- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- Fight of the year? More like fight of the decade so far.
In a battle reminiscent of revered all-time battles between Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera and Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo put on the spectacular slugfest many predicted as soon as the ink on the contract was dry.
In the end, it was Corrales, rebounding from two brutal knockdowns in the 10th round and a horribly swollen left eye, who came back to stop Castillo in stunning fashion later in the 10th to unify lightweight titles Saturday night at Mandalay Bay.
"I caught him with a good left hook inside," Corrales said. "I knew not to let him off the hook. He was hurt. I had to go for it. The ref did his job."
Few among the crowd of 5,168 will ever forget the non-stop, two-way action and the improbable comeback of Corrales.
Castillo (52-7-1) appeared on the verge of a knockout in the 10th, having finally knocked Corrales (40-2, 34 KOs) down twice with a flurry of punches punctuated by a left hook. Both times, Corrales barely got to his feet.
Then referee Tony Weeks took a point from Corrales for spitting his mouthpiece, which he did on each knockdown. It was a trick he might have learned from Acelino Freitas, who pulled the same stunt when he faced Corrales last summer. The extra few seconds were crucial for Corrales' survival.
"My mouthpiece came out the first time. I didn't mean to drop it the second time," he said.
Moments after the second knockdown, when Corrales took until nine to get up, he went on the offensive, plowing Castillo into the ropes as he just pumped his arms, looking for anything to hit.
He landed three right hands and left hook, and with Castillo defenseless along the ropes, Weeks stepped in at 2:06 to give Corrales the biggest win of his career and validation as the No. 1 135-pound fighter in the world.
"I've been waiting for a chance to prove my will and prove I was a true warrior," said Corrales, after a ride around the ring on trainer Joe Goossen's shoulders. "I told you this was going to be a fight. It was a war of attrition. It's a great honor to be in there with a great champion."
Corrales was in serious trouble earlier in the 10th round, and he knew it.
"He landed a great left hook right on the button. It was a great shot," he said of the first knockdown. The second knockdown was "was just an accumulation of punches," he said. "[Castillo] got me again. I was still buzzed but I knew I was going to get up. We've been throwing some hard shots all night. We were bound to hurt each other eventually."
It was surprising it took so long. They were throwing with ferocious intent from the opening bell in a see-saw affair, one in which Castillo had predicted in the days leading to the fight would be "like two buffaloes colliding."
"He's one of the greatest fighters in the world but so am I," said Castillo, who had been bleeding from the fourth round on due to a cut in the corner of his left eye that was caused by an accidental head clash.
The scores reflected the competitive nature of the fight. The judges were all over the board. Corrales led 87-84 and 86-85 on two cards. Castillo led 87-84 on the third. ESPN.com had Castillo ahead 86-85 going into the 10th.
Castillo, who had been on a terrific run with wins against Juan Lazcano, Joel Casamayor and Julio Diaz in his last three fights, was disappointed with the outcome.
"I thought the referee gave him a lot of chances. He didn't give as many to me," Castillo said. "The fight should have ended earlier in the 10th. He was hurt. I should have won. I will take a rematch anytime."
If Joe Goosen, Corrales' trainer, has anything to do with things, there won't be a return match.
"They should never fight again," he said. "It's too much."
Corrales, who hadn't fought since the Freitas fight last summer because of promotional issues, wasn't ready to talk about a rematch.
"I just want to ice my face," he said.
Marquez dominates Polo
In the co-feature, Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico retained his unified featherweight titles with a dominant decision victory against Victor Polo of Colombia.
Although the fight lacked the action of Marquez's sensational battle with Manny Pacquiao last year, Marquez put on a clinic of counter punching and landed his straight right hand almost at will.
Early in the seventh round, Marquez (44-2-1) finally floored Polo. He pawed a left jab and then connected with a straight right hand to Polo's jaw, sending him down in the corner. Polo was up quickly, but even though he was still off balance, Marquez did not press for the knockout.
Instead, Marquez was the picture of patience. A counter-puncher at heart, he simply picked the southpaw Polo apart the rest of the way. Only when the hammer would bang to indicate 10 seconds left in the round would Marquez crank up the pace.
One judge had it a shutout 120-107 while the others had it 119-108 and 118-109. ESPN.com scored it 118-109.
"It was a good tactical match more than anything," Marquez said. "I was very confident coming in, and after the first two rounds, I felt I had it. It was just a matter of putting it together."
With Polo (34-5-3) dismissed, Marquez turned his attention to the junior lightweight division, which is populated by fighters such as Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Pacquiao, who would bring him far more money than the $300,000 he earned Saturday night.
"I would like to go up to 130 pounds because I know that's where the big fights are," Marquez said.
It was the fifth unsuccessful title shot for Polo, a longtime contender who could never get over the hump and win the big one. It was also Polo's most-lopsided defeat in a title fight.
In January, he was held to a controversial draw with belt holder Scott Harrison in Harrison's native Scotland in a strong performance that earned him the shot at Marquez. In his three other previous title fights, he lost split decisions to Julio Pablo Chacon, Derrick Gainer and Manuel Medina.
"It was a good fight," Polo said. "He is a great champion."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
In a bout to determine the world's best 135-pound fighter, half-blinded Diego Corrales staged an improbable 10th-round comeback to upend Jose Luis Castillo.