Castillo ready to put traumatic year behind him

LAS VEGAS -- The past year has been more grueling for Jose Luis Castillo than one of his typically hard-hitting fights.

The former two-time lightweight champion hopes to put the past 12 nightmarish months behind him with a resounding victory Saturday (HBO, 10 p.m. ET) when he challenges junior welterweight world champion Ricky Hatton in a highly anticipated showdown at the Thomas & Mack Center.

But even if Castillo (55-7-1, 47 KOs) can overcome Hatton (42-0, 30 KOs), he is unlikely to forget a year filled with financial hardship and deep personal tragedy caused by the deaths of younger brother Cesar and friendly rival Diego "Chico" Corrales.

A year ago, Castillo was preparing for a third chapter of his rivalry with Corrales. It was a fight the boxing world craved.

Corrales had rallied to stop Castillo in the 10th round of their now-legendary first fight on May 7, 2005. In the Oct. 8 rematch, Castillo turned the tables with a fourth-round knockout. But it came with controversy after Castillo weighed in over the 135-pound weight limit and the fight was rendered a nontitle bout.

The third fight was scheduled for February 2006, but postponed because of a Corrales rib injury. The rubber match was rescheduled for June 3.

On June 2, however, Castillo's grim year began.

Inside a Caesars Palace ballroom -- a place he will revisit for Friday's weigh in for the Hatton fight -- Castillo was again overweight to fight Corrales, once again unable to get down to 135 pounds. He was 139 Ā½pounds. Instead of relenting to pressures from Castillo's camp, boxing fans and casino and television network interests, Corrales understandably refused to put himself at a weight disadvantage again.

Castillo's weight problem forced the fight to be canceled. Besides the shame and embarrassment he felt, Castillo went home without a paycheck. He was later suspended by the Nevada athletic commission for the rest of the year, handed a $250,000 fine and saddled with legal bills because he had to hire an attorney to represent him in front of the commission and to fight a lawsuit from Corrales and Corrales' promoter, Gary Shaw. Castillo couldn't afford to pay.

"It was a little bit tough on him," said Fernando Beltran, who is Castillo's Mexican promoter and very close to him. "He couldn't fight and he couldn't pay the fine. He didn't make the weight and he went home without a dollar. He trained a lot. He was fined and suspended. It was tough.

"When he didn't make weight, he was very sad for his children. He said to me, 'I've been trying to be an example and a role model to my children and I try to be an honest person who works hard. In the eyes of the world I looked very irresponsible and I hated it because my children were there.' He said he was crying after seeing them. He said, 'I respect the fans, I let them down. I respect the press, I respect the network, everybody. My children, though, I broke their hearts.'"

Although Castillo has earned a few million dollars during his 17-year career, he carries the financial burden for his poor Mexican family. In addition to his own wife and sons Jose Luis Jr., 14, and Cristian, 8, Castillo, 33, is the oldest of nine siblings and the main breadwinner for the entire extended family (a sister previously died).

"You don't deprive the guy of his livelihood and then take $250,000 out of his pocket and say unless he pays it he can't fight," said Top Rank's Bob Arum, Castillo's American promoter.

Arum said it would have been OK for the commission to fine Castillo a small amount and suspend him, but to suspend him and fine him so heavily amounted to "persecution."

"I told (Nevada commission member) John Bailey, 'He doesn't have the money.' Bailey asked me if (Castillo) had a house in Mexico. 'Why doesn't he take a second mortgage?' I am so angry about this," Arum said. "What they did to him has been horrible. It's been terrible persecution."

The suspension ended and Castillo officially moved up to 140 pounds and won a much tougher-than-expected split decision against Herman Ngoudjo on Jan. 20 to set up the fight with Hatton, who outpointed Juan Urango in the main event of the same card.

Arum and the commission worked out a plan for Castillo to pay the hefty fine. He used a $150,000 advance from Arum against his $200,000 purse for the Ngoudjo fight to pay part of it. After taxes and paying his corner and sanctioning fee, Castillo was left with about $4,000 for his efforts.

The rest of the fine was paid last week when Arum advanced him another $100,000 against his $500,000 purse on Saturday night.

Castillo, who appeared fit and close to weight at Thursday's final news conference at the Wynn Las Vegas, just hopes to move on from the controversy about his weight.

"I believe the commission abused me, but it happened. It's over," Castillo said. "Let's get over it and look at the future. I know I let a lot of people down and I felt really bad."

The financial strain was one thing, but then came heartache.

A few days after Castillo's brother Ricardo lost a junior featherweight world title challenge to Celestino Caballero and a couple of weeks before Castillo would open training camp for the Hatton fight, another brother, Cesar, died in late March from a brain aneurysm at age 29.

After complaining of headaches, Cesar went to the hospital, where he fell into a coma and died three days later.

Jose Luis and his brother were close. In the ring before fights, Cesar, who left behind a wife and two children, was recognizable as the man holding aloft his brother's championship belts.

"I try not to think about it," said Castillo, who is dedicating the fight to Cesar. "He was a good man and he would always make it to my fights. I miss him, but right now I am trying to stay focused on the fight."

After his brother died, Castillo said it was hard to think about boxing.

"I didn't really want to go to training camp," he said. "But this is my job. I had to go. So I just went and trained."

Said Beltran, "He was very sad as he was going into training, but that has been one of his motivations, to go and train hard and look for a sensational performance."

A few weeks after Cesar's death, Corrales was speeding on his motorcycle drunk when he crashed and died in Las Vegas on May 7. He was also 29, and his death eerily happened on the second anniversary of his epic first battle with Castillo.

Even though they had hammered each other through two brutal fights and there was so much controversy over Castillo's weight, the cancellation of the third fight and Corrales' subsequent lawsuit against him, they were friendly and had deep respect for each other. Corrales' pregnant widow, Michelle, was a guest at Thursday's news conference and spoke about her late husband's respect for Castillo and about how he had been looking forward to seeing him against Hatton.

Castillo was in training camp in Tijuana when he heard about the death of his greatest rival.

"He wanted to come to his service, but he was right in the middle of his training," Beltran said. "He said he would remember Corrales in his heart and in his brain always."

Castillo said the best thing he can do to honor Corrales' memory is to keep fighting.

"I will keep him alive because whenever I fight they will always mention him," Castillo said. "We will go hand in hand. So as long as I keep fighting, it will be like he is fighting."

That is exactly what Castillo intends to do on Saturday.

"I'm here, I'm ready to fight," he said. "I just want to show everyone that I can overcome everything that has come my way."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.