Last Saturday in Las Vegas crowds gathered for what they sensed would be a glimpse of one of the rare shows of brutal art that only top fighters can produce. Two finely honed and resolute figures standing at opposite corners converging to do battle.
When Diego “Chico” Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo created a masterpiece in May, it was abundantly clear that once would not be enough. The fight ended in a stoppage, which normally denotes a certain level of dominance by one fighter over the other.
Judging by the wide array of predictions ahead of their second meeting, it was far less than clear that dominance was in anyone’s mind.
Corrales, the taller and quicker of the two, made no attempt at launching a clever fight plan against Castillo in their first meeting. He possesses a snapping jab, and at 6’0” a freakishly distinct height and reach advantage over most lightweights – indeed over most middleweights.
Nonetheless, he was in the mood for a battle in May.
In Saturday’s contest his mood was no different. The ring could have been reduced to 10 feet and the result and the conduct of fight would have been no different.
Corrales banged hard on the inside and Castillo was only too glad to reciprocate.
Castillo’s punches through the first three rounds were greater in number and effect. Corrales tried mightily but his usually wicked hooks and right hands did not slow the steel-chinned Castillo.
Cut by a punch in round 2, Corrales continued to press only to be met by a fusillade of punches. Castillo, it seemed, was widening his lead as he approached round 4. He in fact had captured the first three rounds on all scorecards.
The fateful round 4 was more of the same. The fresher Castillo continued to land the harder, more numerous, shots. Neither fighter took a backward step.
Then, as Corrales briefly opened his high guard to launch a punch, Castillo launched a perfectly timed left hook of his own that starched the champion Corrales.
Corrales tried to collect himself and regain his feet. He rose at the count of 10 but was clearly in no shape to continue and referee Joe Cortez rightly stopped the contest.
The decided pro-Castillo crowd seemed as stunned as Corrales until erupting a few seconds after the stoppage as the dust settled.
Most observers would say that whatever Corrales’ motivation or intent in the first fight, he battled as valiantly as anyone who had stepped into a boxing ring. Of course his accomplice, Castillo, had a little to with it, but Corrales surely proved whatever he came to prove.
His attempt to prove it all again Saturday night played into Castillo’s game. By not making use of now-dormant skills, Corrales gave himself only a puncher’s chance of winning. Only the puncher was Castillo.
Corrales overcame many obstacles including a stint in jail to gain his title belts and sudden, worldwide recognition as a participant in what could be the fight of the decade (or more). That fact undoubtedly factored into his desire to win or lose gloriously.
His rise to the top with the title-unifying effort over Castillo should have allowed him a couple of lower-grade defenses. But of course that is not his makeup as a fighter. No, Corrales’ dedication to combat at close-quarters is not some kind of record-building effort devoid of any meaningful opponents.
Their second bout, though highly anticipated, made even some of the hardcore of the boxing world more than a tad bit queasy. In fact, most worried more about Corrales’ condition than Castillo’s. He was twice on the deck and his face resembled that of a carjacking victim beaten by club-wielding thugs.
Could the two gladiators pound away on each other again without some lasting damage being done? Such was the ferocity of their first encounter that it was believed that both were in jeopardy going into the rematch.
Castillo came in overweight and unable to make the limit even after the allotted time to shed the pounds. Strangely, he actually weighed more on his subsequent trips to scale than he did on the first go-round.
The two camps quickly completed a deal that would ensure the fight would go on.
The new agreement was that Castillo would weigh 147 by 3:00 p.m. the day of the fight. No one knew who would benefit from the changed arrangement, but in any case Corrales would continue to hold both title belts, win or lose, in what became an over-the-limit non-title fight. No matter, the crowds came to see a spectacle.
Castillo made the 147 limit, while Corrales reportedly weighed 149. Corrales was not bound by any limit on the second go-round because he made the weight the first time out.
No one can say who benefited by the weight fiasco, but while Castillo won, Corrales left the ring with all belts intact.
That will undoubtedly result in a third bout. Some questions remain: Did the weight make a difference? Did Corrales leave part of himself in the ring in the first bout? Can Castillo work himself into a frenzy again or will he simply assume he has Corrales’ number? And, the real question is, will Corrales make adjustments to use his strengths?
For Corrales there was a certain honor in going out on his shield. He gave his best effort and should suffer no shame. He fought as champions should fight and he did it against a premier opponent.
A third bout to cap the rivalry is almost a certainty. Perhaps the rematch could take place on the first anniversary of the initial meeting.
One thing’s for certain, Corrales will show up ready and willing. Only time will tell if he’s also able.