By Michael Benson
If you could condense an entire Rocky film into just two minutes and six seconds, then that’s what Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo delivered in round 10 to finish their epic war in 2005.
It was a round that saw one fighter hit the canvas twice – but that same battered man actually end up victorious in the most astonishing, rapid-fire turnaround in boxing history. Tragically, Corrales – the victor on the night – was killed in a motorcycle crash exactly two years to the day after his most famous win. He was only 29 years old.
Even before the most jaw-dropping finish ever seen in a boxing ring, Corrales-Castillo was already a modern-day classic. The two went at each other from the opening bell and produced nine rounds of high-octane violence, before an ending that had boxing fans questioning if what they were seeing was possible.
The view before the lightweight unification bout was that Mexican Castillo was the more durable pressure fighter, while American Corrales was the bigger puncher and slightly better boxer – but that he was more vulnerable.
Both men had previously fought Floyd Mayweather Jr with varying degrees of success. Corrales met Mayweather in 2001 when the pair were undefeated and on every pound-for-pound list. However, in the most dazzling display of his career, Floyd wiped the floor with ‘Chico’, scoring five knockdowns before Corrales’ corner threw in the towel – despite his bitter protests.
Mayweather had a far harder night with Castillo. The ‘Pretty Boy’ came as close to losing as he ever would as a pro when Castillo pushed him to a controversial 12-round decision (TV judge Harold Lederman had Castillo winning 115-111). Mayweather won a close but clear decision in the rematch.
The prevailing wisdom was that Corrales – who was extraordinarily tall for a lightweight at just under 6ft – would try to box the shorter but naturally heavier Castillo. However, Corrales’ new trainer Joe Goossen decided they would try to surprise Castillo by going toe-to-toe with him. Corrales preferred this style, despite his lanky frame, and Goossen reasoned: “If Mayweather couldn’t get away from him [Castillo]… who could?”
If the fight was going to be a phone-booth war, better to prepare for it and meet fire with fire. Which is exactly what the crowd of 5,168 got at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
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The pace was unrelenting as the pair exchanged brutal power shots and the advantage ebbed and flowed. It was already a Fight of the Year contender by the end of round nine with both men carrying the scars of battle: Castillo cut above the left eye, Corrales with both eyes badly swollen.
Yet neither man had tasted the canvas until the very start of round 10, when Castillo feinted then pole-axed Corrales with a left hook. A hurt Corrales spat out his gumshield before groggily rising, buying himself a precious few extra seconds as Goossen washed the mouthpiece before pushing it into his fighter’s mouth.
Castillo sensed blood and followed up with a right uppercut and another left hook. Corrales went down, hard, this time reaching into his mouth and pulling his gumshield out. Referee Tony Weeks docked the boxer a point after he rose, making what was already looking like a 10-7 round a likely 10-6 in Castillo’s favour – a fight-turning swing. But at this point few believed it was heading to the scorecards.
Goossen took his sweet time replacing the gum shield and offered Corrales a one-line instruction that has gone down in history: “You gotta f***ing get inside on him now.” Goossen was grim but also encouraged by Corrales arguing with Weeks about the point deduction – reasoning that if his boxer’s brain was truly scrambled, he wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to protest the penalty.
Still, Corrales looked a beaten man when Castillo came in to finish him off. Firing back on instinct, Corrales – his back against the ropes – uncorked a perfect right hand out of nowhere that had the Mexican staggering. Suddenly the pair were exchanging vicious, flush hooks.
Corrales detonated another dynamite right hand and all of a sudden it was Castillo with his back to the ropes. Corrales poured it on, blasting bent-arm blows with either fist, when suddenly Castillo’s hands dropped, his body sagged and he was unable to defend himself – Weeks leapt in to stop the carnage.
The crowd, already on their feet, leapt into the air like a surge of electricity had gone through the arena. Corrales spat out his gum shield – this time in victory – and Goossen picked up and carried the bruised, swollen winner around the ring.
“That might be the single most extraordinary comeback within a round to win a fight that has ever happened!” yelled Showtime co-commentator Al Bernstien. Ringside boxing historian Bert Sugar was later asked if it was one of the greatest fights he had ever seen. “No, he replied. “It is THE greatest fight I’ve ever seen.”
Corrales had hit the canvas twice, Castillo had never officially gone down, yet it was the 27-year-old American who won by stoppage – nothing about round 10 made any sense.
Inevitably it was tinged with controversy that Corrales had bought himself vital seconds of recovery time with his gum shield antics. Goossen argued it was Corrales’ punches that turned the fight, adding: “The mouthpiece didn’t hit anybody on the chin.”
A rematch was inevitable but this time the controversy came before the fight: Castillo weighed in three-and-a-half pounds over the 135lb limit. The bout still went ahead, but this time the heavier Castillo took out Corrales in round four. A rubber match was postponed when Castillo once again failed to make weight and Corrales wisely decided not to take the fight.
In truth, neither man was the same after the savage beating they had given one another in their first contest. Castillo would never win another world title fight, while Corrales wouldn’t win another bout of any description.
A troubled individual, even by boxing standards, Corrales’ friends and promoters spoke of a gentle soul – but one with a dark side. After the Mayweather defeat, he spent 14 months in jail for an assault on his pregnant girlfriend. Alcohol was involved and it also played a part in his death.
Two years to the day after the greatest win of his career, Corrales was killed when he rode his motorcycle into the back of a car in Las Vegas, being thrown more than 100 feet into incoming traffic. Corrales was estimated to be going well above the 35mph speed limit and was found to have a blood alcohol level three times higher than what was allowed in Nevada.
“Bottom line, no one else did anything wrong,” said Las Vegas police sergeant Tracy McDonald. “He basically killed himself.” Corrales’ promoter Gary Shaw said of the fighter: “He fought recklessly and he lived recklessly. That was his style.”
Diego Corrales died three months before his 30th birthday, unable to escape his demons outside the ring. But inside it, he and Jose Luis Castillo gave fight fans the most memorable and endlessly re-watchable final round in boxing history.
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