Rest in Peace, Jesus “Chucho” Castillo

By Matt McGrain on January 16, 2013
Rest in Peace, Jesus “Chucho” Castillo
Many have called Chucho Castillo a forgotten fighter. There is something in that, perhaps.

Perhaps never a great champion, he might have been the greatest contender in bantamweight history. The boxing community is poorer today than it was yesterday…

“He would fight a bull with a fork.”—Unknown Mexican matchmaker

He was born in 1944, one-hundred miles from the US-Mexican border and fifteen-hundred miles from Los Angeles and into perhaps the deepest bantamweight division the world has ever seen. Between his professional debut in 1962 and his retirement in 1975 the weight division birthed its own murderer’s row of killing talent. There was Jofre and Harada; there was Olivares and Rose. There was Rafael Herrera and Rodolfo Martinez. Medel, Pimentel, Ushiwakamaru, Tellez, Raul Cruz, Alan Rudkin, the kind of hard-fighting brutal professionals that might have kept even a talent like Nonito Donaire off the streets after dark.

Chucho didn’t fight them all but this blank-faced box-punching genius fought enough of them that he made it, briefly, to the top of the toughest pile that weight division has ever assembled. To do it, he had to beat one-man gang punchers and back-alley cut-throat wizards both and more besides, he had to beat arguably the best bantamweight ever to box and he had to do it after an inauspicious start to his career that saw him knocked out four times in just nine months at the end of 1965. Trying to pierce the forest of bantamweight gatekeepers that formed rank in places like Sinaloa and Oaxaca was dangerous to a fighter’s health to say the least. Chucho passed the first test—he didn’t quit.

In 1967 that persistence paid off. Castillo fought for the Mexican bantamweight title against no less a personage than the legendary Joe Medel. Medel, then the only man to have stopped the giant that was Fighting Harada, fought a rematch with the Japanese in his home country, dropping a decision that Harada called the hardest title fight of his career. Having nursed the Mexican title on the side whilst tackling some of the best fighters ever to have lived (including Eder Jofre, the only man to really outclass him), Medel got a shock when he ran into Chucho. His title was taken from him, the two never to be united.

Such was the reputation of the Mexican title and such was the reputation of Medel, that this victory kicked Chucho straight onto the world stage. He broke the Ring Magazine bantamweight rankings at #8. His reputation was enhanced that November by a brutal performance against top Mexican tough Miguel Castro, who put the younger man under serious pressure before a cut, not for the last time in Castillo’s career, saw him turn the tide and batter Castro into submission. Sliding ex-contender Yoshio Nakane was then beaten by one-sided hiding before classic Mexican machismo demanded that the now established Mexican champion take a step back into the caldron and face Guillermo Tellez. His apprenticeship clearly over, the massed banditry of the domestic scene had one final chance to reclaim the peaking prospect before letting him slip through their fingers forever in the form of Guillermo Tellez. Tellez had knocked Castillo out during his bleak nine months in journeyman hell all those years before. About as tough as he sounded but also extremely hard to pin down, Tellez traveled badly but had not been beaten on Mexican soil since 1964 and had never been stopped. Reported alternately as a disqualification or a TKO, all sources agree that Tellez was firmly thrashed, cut multiple times and no longer able to defend himself at the time of the stoppage. There was now nobody in Mexico left deemed qualified to stop him. Castillo went to America, to Los Angeles.

Immediately it was apparent that Yankee dollars would come no easier than Mexican pesos, though there may have been more of it. Castillo leapt in at the deep end and took on the world’s #1 contender, Jesus Pimentel. “Little Poison” was a puncher so savage that even in a division as brutal as this one was, he could be labelled the bantamweight hitter of that era. He could be out-boxed however, and the two fights he had lost in the past eight years were against Castillo victims—Nakane and Medel.

There were reasons to be optimistic then, and they bore fruit, as 14,000 fans paid $75,000 to see Castillo overturn 6-5 odds on his American debut at The Forum in Inglewood, California, his home away from home. Chucho handed the top contender a sound thrashing over twelve.  A “one-sided… pummel[ing]” is how the LA Sun summed it up.

Sadly, Castillo found time to put a brutal hurting on my countryman, Evan Armstrong out of Ayr, who took to the ring with a typical Scotsman’s confidence going into a fight but left without landing a meaningful punch after around five minutes. Then Castillo was matched with the champion.

Lionel Rose was a superb fighter coming out of Australia and lifting the title from Fighting Harada, no less. Castillo was not intimidated.

The split decision win for Rose set of protests as anarchic as anything Castillo would have seen south of the border. Two-hundred police officers were dispatched to place under control around five-hundred fans that started fires, slashed seats and showered the ring with bottles and debris. Twenty spectators and some peace officers were admitted to hospital in the aftermath, which also saw calls for the sport to be banned. Also hurt was referee Dick Young, rather ironic given that he had scored it for Castillo by 9-6. The two other judges saw it 7-6 for Rose. Whilst the Associated Press scored it 8-5 to Castillo and whilst no next-day reports seen by this writer scored the fight to Rose, The Press-Courier’s report of December 14th which states that ringside reporters were split “about evenly” can perhaps be taken at face value given the nature of the fight as it appears on film. 

Both men were superb that night, supple and tough as only young but tempered steel can be. Castillo shows beautiful defense to balance his aggression, feinting, countering even as he bulls forwards whilst Rose leads even as he backs up. Weaving around the ring, clearly the looser of the two, I confess to liking Castillo’s work better and I score it for him, 9-6, but perhaps I am looking at it with modern eyes. Under modern rules, Castillo would have won on the strength of his superb tenth round knockdown. They took turns to hurt one another in that round but it was Castillo who had the final word, continuing to feint his left to the body and dip into the attack before uncorking several brutal right hands, the last of which just snapped the champion’s legs out from under him, he looked like he had slipped on an ice patch, falling face first, counter-intuitively, as his lower body feathered out behind him he seemed to go down in two separate parts.

Expressing a desire for a rematch but stressing that he bore the champion no ill will, Castillo returned to Mexico and knocked out the brilliant Rafael Herrera in three rounds, as though he were nothing. Then he seemed to slow. Draws against Ushiwakamaru and Joe Medel did him no harm, but a loss to Mexican novice Raul Cruz threatened to draw him back into the Mexican bantamweight battlefield. A quick redress of the result over ten rounds spared him. Cruz’s twenty-two round tutorial with Chucho did him the world of good; he knocked Lionel Rose out in just four rounds five months later. 

But by then the bantamweight title had passed from a special fighter in Lionel Rose, to a truly terrifying one in Ruben Olivares. Perhaps the single best 118 lb. fighter in history, Ruben’s critics deem him all left hand. They are wrong, but even if they were right, what a left hand. Olivares destroyed fighters with that left hand. He immolated them, reduced them to burning, twitching husks where a world-class fighter had stood just moments before. A savage bag of feints, angles, jabs and hooks he is perhaps the last fighter in the world you would want to see in the opposite corner if you were, starting to slide. If you’d fought your way up through a seething mass of Mexican machismo just to reach the world’s stage and then found yourself ranked #8 in one of the toughest eras imaginable, fought your way to a title shot, lost in difficult circumstances, if you’d done all that, you certainly wouldn’t want to share a ring with a man like Olivares. Castillo had to do just that, and he lost, an indisputable decision, in April of 1970.

But he came again.

In October of that same year, Castillo took to the ring with still unbeaten Olivares for a second time. 

They fought slowly at first; almost tenderly. Olivares scored the best punch of the round, a sniping left hook, but in the first fight, Castillo had seemed equal to Ruben’s punches. Olivares, on the other hand, had been neatly deposited by his challenger in the second round, and the overhand rights Chucho repeatedly chanced in the opener forced the champion to box respectfully. Castillo did not throw this punch like a mortal fighter. He signalled something else, sold some other punch with a lean, a weave, a crouch and then he found the path of least resistance. His reputation is that of a tank, a pressure fighter and that is deserved, but he was also a technician of the highest order. Add greasy speed and we wouldn’t talk today about Ruben Olivares but about Jesus Castillo.

Many have called him a forgotten fighter. There is something in that, perhaps. Coming, as he did, in a ragged bantamweight terrain between Jofre and Olivares populated by all manner of deadly and venomous predators, it is understandable that Castillo might just slip through one of the bigger fissures great champions like these create. But he cannot be forgotten entirely. Champions never are. and a champion is what Castillo became after Olivares was rescued by referee Dick Young in the fourteenth round with a terrible cut above his left eye. The referee indicated this cut was caused by an accidental butt and Olivares agreed, but Castillo maintained that one of those invisible right hands was the culprit. An indeterminate fight film means we may never know. Whilst a careful study leads me to believe that it was more likely a butt, it must not be forgotten that Chucho often left opponents cut and bloodied and that his frighteningly precise technical punching when married to that relentless, layered pressure meant that perhaps no man was better equipped to take advantage of such an injury. This is how the fight played out, with Castillo selling punch after punch to an occasionally nervous Olivares who looked to protect that injury for much of the second half of the fight. 

When Olivares was aggressive, which was often, Castillo seemed in some way to have solved him, bumping up against the much bigger looking champion who went to work two handed, but left direct channels for the challenger’s more concise looking punches, a winging left uppercut, a right hand to the kidney, a sharp left lead as the broke. Fighting Olivares head to head at bantamweight was a stupid thing to do and Castillo made it look beautiful. 

No, this title winning effort must never be forgotten and nor must it be forgotten that at the time of the stoppage, uncontested by the Olivares corner, Castillo was ahead—barely, but ahead.

“I knew I had to win,” said Castillo afterwards. “This was my last chance.”

It was indeed his last chance and Chucho spent the rest of his career fighting as a spent force. Olivares re-took the title without meeting with too much resistance in their 1971 rubber match, though he did have to pick himself up off the canvas once again, an ignominy he was never able to inflict upon the only man he ever boxed three times at bantamweight. Finally there was the wonderful rematch with Rafael Herrera where in spite of dropping an arguable split decision loss he turned back the clock to join Herrera in putting on a show that resulted in one of the better fights boxing has produced—for any reader detecting more than a hint of bias in this article, let it be known that Chucho Castillo is one of this writer’s favorites. He was also a favorite of LA Times scribe Jim Murray. Writing in 1968:

“He fights people no one else will fight. As long as it doesn’t have scales or breathe fire or live underwater or have tusks or a mane, Chucho will make the match.”

A more fitting epitaph than any I could draw.

Murray also details that Castillo was raised on “less pesos a year than it would take to wash a car in Mexico City these days.” Perhaps this helps to explain how driven he was and his often withdrawn, moody character in the run up to his fights. This seems to have melted away from him in retirement. He is remembered as a pleasant and a hard-working man. Castillo made his peace with life post-boxing in a way that many more jovial characters have found difficult.

Perhaps never a great champion, Castillo might have been the greatest contender in bantamweight history. The boxing community is poorer today than it was yesterday. Our thoughts lie with his family.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Lionel Rose SD15 Chucho Castillo



Video Homenaje Chucho Castillo



Ruben Olivares UD15 Chucho Castillo Part 1/7



Ruben Olivares UD15 Chucho Castillo Part 2/7



Ruben Olivares UD15 Chucho Castillo Part 3/7



Ruben Olivares UD15 Chucho Castillo Part 4/7



Ruben Olivars UD15 Chucho Castillo Part 5/7



Ruben Olivares UD15 Chucho Castillo Part 6/7



Ruben Olivares UD15 Chucho Castillo Part 7/7



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  1. peter 04:41pm, 01/18/2013

    Thanks for the article. Goodbye Chucho.

  2. Bodyshots 01:21pm, 01/18/2013

    You’re Welcome MATT. it’s well-deserved. i was a fight-fan by association before really digging in at the beginning of the Duran v. Leonard era. i’ve never paid much attention to what occurred before then. however, i can recall my jefito and uncles mentioning names like Castillo, Saldivar, Olivares, and Zarate back in the day. i also encounter veteran fight-fans from those days in L.A. and your article shed light on what all the fuss was about. i’m always willing to expand my historical knowledge base as long as somebody else does the legwork. accordingly, Thanks Again!

  3. Matt McGrain 01:57am, 01/18/2013

    That’s a lovely compliment BS; cheers. I’m no expert on LA and such a fellow would be formidable indeed.  As you say, LA’s history is deep and wide and the surface is only scratched by written investigations of it.

  4. Bodyshots 06:49am, 01/17/2013

    i also have a similar fight-bill of the Cesar Chavez v. Martinez title fight at the Olympic. i’ve already got Martinez’s signature and i’m consulting with a local insider on how to obtain Chavez’s who i don’t see at signature tables in fight events i’ve been to. i want to See him sign it. i won’t trust anything less. it’ll be a very Happy day when i’m able to frame and proudly display it along with other cards i’ve collected.

  5. Bodyshots 06:44am, 01/17/2013

    Riveting, beautiful, elegant write-up of one of the first fighters i can remember hearing about but never watching and rarely reading about. my own memorable fight-nights at the Forum and the Olympic didn’t begin till the mid-eighties and i feel a debt of gratitude to Matt McGrain for educating a fight-fan about L.A.‘s fight history. there’s a Lot of it. also, and once again, great job on the choice of vidclips.

  6. Mike Casey 02:52am, 01/17/2013

    Great fighter. I remember Chucho very well from my teenage years. Yes, that riot after the Rose fight was some riot!

  7. the thresher 08:06pm, 01/16/2013

    Matt is on a roll

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