Castillo keeps working through uncertainty
Originally, WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo was to have faced Diego Corrales this Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay in a highly anticipated showdown of the two premier 135-pounders on the planet.
Instead, with in-fighting within the Corrales camp imploding the fight, Castillo will instead be facing Julio Diaz (Showtime, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT).
As Gary Shaw, Artie Pelullo, James Prince and Jeff Fried all played tug-of-war with Corrales' purse strings, the March 5 date remained incomplete and up in the air, as did Castillo's status.
"We told him to just relax," said Bob Arum, whose company, Top Rank, promotes Castillo. "If Corrales isn't available, Showtime has secured the date for you. And you're not going to be the loser. So that calmed him down and he didn't give a damn."
The only real loser here seems to be Corrales, who was supposed to have faced Castillo in December and then this weekend, but now instead will take on the winner of Castillo-Diaz in May -- for less money than he would have gotten before.
"That's what happens when you have two promoters; you have options, you have a lot of stuff," says Arum of Corrales' promotional situation, which changed after he beat Acelino Freitas last summer.
To get that fight, Shaw had to give Pelullo options on his fighter. "The network wasn't paying the same money that they paid for the Freitas fight because they had a contract with Pelullo on the Freitas fight and they felt that all they would pay on this fight was $1.2 million, which I think is still pretty good money.
"But when you're used to getting $2 million, it's not so good."
During all this madness, Castillo did what he does best -- work.
"I knew I was going to fight March 5, so I was just getting my conditioning going," he said through Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez. "I wasn't thinking about the opponent quite yet. Once I found out, then I knew what I needed to do."
Diaz, who abdicated his IBF title to make this bout a reality, is considered one of the game's better lightweights. But Castillo admits he would much rather be facing "Chico" than "The Kidd."
"Corrales is obviously the choice here; it's a much better fight," he admits. "I think a lot of people would like to see it. I wasn't even thinking about Diaz. Diaz has been disrespecting me, saying a lot of things behind my back. Saying this and that about me and I wasn't even really thinking about fighting him. As a professional the opportunity is here, so I'm going to take it."
Castillo and Diaz were actually slated to face each other in March of 2003 before a training camp injury forced Castillo to withdraw from the fight. Diaz eventually stopped replacement Ernesto Zepeda in seven rounds. Two years have passed since then, but according to Castillo, not much has changed.
"When I was first going to fight him years ago, I thought he was a good prospect. I said, 'Hmm, I don't know why they want to fight me.' He was just coming up. Now, I guess he's a world champion, he's got more confidence, but skillwise, I don't see any difference. I still think he's the same fighter that he was back then."
But Diaz figures to be a test. And while he's not the caliber of puncher that Corrales is, Diaz is a better boxer, more reliant on his legs, movement and giving angles.
Castillo doesn't have a particularly difficult style to decipher, as he is what he is. He does the same things over and over again with an uncompromising spirit that bends his opponent's will.
Even those of stout heart and passion, like a Juan Lazcano, find themselves succumbing to his pressure and force late in fights.
"The one thing about him, he's a hard man," Arum explains. "He's a tough, tough guy. He'll out-tough anybody that he fights. He's a strong guy, tough, he out-toughed (Floyd) Mayweather (Jr.) The second fight, Mayweather out-sped him; Mayweather's Mayweather. The first fight, which was really a fight, I thought he won or came close to winning against him. He certainly out-toughed him."
After his two-fight series with Mayweather in 2002, Castillo went on the Telefutura circuit, taking a series of lesser bouts while he waited for lucrative matchups. Last June an opportunity came up when Mayweather vacated his WBC lightweight title to move up to junior welterweight. On the undercard of the Oscar De La Hoya-Bernard Hopkins doubleheader at the MGM Grand, Castillo faced the respected Lazcano for the vacant belt.
After a competitive first half, Castillo's strength and power proved to be the difference in winning a clear-cut decision. While Castillo had the finishing kick of a Kenyan marathoner, Lazcano's face looked as though it had been put through a meat-grinder.
Then in December, using another strong, late flourish, he successfully defended his crown against the highly acclaimed Joel Casamayor, after falling behind on points early.
"I felt 100 percent that I could knock the guy out. So I was just looking for one punch," he explained of his fight strategy that night. "When I found that it was going to be hard to put one punch on him and knock him out, I decided maybe I should just start throwing punches, and whatever I hit, I hit. And I think that was the difference in the fight.
"The first half, I was thinking I could knock him out; the second half I was working."
Castillo-Casamayor was punctuated by a riveting back-and-forth exchange in the 12th round that saw the Cuban's mouthpiece shoot up in the air as if it had launched from an erupting geyser. It was an appropriate exclamation to a highly productive 2004 that saw Castillo get back on the world-class scene.
This year could be even bigger and better.
"The trick for us was to find a network where he could be guaranteed regular work," said Arum. "With HBO, other than the Mayweather fights, they weren't really interested. When I put him in with Lazcano, it was on my own dime on a pay-per-view show. So there was no future there.
"I made the connection with Showtime. Now, he was the second banana because Corrales was their guy. Corrales dropped out and Casamayor came in and now Corrales dropped out again and Diaz came in. The guy's getting regular work, very good purses, and he's very, very happy. And if he can win the next two fights, they promised me that they will do everything they can to match him against Kostya Tszyu."
Which would mean a move up north to 140 pounds, which couldn't come soon enough for the hard-nosed Mexican. The reality is, his fights with the scales may be just as difficult as the ones inside the ring, nowadays.
It's not clear how many more times he'll be willing to stretch himself to make the 135-pound weight limit.
"It depends on when you ask me," he says. "If you ask me before the weigh-in how I feel at 135, I feel terrible. I don't know how I do it. After I eat, I feel good coming into the fight at 135 for the championship fights.
"But really, everyone knows I have problems with 135; I should be fighting at 140."
But he'll make it, as long as the bouts remain lucrative.
"As a professional you have to accept what comes your way. At that time that's what I needed to do, so I took those fights. Obviously you want to have big fights, but not only because they're important and they give you a bigger name, but because you make more money. That's what we're here for, to make more money. That's where the money is and those are the fights I want to make."
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