LAS VEGAS – Let the record show that on the night of May 7, 2005 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, a spectacular boxing match was seared into legend.
Lightweight champions Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, two names little-known in the mainstream sports world, will forever be linked in the same regard as Marciano and Walcott, Ali and Foreman, Leonard and Hagler, Limon and Boza-Edwards, Holyfield and Qawi.
Swollen, cut, wobbled and dazed throughout 10 rounds of furious action, Corrales and Castillo fought as though they were in their own little world. The ring could have been the size of a broom closet. They needed only a reach of 12 inches. Faces rubbed on shoulders, foreheads on cheeks. The phrase head-to-head never seemed more appropriate.
It was brutally beautiful.
“You'd have to be sadistic to want to see that again,” Corrales' trainer, Joe Goossen, said shortly after witnessing what should go down in the history books as the sport's most spectacular round.
Castillo knocked Corrales down twice in the 10th round and was about to have a 10-6 score levied against him – referee Tony Weeks deducted a point from Corrales for spitting out his mouthpiece both times – if he could stay on his feet to hear the bell. Corrales, dazed and with his left eye nearly closed from the constant bombardment of uppercuts and hooks, wouldn't fade away. Shortly after an exchange of punches left a long string of slobber hanging from Corrales' left wrist, he let loose a torrent of blows, catching Castillo with a left hook and then a straight right.
All to the head.
A right to the temple.
A right to the jaw.
A left flush in the middle of Castillo's lifeless face.
“He was just naked, getting hit with bombs,” Weeks said. “He went limp. He was unable to defend himself. He was out on his feet.”
And so Weeks leapt to Castillo's aid and stopped the fight. Corrales, seemingly beat and likely facing a deficit had the fight gone to the scorecards, retained his WBO title and swiped away Castillo's WBC belt.
The frothing fans, an unfortunately sparse Cinco de Mayo crowd of 5,168, had leapt to their feet long before. The arena was euphoric, and whoever was watching at home on Showtime was thanking the boxing gods for 38 minutes and 6 seconds of broadcast ecstasy.
Although some booed Weeks' stoppage, they couldn't possibly deny they had just seen something truly incredible.
The bout was barbaric, back and forth from the opening bell until the improbable crescendo.
The judges were in disagreement, as were many observers on press row. As the fight entered that rousing 10th round, Paul Smith had Castillo ahead 87-84. Lou Moret had Corrales on top 87-84. Daniel De Weile had Corrales up 86-85. The Sweet Science scored it for Castillo 86-85, never giving either fighter more than two consecutive rounds.
But Castillo would have been ahead by a large margin had Corrales not flipped momentum in the 10th.
Castillo's money punch throughout the match was the uppercut. He repeatedly snapped Corrales' head and often followed with a well-timed hook. Castillo's game plan also consisted of assaulting Corrales in the final 10 seconds of every round, which created scintillating action before each bell.
There were three rounds of wicked, point-blank trading before Corrales tried to maintain his distance at the start of the fourth and use his 6-foot frame to his advantage against the 5-foot-8 Castillo. But the tactic never lasted any extended period. They liked being on top of each other too much.
Castillo began to bleed from his left eyelid in the fourth round, a wound that wouldn't impede his strategy. But the red trickle certainly made him look like he belonged in a classic brawl.
A mouse emerged under Corrales' right eye in the fifth, but it was the welling around his left that posed the most significant worry in the corner. Castillo capped the sixth round with an onslaught of shots, landing a critical left with about 13 seconds to go. Corrales was staggered, but held on.
Corrales stormed back with a substantial comeback round in the seventh, but Castillo again closed the round with a monumental blast. Castillo hurt Corrales, his eye now almost totally shut, with another left.
Perhaps Corrales, now peering through a narrow slit, was told to go for the kill, because in the eighth he seemed to have picked up an even edgier demeanor. Corrales stunned his tenacious foe early and rocked his head back multiple times. Each fighter was staggered during the eighth, and had Weeks not stopped the action so Corrales could replace his mouthpiece the fight could've ended there.
In the ninth round, Corrales shook Castillo early. Castillo was warned for low blows but recovered to win the round on all three judges' scorecards. It was one of only five rounds scored identically throughout the fight.
Then came the 10th round in all its uneasy splendor.
Castillo finally scored the first knockdown with a short left hook that landed bang on the chin, dropping Corrales to the canvas, where he spit out his mouthpiece and then batted it away.
“It was a great left hook,” Corrales said. “With the second knockdown I was still buzzed and he got me again. I knew I was going to get up.”
Castillo dropped Corrales on his back with a pair of lefts to the head. This time, Corrales took out his mouthpiece, prompting Weeks to deduct a point and give Castillo a major advantage.
Or so many of us thought.
Corrales, digging deep from within a place few humans know, summoned the will to put Castillo out on his feet and sagging into the ropes.
As one would expect, Bob Arum was howling after the fight. Castillo's promoter claimed Weeks should not have ended the bout there. Maybe Weeks could have ruled a knockdown because the ropes had held Castillo up. Maybe then Castillo would have been able to survive the round and still win the fight.
“I was hurt,” Castillo said. “I'm not saying I wasn't hurt, but I still had a chance.”
Fans will be clamoring for a rematch. Corrales' promoter, Gary Shaw, won't join that chorus.
“I, as an individual, never want to do this fight again,” Shaw said. “They stood in front of each other and were throwing big punches, and I don't want to see either of these guys get hurt.”
Corrales was asked about a return bout. He chose to leave those matters for his management.
“I'm going to ice my face and probably get some sleep,” he said.