Best I faced: Ruben Castillo
Ruben Castillo was a mainstay in the featherweight and junior lightweight divisions during the 1980s. He was good enough to compete with the very best but was unable to claim a world title in four attempts.
Castillo was born in Billings, Montana, the second youngest of five children, on December 19, 1957. His parents were hard-working and able to provide for the family.
“I was young when moved to Lubbock, Texas,” Castillo told The Ring. “Then we moved to Bakersfield, California. We lived in a three-bedroom house in Bakersfield that was not really a nice home until later. If you lived in Casa Loma, you’re in the hood and we lived in Casa Loma.”
When Castillo’s father changed jobs and became a masonry contractor, things looked up for the family. Castillo and his siblings all switched to a private, more exclusive school.
“We were the only Mexican family at St. Francis,” he said. “That’s why I started boxing. I kept getting in fights with all these white guys.”
However, boxing wasn’t Castillo’s first love, that was baseball. His father played for the Texas Rangers farm club and his older cousin, Bobby “Babo” Castillo, played Major League Baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins.
“Baseball was in our blood,” he said. “I had more trophies in baseball than I did in boxing. All I wanted to do was play baseball. I ended up not big enough to play baseball and boxing became my sport.”
The youngster was a good amateur, going 49-1, before turning professional, at just 17, in February 1975.
Las Vegas mogul Bill Miller was impressed by Castillo and regularly put him on his shows at the Silver Slipper Casino. That helped create a solid foundation.
“He owned his own plane, he was a pilot,” said Castillo. “Bill liked me so much, and I started getting a following, so he flew his plane to pick me up in Bakersfield and fly me to Las Vegas to fight and fly me home.”
Castillo stayed active and impressively took his record to 44-0 (21 KOs), beating the respected trio Hector Carrasquilla (TKO 3), Fel Clemente (UD 10) and Juan Escobar (TKO 8) in 1979. Those wins set the table for a world title challenge in early 1980.
“Don King had me scheduled to fight [WBC featherweight titlist] Danny “Little Red” Lopez,” he explained. (Click here to read a Best I Faced on Lopez.) “[WBC junior lightweight titleholder] Alexis Arguello was going to fight [WBA junior lightweight beltholder] Samuel Serrano. [Serrano] hurt his hand so that fight fell out.
“ABC told Don King, you better get me somebody that’s good, that’s attractive and will sell because if you don’t, I’m going to take away all your TV dates and that’s what made Don King. He pulled me from the fight with Lopez [who instead faced Salvador Sanchez] and made me fight Alexis. He told me, ‘If you don’t fight Alexis, you will never get a title fight. Win, lose or draw, you’ll get a title fight back in the featherweight division.’ So, I had no choice. I moved up. I won the early rounds and got stopped in the 11th round.”
King lived up to his promise and brought Castillo back at featherweight against Sanchez, who had unseated Lopez for the WBC laurels.
“I went 15 rounds and I whooped his ass,” said a vitriolic Castillo. “I know in my heart that I beat him. My strategy was to outbox him, box and move, he couldn’t fight if you moved on him.
“After final bell, we finished the fight in his corner, he got outside the ropes and Cristobal Rosas, his trainer, told him, ‘You better get back in the ring, you respect Ruben Castillo.’
“They gave him the decision. Salvador said, ‘I’ll fight you in a rematch.’ I said, ‘You’re lying to me. You will never fight me again and I was right.’ Don King promised me a rematch, I never got it. Salvador Sanchez fought everybody and I kept waiting. Salvador Sanchez to me was the most overrated fighter I fought in my life.”
Castillo set about earning another title shot and got back in the win column before dropping a controversial 10-round decision to pesky speedster Kelvin Lampkin. However, Castillo made amends in the rematch two-months later, stopping Lampkin in two rounds.
His third opportunity was due to take place in his hometown of Bakersfield against WBC 126-pound titlist Juan Laporte. However, it ended up being in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he lost a wide 12-round unanimous decision in February 1983.
Castillo thought about walking away but ultimately stuck around and won six fights while hoping for his next big opportunity.
“Don calls me up and says, ‘There’s a kid, who just won the [WBC 130-pound] title against [Mario] “Azabache” Martinez, he’s a brand-new kid, you’ll beat his arse, you’ll become the champion and we’ll sign a big contract.’ You know who that guy was, Julio Cesar Chavez,” he said, laughing.
The California resident was sent tape of Chavez and was confident of victory.
“Julio did not fight the same fight with me as he did with “Azabache,'” said Castillo. “I got stopped in the sixth round, I told Don, ‘DK, you better sign this kid to a life-time contract. This kid is not your ordinary champion, the kid is going to be a legend in boxing.’ He said, ‘You think so?’ I said, ‘I know so.’ I was right.
“That was the end of my career, I fought a few times more and said, ‘I’m done.’
Castillo fought on sporadically over the next decade with mixed results but never again fought at the highest level. He fought for the final time in March 1997. His record stands at an impressive 68-10-2 (35 knockouts), though some reports have his record slightly different.
In retirement, Castillo worked as a broadcaster alongside the legendary Chick Hearn.
“Timing is everything and, in my era, it just was not the time,” said Castillo reflecting on his career. “If I was fighting now, I’d have five belts.”
Castillo, now 63, lives in Beaumont, California with his wife of 32-years. They have five children and 15 grandchildren.
He has his own promotional company, Double Trouble Promotions, and is entering the solar business; he is in partnership with a friend, who runs The Sun Life Co., and they recently won a contract to fit country clubs in the area.
He kindly agreed to speak with The Ring about the best fighters he has trained during his illustrious career.
Alexis Arguello: Had to be Alexis Arguello, he was so tall and lanky, his jab was like a right hand. When we fought, he was a 130-pounder in 1980. Alexis went all the way to 140-pounds. At that weight and 5-foot-11, he could hit you from across the room.
Salvador Sanchez: Salvador wasn’t that easy to hit, Julio [Cesar Chavez] didn’t care if he got hit, Salvador did, he was more of a boxer. He was harder to hit.
Kelvin Lampkin: Very good hand speed. He was a very good counterpuncher. When I threw, he threw. He was a very intelligent fighter.
Lampkin: His footwork was incredible. The guy was a jack-rabbit, every time I started to throw, he was gone.
Arguello: Alexis was a very, very patient fighter. You could beat him up for 10, 11 rounds, he’s going to get you with the one shot. Once he gets you with that one shot, you’re done, that sets him up for two, three, four after that.
Julio Cesar Chavez: It has to be between Alexis and Julio Cesar Chavez. Julio was very, very strong. Juan Laporte was very strong.
Juan Laporte: He had a very good chin. I hit him and I thought that fight was going to be over and the bell rang and he said something to me that pertained to my mother and walked a straight line to his corner. I said, ‘Oh boy, this fight’s going to last all night.’ Salvador Sanchez took a shot. Julio didn’t respect anyone’s punch. Back then you could hit Julio with a truck and all it would do was piss him off. Salvador was more technical than Julio.
Chavez: Julio had more power than anyone I fought in my life. The best punch he had was a left-hook to the body. When he hit you to the body, ‘Oh my God.’ I was doing 300 sit-ups a day, that didn’t matter one bit. Alexis hit you so hard but he hit you with one shot, Julio hit you with a barrage of shots.
BEST BOXING SKILLS
Sanchez: He was hard to hit back. He was pretty tall for the featherweight division; his arm length was crazy. He was a very good boxer, he had a great jab and he was tough to hit. He was probably one of the smartest fighters I ever fought. The only problem with Salvador Sanchez was he was not a real big puncher.
Chavez: Of all the fighters I fought, nobody compared to Julio Cesar Chavez. What made him so good, when he threw, he’s throwing to hit you, he’s not throwing to just to throw a punch, when he threw, he knew he was going to catch you with something. He picks his shots, he did not waste any punches. When he cornered you, you were in a world of shit, because he’s going to hurt you.
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