OFTEN cited by boxers of the current generation as the greatest fight of all time, this blood-and-guts thriller had it all. Pitting two warriors who saw a backward step as a blatant act of cowardice, it was a miracle their punishing battle made it to the 10th round. There were knockdowns – two of them, both suffered by the winner – controversy as Diego Corrales spat out his mouthpiece after his second trip to the canvas, to gain extra time and pull victory from the jaws of defeat, and the type of brutal exchanges that sicken and scintillate in equal measure.
Having gained revenge over Joel Casamayor – one of only two conquerors – then moved to lightweight and stopped 35-0 Acelino Freitas for the WBO belt, the exciting Corrales was riding the crest of a wave and closing in on the pound-for-pound list. Jose Luis Castillo, a gnarled veteran even then, was on a winning run of six and heading into the third WBC defence of his second reign. The Mexican was felt to be stronger, more seasoned and durable, but Corrales appeared to have more variety and greater one-shot power.
That versatility was never required as both men made a silent pact at the first bell to engage in a war of attrition; whoever stayed down would suffer the ignominy of defeat. What followed was the kind of no-holds-barred combat you may see on a street corner – both went low, both grappled – combined with the type of violent artistry only boxing can provide. The two men were rocked in turn, but neither willingly gave an inch and while Corrales was able to eke out a marginal lead going into the pivotal 10th, the severe swelling around his eyes was testament both to Castillo’s successes and the possibility of a doctor’s stoppage.
In what would be the final round, Castillo, cut on the left eye from the fourth, dropped Corrales with a stunning left hook and “Chico”, who fell onto his his back, was in desperate trouble. He knocked his mouthpiece out of the ring – inadvertently, he insisted – before rising on wobbly legs. The extra 10 seconds he garnered did not appear to be enough as Castillo stormed in upon the resumption and hammered his rival to the floor once more. It looked over; Corrales was staring, through slits where his eyes had once been, into the abyss.
Ten seconds would not have sufficed but Corrales had one last card to play. In desperation, he intentionally spat his gumshield out, losing a point on the surely redundant scorecards but gaining an invaluable 30-second respite. When the action restarted, Castillo swarmed in, only to be met with a left then perhaps the most important right hand Corrales ever threw. With his rival backed to the ropes, Diego unleashed hell, pounding the remaining fight out of the brave Mexican.
Referee Tony Weeks stepped in after 2-06, ending an instant classic but just starting a legend that will live on indefinitely. Former BN Editor Claude Abrams called it, “The most spectacular contest I have witnessed in 18 years of reporting ringside”, which says it all.
Corrales tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 2007, while Castillo came in overweight to defeat his conqueror in their rematch and continues to fight on.
RESULT Diego Corrales (USA) w rsf 10 Jose Luis Castillo (Mexico) DATE May 7, 2005 VENUE Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas AT STAKE WBC (Castillo defending) and WBO (Corrales) lightweight titles AGES Corrales 27, Castillo 31 WEIGHTS Both 9st 9lbs RECORDS Corrales 39-2 (32), Castillo 52-6-1 (46) REFEREE Tony Weeks SCORES AT TIME OF STOPPAGE Daniel Van de Wiele 86-85 and Lou Moret 87-84 for Corrales; Paul Smith 87-84 for Castillo ATTENDANCE 5,168 FINAL CAREER STATS Corrales 40-5 (33), Castillo 64-12-1 (55).