The Day I Fell in Love with Boxing (Again)
I hold the evening of May 7, 2005 in high regard, and mark it as the moment that I fell in love with boxing (again)…
“It (boxing) has elegant moments and it has savage moments. But it’s still a great game. One on one it can be beautiful.”—Diego “Chico” Corrales (1977-2007)
May 7, 2005 was like many other Cinco de Mayo weekends, featuring a high profile championship fight between California’s Diego Corrales and Mexico’s Jose Luis Castillo for the WBC and WBO lightweight titles.
Corrales and Castillo were the cream of the crop of the lightweight division, having separated themselves from other contenders in recent years. Both had notable losses to “Pretty Boy” (as he was known at the time) Floyd Mayweather Jr., who had recently moved up to the light welterweight division.
As far back as 2005 we knew that losses to Mayweather were nothing to scoff at, as Mayweather had begun his rapid rise up the boxing pound-for-pound rankings, and so Castillo and Corrales’ reputations as elite fighters remained intact. We were especially sure of this in the case of Jose Luis Castillo, who lost two close fights to Mayweather (April 2002 and Dec. 2002), the first one in highly controversial fashion.
Corrales-Castillo I would rejuvenate the lightweight division, featuring two fighters of Latino descent: Castillo hailed from Mexico and Corrales the son of a Colombian father and Mexican mother (raised in Sacramento, CA).
Castillo fought with the well-known blueprint of past Mexican champions: stalking aggression, relentless work to the body, ring generalship. He also featured above average boxing skills, the kind that could give a fighter of Mayweather’s caliber all he could handle for two fights.
Corrales was a different animal, residing in the Thomas Hearns kingdom of tall, rail-thin pugilists with game-changing power. Standing almost 5’11, Corrales towered over his lightweight competitors. He gained a reputation as a dominant puncher by amassing an impressive list of knockout victims, including Angel Manfredy (Sept. 2000), Derrick Gainer (March 2000) and Roberto Garcia (Oct. 1999).
His devastating TKO loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. (Jan. 2001) was a rude awakening for Corrales and since then he had worked to polish his arsenal, becoming more balanced and tactical in his approach.
Pundits saw the potential for a great fight between Corrales and Castillo: both men liked to punch. Both were willing to take a punch to give two or three. Both were world-class fighters.
Yes, it was Cinco de Mayo weekend. The lights would be on and everybody would be watching.
What we were treated to, however, was something that could not have been forecasted.
“This fight will be like two buffaloes colliding.”—Jose Luis Castillo
In describing the fight, where do we begin?
There were the tremendous fireworks from the opening bell.
Rounds two through nine, featuring a spectacular ebb and flow, Corrales staying true to his promise of going toe-to-toe with Castillo, not using his height and reach to simply potshot and stay out of harm’s way.
Castillo showing an array of skills, landing with authority, pressing the action.
After nine rounds, most scorecards had it very close, either fighter ahead by a single point.
And then there is the 10th round.
Why do so many insist that it was one of the better rounds of the modern era? It’s not only because of the brutal exchanges. Many fights have those.
Its greatness lay in the peculiar sequence of events: Corrales walking directly into a Castillo left hook at 2:34, crumbling lifelessly to the ground and barely beating the 10-count on his way up.
The second knockdown at 2:06, this one an intentional fall from Corrales, who sensed danger.
And there was Corrales’ spitting out of the mouthpiece after each knockdown, the second resulting in the loss of a point on the official scorecard.
Corrales’ calculated bending of the rules to buy himself extra time was a perfect example of on-the-fly boxing economics: he’d rather lose a point in the 10th round and have a chance to knock Castillo out (which he likely would have to do after such a lopsided round anyway) rather than suffer a knockout loss, which he surely would have if he couldn’t halt Castillo’s momentum. All sports have their ways of bending the rules. In the hurt business, a healthy bending of the rules can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
After the second knockdown we see Castillo re-engaging the badly hurt Corrales, smelling blood, Corrales in retreat; Corrales landing a wicked right hand to Castillo’s head at 1:34; Castillo wobbled but still moving forward, seemingly unaware of how badly he’d been hurt; Corrales landing a hard left hook at 1:27, officially shifting momentum, wobbling Castillo and backing him into the ropes; a wondrous exchange between the fighters culminating in a left hook from Corrales at 1:05 that would completely stun Castillo; a vicious barrage of punches from Corrales to a nearly unconscious Castillo; Tony Weeks stepping in and stopping the fight at 0:56.
And then the imagery that followed: Corrales, his left eye almost completely closed, defiantly spitting out his mouthpiece, raising his right hand in victory; Joe Goossen (his trainer) picking him up in the air; chaotic celebration ensuing in the ring.
Were it not to have taken place in the same decade as the Gatti-Ward trilogy it might be a consensus choice for fight of the decade (2001-2010). Many still consider Corrales-Castillo I to be the best because, unlike Gatti-Ward, its participants were world class, grade A fighters.
As is the case in many of boxing’s best fights, neither Corrales nor Castillo would be the same fighter after their classic. Castillo would defeat Corrales by knockout in a rematch, a fight marred by Castillo’s inability to make the agreed-upon weight (rendering it a non-championship fight).
Both fighters would soon spiral out of contention, suffering lopsided defeats in subsequent fights against elite competition: Castillo by knockout to Ricky Hatton (June 2007) and Corrales by TKO to Joshua Clottey (April 2007).
Eerily, Diego Corrales would die in a motorcycle crash two years to the day after Corrales-Castillo I, also in Las Vegas. In a twist of tragic irony, Diego Corrales’ actual life would be forever linked to May 7, just as his boxing life had been.
As a student of the sweet science, I’m grateful for boxing in a very general sense—for providing me hundreds of hours of entertainment, an outlet from my daily toil, a new paradigm toward which I can apply my wits.
Fights like Corrales-Castillo I, however, warrant a very specific appreciation: in a sport often mired in controversy and corruption, it delivered a very pure demonstration of boxing will and skill.
Corrales-Castillo I’s legacy is, however, about more than boxing—it serves as an eternal reminder of how tenuous and precious life is, both inside and outside the ring.
And it is for that reason that I hold the evening of May 7, 2005 in high regard and mark it as the moment that I fell in love with boxing (again).
Follow Cheekay Brandon on Twitter at @biosophist