Arguello vs. Castillo: Thirty-Three Years Later

By Christian Giudice on The Thrill Is Gone: Fight Night Blues

“I have a lot of respect for Ruben,” said Arguello. “He has nothing to be ashamed of.”

“My goal was to stay away from him, but he was too long and rangy. I thought I was out of range, and he hits me with a jab to my mouth. He had arms for days…”

“Alexis would hurt you with one shot. Basically, that’s what he did to me.”

It was a phone call from a friend in July 2009 that did the damage. His friend, Alexis Arguello, was gone. Shock set in.

“Never in a million years,” said Ruben Castillo about the controversy surrounding his death. “Not Alexis.”

At the time of the call, it had been nearly thirty years since they fought. Memories flooded back. Back then in 1979, Arguello’s bout with WBA super featherweight champ Sammy Serrano never materialized, and consequently, Castillo, ranked No. 3 at featherweight, earned his first title shot. Castillo, a 5-2 underdog, had his sights set on a showdown with Danny Lopez. Now, he had to beat Arguello in order to get in line for the winner of Lopez vs. Salvador Sanchez.

Moving up to 135 pounds was Arguello’s ultimate goal as he steadfastly cleaned out the 130-pound division. A Texas native, Castillo was undefeated at 46-0 (24 KOs) and trained by Beto Martinez. Most guys would have avoided the dangerous Castillo. Not Arguello. Defending his WBC crown for the seventh time, Arguello targeted the best fighters in the division.

Head of the Arizona Boxing Commission, Gerald Maltz, had fought for Tucson to get the historic fight on Super Bowl weekend and his effort had paid dividends.

“When they were looking for a venue, Tucson was a good proximity to Mexico border and the indigenous population. The fight in Arizona was the first title fight in Phoenix. It was a big deal because it was on Super Bowl Sunday. We were on the Mexican border, so we had a market for the live gate that went 150 miles into Mexico,” Maltz recalled. “The crowd was evenly divided…Castillo was a local guy who was well known by boxing aficionados.”

For Arguello, the early rounds were fought at an uncomfortable fast pace with Castillo besting or, at least, equaling him on several exchanges. Movement and precise punching agitated the champ. In the third round, Castillo proved that he belonged in the ring with the great champ as he moved inside and connected on sharp combinations. But those who knew Arguello were not concerned; he always had a plan.

“As I was winning rounds, the only thing I was thinking was that I could overcome Alexis,” said Castillo. “I figured he would fall apart because of the weight issue. I was banking on him getting weak.”

Prone to slow starts, Arguello transformed from patient technician into stalker mode by the fourth round. Earnestly trying to accelerate the knockout, Arguello landed a thudding left hook to close out the round. As the fight progressed, Arguello became frustrated at his inability to time the young fighter. Unlike previous opponents who ran from Arguello, Castillo was of a different mold. He would move, counter, lead when necessary, and take risks that previous challengers had refused to take.

Each time Arguello cornered Castillo, it was to no avail. A perfect example of this pattern surfaced in round seven when—with five seconds remaining in the round—Castillo landed a two-punch combination complemented by a stiff jab that briefly shook Arguello enough to close out the round on his terms. More importantly, Castillo stifled Arguello’s futile attack that he had begun to intensify with each round.

The action peaked in the eighth, which was highlighted by Arguello’s slashing right cross. Castillo returned fire later in the round when he scored a two-punch combination. Unfortunately for Castillo, even his best punches didn’t have a discernible effect on Arguello. Still, as they entered the ninth and tenth rounds, the scorecards reflected a close fight.

“I knew he wasn’t quick and I was a counterpuncher, so after you hit him, he would go to grab his trunks. Once he did that I was all over him,” said Castillo. “Then he would back up and regroup. But the problem was that one punch could ruin your whole day.”

Castillo continued: “My goal was to stay away from him, but he was too long and rangy. I thought I was out of range, and he hits me with a jab to my mouth. He had arms for days.”

Castillo initiated the action in the tenth as he landed a combination in the middle of the ring, but it was Arguello who began the systematic breakdown of the challenger. A rangy straight right ignited the downfall. But it was a pulverizing right hand forty-five seconds into the round that forced Castillo from a crafty fighter to a cautious one. Now he was backpedaling. Every punch hurt him.

Realizing that he still had half the round to go, Castillo continued to move after a pulverizing right hand buckled his knees. Arguello returned to the jab, throwing several at a time. Now they were precise, no longer the lazy floating jab that he used early in fights. His hooks off that jab were vicious and the right hand was landing.

Heading into the eleventh and final round, the challenger, Castillo, had fought admirably. When Arguello stalked, he jabbed and moved. When Arguello cornered him, Castillo punched his way out. After the tenth, Castillo had even convinced one of the three judges that he had bested the champ.

As the seconds ticked away in the eleventh, the brave Castillo fought back gallantly, but couldn’t cope with the hooks to the liver. To truly assess Castillo’s fighting spirit, one must only look to the second half of that round for confirmation. Arguello trapped him in the corner on two occasions and threw forty punches, several of those punches landed cleanly, including a huge right hand early in the onslaught. But what most people will remember were the two punches Castillo landed as he fought his way out of danger to stay alive. It was a straight right to slow down Arguello, a left uppercut, and then he miraculously spun the great Arguello to avoid any significant damage.

Nevertheless, less than a minute later, the fight was over, as Castillo had slumped to the canvas from a vicious body shot. He beat the count, but the fight was waved off at 2:03 of the round.

“Going into that eleventh round, I thought I was going to beat a legend,” said Castillo. “And then, ‘Pow.’ That was it.”

After the fight, Arguello told a reporter, “I have a lot of respect for Ruben. He has nothing to be ashamed of.”

The men went their separate ways after that fight; yet thirty-three years later the men are still linked. To this day, Castillo thinks about his opponent, his friend.

“Alexis was such a loving, caring person,” he said. “He was a guy who would do anything right by his country. He was not a quitter.”

As he proved that evening in Tucson, either was Ruben.

Read the original article at the The Thrill Is Gone: Fight Night Blues

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