as celebrated amateurs seeking to test themselves in motorcycles, cars, trucks, ATVs and UTVs over nearly 1000 miles of shock-busting desert terrain. Indy and Daytona 500 winners have competed over the years, as have movie stars like Paul Newman, James Garner and Steve McQueen.
From its inception in 1967 to 1972, the Baja 1000 was run under the NORRA (National Off-Road Racing Association) banner. But after concerns about participation during the OPEC oil crisis in 1973, the race was reorganized under the aegis of SCORE (Southern California Off-Road Enterprises), and has remained under its stewardship ever since. The nearly 1000 mile race is now the climactic event of SCORE’s annual four race series on the peninsula, following the Desert Challenge, the San Felipe 250 and the Baja 500. This year’s Baja 1000 is scheduled for November 16 – 20, and will be a loop race starting and finishing in Ensenada.
For more information, click here.
Running and Cycling
Running and cycling have long histories in Baja, most notably for the latter in “The Original Party on Wheels,” AKA the twice yearly Rosarito to Ensenada 50 Mile Fun Bicycle Ride. The recent introduction of the Ironman Los Cabos has kicked things up a notch, however, both in terms of commitment and prize money. Hardy participants in this October based event must swim 2.4 miles off Palmilla Beach, bike 112 miles, and finish with a grueling marathon length 26.2 mile run that culminates in front of the historic city hall in San Jose del Cabo. Not only is prize money on the line, but also 40 qualifying slots in the annual Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
To register, click here.
For dedicated runners, meanwhile, the annual Tijuana International Marathon is the peninsular gold standard. It’s held each summer, with the 2016 edition scheduled to take place tomorrow.
For more information about that race, click here.
Soccer is the Mexico’s, and the world’s, most popular sport, and the country’s top league, Liga MX, is considered the strongest in North America. Tijuana’s beloved home team, Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente or more simply Xolos, was promoted to Liga MX in 2011, and shocked the nation by winning the Apertura title in 2012 (Liga MX crowns two champions per season, the Apertura tournament starts during the summer and finishes in December, while the Clausura kicks off during the winter and concludes in May). Their win over Toluca in the 2012 “liguilla” final, in fact, made them the fastest ever to go from promotion to the title. Capacity crowds of up to 20,000 regularly fill Estadio Caliente to see the Xolos play, and the club’s women’s side, also called the Xolos, is the only Mexican team to play in the U.S. based WPSL (Women’s Premier Soccer League).
To learn more about the Xolos, click here.
There are hundreds of great surf breaks in Baja, and the peninsula has been a road trip destination for SoCal wave riders for generations. On the professional level, there are two events currently sanctioned by the WSL (the World Surf League): the Big Wave Tour’s Todos Santos Challenge and the Los Cabos Open of Surf.
The former is one of the most intense surf competitions on the planet. Killers, the break off Todos Santos Island – approximately 12 miles from Ensenada – serves up massive waves: sometimes in excess of 50 feet. Australian Josh Kerr took top honors in January 2016, earning nearly $19,000 of the $75,000 purse in challenging circumstances. The next event will take place between October and February, depending upon peak wave conditions.
The latter is held each June at the famed Zippers break off Playa Costa Azul in San Jose del Cabo. The LCO started as a 6-star men’s event in 2013, but over the last three years has evolved into a QS6000 series event for women and junior men and women. Bronte Macaulay outlasted Dominic Barona in a thrilling battle this year, as Australian women continue to dominate in Los Cabos. Music concerts are also a big part of the annual festivities – this year’s performers included Pepper, Kinky, Shamans, Tim Lang and Tunnel Vision.
Unlike golf, which has been a fixture of the Los Cabos sporting scene for several decades, big-time tennis is a recent arrival at Land’s End. In fact, the first professional event in the area doesn’t take place for another two weeks. But it’s a good one: an ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tournament whose 28-player draw includes 13 of the top 50 ranked men in the world. The Los Cabos Open replaces an event formerly held in Bogota, Colombia, and will feature nearly $800,000 in prize money, making it the most lucrative 250 series event in the Americas. The biggest name for American fans is Sam Querrey, who made a big splash earlier this month when he upset world no. 1 Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. The tournament takes place August 8 – 13.
For ticket information, click here.
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