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Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I remembered

07
May

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Of all the fights in boxing’s rich history, only a handful are universally recognized as among the greatest ever waged. Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Firpo. The first two installments of the Tony Zale-Rocky Graziano trilogy. Fights one and three of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trifecta. Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns. The first Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello war (and the rematch wasn’t bad either). The first meeting between Joe Louis and Billy Conn. The initial encounter between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns (and their second go-round was, in its own way, an extraordinary spectacle). Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti I belongs, as well as a few others.

Ten years ago today, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo lifted themselves into this rarefied air with a magnificently brutal battle that had everything a fight fan could ever want – constant and robust infighting, multiple shifts of momentum, unblinking courage in the face of massive punishment, inhuman stamina and an ending that could hardly be believed even after it was seen. Long before Corrales staged his epic twice-off-the-floor 10th round comeback, this fight had become an instant classic, the kind of fight that moved boxing fans to call their friends and say, “Look at what’s on Showtime right now. This is why I love boxing so much.”

Previous generations boasted about witnessing the aforementioned classics but for the Generation X and millennial crowd, this was the fistic touchstone of their lives. It was a fight so extraordinary that even the old-timers could only nod in agreement. Yes, this fight would have been great in our era too.

Given the styles and personalities, one could have foreseen an excellent action fight. The mercurial Corrales, the WBO lightweight titlist, entered the Castillo bout with a 39-2 (32) record that included a 15-month reign as IBF junior lightweight beltholder. Although the 27-year-old Corrales sported the build of a boxer – at 5-foot-10 1/2, he towered over most of his opponents – “Chico’s” soul burned with a fury that only boxing could satisfy.

At his best, Corrales was a devastating boxer-puncher who used his jab to tenderize opponents for the bombs that usually finished the job. Corrales also knew how to bounce back from adversity; following his devastating 10th round TKO loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Jan. 2001, Corrales emerged from a 14-month prison stint for spousal abuse to win six of his first seven fights, the only defeat being a pulsating sixth-round TKO against Joel Casamayor. Corrales avenged that loss with an off-the-floor, split decision five months later, winning the vacant WBO lightweight title in the process. In his most recent fight, nine months before meeting Castillo, he engaged in a closet classic with 35-0 (31) Brazilian bomber Acelino Freitas, who gave Corrales hell for seven rounds before knockdowns in rounds eight, nine and 10 caused him to do something Chico would have considered unthinkable – quit.

Meanwhile, the stoic and grounded Castillo (52-6-1, 46 knockouts) was in the midst of a run that had some observers believing he was marching toward Canastota. The man nicknamed “El Temible” – “Fearsome” – vaulted onto the world stage in June 2000 with a stunning majority decision over WBC titlist Stevie Johnson, a bout that was deemed “Upset of the Year” by THE RING. But Castillo proved himself to be far more than the longtime chief sparring partner for Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. as he fought Johnston to a draw in their rematch three months later, then took out former titlist Cesar Bazan (TKO 6) and Seung-Ho Yuh (KO 1) in title contests as well as Fred Ladd (TKO 4) and Juan Angel Macias (TKO 8) in non-title meetings. Like Corrales, Castillo’s first title reign ended at the hands of Mayweather but many believed the Mexican’s constant pressure and accurate power punching should have ended the “Pretty Boy’s” undefeated streak at 27.

Castillo lost the rematch in more convincing fashion but after notching three KO wins, he regained the now-vacant WBC and RING titles by out-pointing Juan Lazcano in June 2004. He further burnished his credentials with a split decision over Casamayor and a punishing 10th round TKO over Julio Diaz – the latter of which took place just 63 days prior to meeting Corrales.

Going in, there was no clear favorite, both in terms of perception and in the betting odds that saw Corrales a thin 6-to-5 choice. The conventional wisdom suggested that Corrales needed to keep his distance to maximize his height and reach advantages, enhance his jab and his counterpunching opportunities while Corrales needed to stay on balance, crank plenty of hooks and force Chico into rough, point-blank trading, where his tenaciousness would hold sway.

Corrales said before the fight that he would “walk through hell” to beat Castillo. But even he couldn’t have fathomed just how intense that fire and brimstone would become.

Castillo entered the ring first, his face the picture of composure. Conversely, the intensely focused Corrales crackled with energy and when he stepped between the ropes he answered the adulation by beckoning the crowd to make more noise while also priming himself for the battle to come. Each man hit the lightweight limit on the nose, after which they rehydrated to welterweight (Castillo 146, Corrales 147).

The fight opened with Corrales jabbing and Castillo looking for opportunities to dive inside but already the distance between them was far closer than would be customary. Castillo targeted Corrales’ body while the WBO titlist aimed at Castillo’s head. Like his mentor Chavez, Castillo was known as a slow starter and he said before the fight that he was intent on changing that narrative.

Following a relatively tame first minute, the action gradually moved inside and it became graphically evident that both had plenty of punching avenues at their disposal. Castillo landed jabs and power shots to Corrales’ belly while Corrales mixed his bombs up and down Castillo’s anatomy. As they continued to trade, the Mexican fans began a thunderous “Castillo!” chant and Corrales answered with several rabbit punches in the clinch that prompted a caution from referee Tony Weeks. The round ended with the fighters trading fiercely, with most of the blows landing cleanly. One danger sign for Corrales: He was freely trading hooks with a man known for his potent hook.

The numbers – which were compiled after the fact – reflected the intense action as Corrales landed 49 of his 90 punches while Castillo went 39 of 69. Their accuracy on all levels was astonishing – Castillo led 57%-54% overall and 64%-58% in power shots while Corrales, who led 11-9 in jabs, prevailed 46%-41%.

“You gotta make sure that chin is buried every time you start banging with him,” chief second Joe Goossen told Corrales. “Now that left hook is working good on the inside and the body shots are working good. Bait a little more with that jab; he’s looking to counter your jab with that right hand. He’s going to come back with that eventually.”

Corrales-Castillo-I-anniv_Laham

Photo by Nick Laham-Getty Images

Corrales threw the first blows of round two but Castillo was finding the mark with jabs to the pit of the stomach and followed with a clean hook to the jaw. Corrales responded by diving inside and working Castillo’s ribs with his free right hand. Although Corrales said before the bout that he wanted to use his jab a lot, he chose to remain in close quarters with the shorter man. As was often the case with Corrales, his heart’s desire to show off his machismo trumped his head’s command to remain at long range. Castillo ripped his hooks to the body with particular relish while Corrales’ blows were delivered with snap and speed.

A right uppercut-left hook combo briefly shook Corrales one minute in but instead of retreating, Chico answered with compact body shots and crisp counters to the jaw while pushing Castillo backward. Every time Corrales fired a salvo, Castillo immediately responded with his own. A three-punch volley – a right uppercut and two hooks – drove a slightly stunned Castillo toward the ropes. It was an important moment in the match because Corrales proved that his punches registered against one of boxing’s most durable chins. An explosive, seven-punch flurry by Corrales knocked Castillo back a couple of steps just seconds before the bell closed out a fiercely fought second round.

How ferocious was round two? The pair combined for 94 connects (58-36), of which only two were jabs – both by Castillo. Corrales landed 61% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts while Castillo connected on 55%. For the uninitiated, 40% accuracy is considered good while 50% precision over time usually results in victory. As for the figures Corrales and Castillo were producing, they were nearly Cro-Magnon.

Encouraged by his strong finish, Corrales instantly engaged Castillo in round three and forced him back with a series of strafing blows. But after nailing Castillo with a jab to the face, he ducked back inside and resumed the robust infighting that marked round two. Corrales fired the quicker and flashier punches while Castillo’s body hooks produced tell-tale thumps. Both men leaned in with their full weight and landed jolting uppercuts that would have hurt other men but had no discernible effect on them. As they continued to exchange heavy artillery, the crowd “Ooh”-ed and “Aah”-ed with every landed punch, one of which opened a cut over Castillo’s eye. The Mexican’s massive surge in the final seconds capped what was his best round of the fight thus far, for he closed the numerical gap to 48-43 in total connects, landing 62% of his power shots to Corrales’ 59%.

Photo by Nick Laham-Getty Images

Photo by Nick Laham-Getty Images

The fourth began with the fighters at longer range, which allowed Corrales to land spearing jabs and pin-prick crosses to the face. But all Castillo had to do to re-ignite the close-quarters war was to dive in and land several hard body shots. Corrales knocked Castillo back with a hook-cross but the WBC/RING champ immediately retaliated with a double hook to the head and body as well as a right to the short ribs. They were head-to-head, toe-to-toe, chest-to-chest and, ultimately, fist-to-fist during the most grueling round of the bout to date. Castillo has long thrived on this kind of meat-and-potatoes fighting but Corrales landed enough sharp punches (and rubbed his head into Castillo’s face often enough) to open a cut over Castillo’s left eye. By round’s end, they each had landed 41 punches but, because Castillo landed more of his late, he appeared to earn the nod.

Corrales stuck with the arms-length boxing for a longer period of time in the fifth and he scored often with stabbing jabs and pinpoint crosses. Castillo still managed to land more than his share of meaty body punches and, at one point, nailed Corrales coming in with a straight right to the jaw. The second half of the round saw the pair return to their infighting norm and, as was the case in every other round, they inflicted plenty of damage. Corrales won the round because he threw more (87-64) and landed more (47-37 overall, 40-30 power), plus he managed to deepen the cut around Castillo’s eye.

“You have to work more inside,” Castillo was told between rounds. “You have to work harder inside. Uppercuts and a lot of hooks. We have to work hard.”

And work hard Castillo did, for, in round six, he revved up his work rate considerably (to 92 punches) and managed to out-land Corrales for the first time in the fight (51-44 overall, 49-44 power). Still, Corrales’ hand speed and peppery punches were doing their share of damage but, amidst this heavy fire, he began showing the first clear signs of fatigue as he leaned heavily on Castillo’s right shoulder and stole a couple of deep breaths. Sensing Corrales’ state, Castillo produced an inspired closing rally for the third consecutive round. Ever the warrior, Corrales waved his glove to ask for more and Castillo, ever the warrior, obliged with even more punishment as a left uppercut shook Corrales to his core.

Urged to box more, Corrales tried to obey early in the seventh and the change in tactics bore fruit as he connected with several knifing blows to the head. But the desire to rumble proved too tempting for Corrales, who now sported a rapidly growing mouse under his left eye to accompany the right eye cut, and by the midway point, they were back to slugging at short range. Castillo walked through a massive right to the jaw to deliver even more pain to Corrales’ flanks. Once again, Castillo tried to steal the round in the final seconds but, this time, Corrales landed a crackling hook that dramatically buckled Castillo’s legs before righting themselves. Castillo might have out-landed Corrales 43-35 overall but the momentum suddenly appeared to be with Corrales.

Castillo’s corner tried their best to pump up their man between rounds.

“He’s dead; he’s dead,” he was told. “You need to throw that right hand.”

“It’s all balls; am I wrong?” Goossen asked Corrales.

“Wake me up! Wake me up!” Corrales said, just before water was splashed on his face.

Whatever Team Corrales did in the corner must have worked, for their man roared out of the corner and nailed Castillo with a blistering cross-hook-hook combination that drove the Mexican backward. But the ever-rugged Castillo instantly regained his equilibrium and traded punch-for-punch. Corrales continued to dish out power shots with abandon but Castillo absorbed it all, then improbably bounced back with a boulder-fisted assault that wrenched Corrales’ neck and turned his swollen left eye into a slit. A seven-punch volley nearly knocked out Corrales’ mouthpiece and another explosion actually sent the mouthguard falling to the canvas. Moments after Corrales wobbled Castillo with a hook, Weeks called time-out to have Chico’s mouthpiece re-inserted. A hook by Castillo closed out a frenetic eighth that saw Castillo out-land Corrales for the third consecutive round. But the 5,168 whom paid to see the fight didn’t care about that; for, as one, they rose and roared in approval.

“Nine, 10, 11, 12, you got four rounds. Do NOT stop on me,” Goossen told Corrales as he furiously worked over the left eye. “You understand? It’s about you and him right now. Smother him [and] keep your head off to the side.”

Corrales tried to execute Goossen’s instructions but his gas tank was at a dangerously low point. Meanwhile, Castillo was only gaining steam. El Temible was known for getting stronger as the fight went longer and that reputation was further burnished by the effort he produced in round nine. Castillo swung his mighty left time and again and, most times, it twisted Corrales’ head and crunched his rib cage. On a few occasions, Castillo’s blows struck below the belt and Weeks issued several cautions as a result. After the second warning, Corrales blasted in his best combination of the round but Castillo’s iron chin and oak-like legs held firm, after which his arms rekindled their strength and snap. Another patented late rush ensured another round was in the Castillo column.

Entering the 10th round, Castillo led 86-85 on Daniel Van de Wiele’s scorecard and 87-84 on Dr. Lou Moret’s while Paul Smith had Castillo in front, 87-84. The tide, however, appeared on Castillo’s side, for, in the last four rounds, he had out-landed Corrales 185-137 in total punches and 172-133 in power connects.

As wondrous as the previous nine rounds had been, the bout’s final 126 seconds would cement the fight’s immortality.

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After Castillo opened by landing four consecutive jabs to the head and body, he exploded with a gorgeously short hook to the jaw that caused Corrales to fall to the floor in sections. As Corrales rolled over, he spat out the mouthpiece and regained his feet just after Weeks tolled “Eight!” Seeing the gumshield on the floor, Weeks correctly called time-out and had it rinsed, which gave Corrales nine extra seconds to recuperate. Moments later, a series of hooks floored Corrales again. This time, Corrales immediately reached for his mouthpiece with his left glove and placed it on the canvas before beginning to rise. Corrales took every last available second before rising at nine-and-a-half.

“Are you all right?” Weeks asked.

“I’m good.” Corrales replied.

“Are you all right?” Weeks asked a second time.

Corrales responded but his words were unintelligible. Weeks then took a time-out to issue a point penalty for excessive spitting out of the mouthpiece. Corrales happily traded the point for the additional 18 seconds of rest and as Goossen re-inserted the guard, he said what everyone already knew: “You’ve got to f*****g get inside on him now.”

Corrales tried but Castillo’s flying fists prevented that from happening. A series of punches maneuvered Corrales’ back to the ropes, where, in Castillo’s mind, would be the perfect place for the perfect ending.

But that all changed in an instant. A split-second after Castillo missed with a short hook and prepared to set up his next punch, Corrales reared back ever so slightly and nailed Castillo with a rippling right to the jaw. Castillo’s body shuddered upon impact, which ignited the already-supercharged crowd. A few seconds later, Corrales followed with a short hook to the chin that sent

Castillo tottering toward another set of ropes. Castillo bravely fought Corrales off with his own right to the jaw and a right to the ribs but Corrales, like the spectators, were at a fever pitch. A monstrous hook to the jaw shook Castillo to his foundations and a final nine-punch assault left Castillo hanging helplessly on the ropes. At that point, Weeks jumped in and detonated a sonic cacophony that only can be produced by a sensational reversal of reality. Just seconds earlier, Castillo looked a sure winner but thanks to Corrales’ resourcefulness, he managed to lift himself out of the abyss and turn the ultimate disaster into the ultimate triumph.

Photo by Nick Laham-Getty Imgaes

Photo by Nick Laham-Getty Imgaes

The final statistics only illustrated just how brutal – and just how even – a fight it had been. Castillo landed just one more punch overall – 400-399 – and both men’s accuracy was off the charts as Castillo led 56%-52% overall, 38%-35% jabs and 60%-54% in power shots. The typical lightweight lands 13.6 power shots per round but Corrales and Castillo nearly tripled that by landing 38 and 36.6 power punches per round, respectively.

“I’ve been waiting for a chance to prove my will and show you that I’m a true warrior,” Corrales told Showtime’s Jim Gray. “I told you that this was going to be a fight; I was going to make it a fight and that’s what it was. It’s a great honor to be in there with somebody, a great champion, and he gave me the chance to prove that I am a great warrior and a great champion.”

As for the mouthpiece controversy, Corrales said the mouthpiece fell on its own the first time but admitted he took it out the second time, though he intended to hold it in his glove instead of having it drop to the floor as it did.

Castillo’s promoter Bob Arum was irate with Weeks’ handling of the situation.

“When a fighter gets knocked down and pulls out his mouthpiece, the penalty should not be a point deduction,” he said. “He got 28 seconds. Forget ‘The Long Count’ (in Gene Tunney-Jack Dempsey II). This was ridiculous.”

Whatever one thinks of Weeks’ work, it couldn’t hide the fact that this fight epitomized every ideal that makes boxing the compelling spectacle it can be when it is at its best. Wars such as this can create friendships out of the most bitter rivalries while strengthening the bonds between fighters who were friendly coming in, such as Corrales and Castillo.

“It was an honor to fight him,” Castillo said.

“I’ve waited a long time to show my will and to prove I’m a warrior,” Corrales said. “This was a war of attrition and I’m a true warrior. When he knocked me down, I knew I’d get up. I still felt like a lion and I punched away until I had him. But the guy earned every bit of my respect. I’ll always be a Castillo fan.”

The fight was a runaway winner for “2005 Fight of the Year” by both THE RING and the Boxing Writers Association of America and it surely will be in the running for “Fight of the Century” when the time comes.

Of course, the fight screamed for a rematch and nearly five months to the day, they met again. Unfortunately, Castillo scaled three-and-a-half pounds over the lightweight limit, turning their match into a non-title affair. Corrales could have opted to cancel the match but his competitive spirit wouldn’t allow him to do so. He paid a huge price, for the far larger Castillo flattened Corrales in four rounds.

The rubber match was scheduled for Feb. 4, 2008 but, once again, Castillo failed to make weight, this time by a whopping four-and-a-half pounds. This time, Team Corrales called off the fight.

Both men left large chunks of themselves inside that Las Vegas ring. Corrales’ come-from-behind victory would prove to be his last, for he lost the rematch to Castillo, the rubber match to Casamayor (in which Corrales had failed to make weight) and a lopsided 10-round decision to welterweight Joshua Clottey. Two years to the day after beating Castillo, the 29-year-old Corrales, driving a motorcycle, perished in a three-vehicle accident near his Las Vegas home.

At age 41, Castillo continues to fight; his latest outing was a fifth-round TKO loss to Ruslan Provodnikov on Nov. 28, 2014. His current record stands at 66-13-1 (57).

When Corrales was asked by Showtime’s Jim Gray to describe this fight, he expressed the sentiments of many when he said, “an honor.” He knew that both of them had called upon every resource to achieve – then maintain – the level of excellence they established. Few fights in history ever will reach the heights Corrales-Castillo I reached 10 years ago and it’s likely that even fewer going forward ever will.

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Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 13 writing awards, including 10 in the last five years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or email the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.

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