This Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, WBC lightweight king Jose Luis Castillo will attempt to complete one of the most productive years in recent
memory by unifying his belt against WBO titlist Diego "Chico" Corrales on Showtime (9pm ET/PT).
Since last June, Castillo has downed Juan Lazcano to win the vacant WBC title, caught up to Joel Casamayor in the late rounds in December, and most recently, he wore down Julio Diaz in March.
Castillo would get just 10 days off to bask in the glow of his win over Diaz. After visiting relatives in Sonora, he immediately would begin training for Corrales.
He admits that getting right back into camp was a bit tedious.
"Sometimes it does get real boring to go right back," said Castillo through Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez. "I didn't have much time to relax. This is a sacrifice
that is good, this is what I have to do."
At the opening press conference in Las Vegas to kick off this promotion, Castillo readily admitted that he dreaded going back into camp so soon, which piqued the
interest of Corrales' trainer, Joe Goossen.
"He kinda said what I had figured and I talked to Diego about it. That of course he had been out for a while, there's a two-edged sword, because when you fight a
lot and you fight stiff competition and you go to training camps there's a definite burnout factor there," Goossen explained from his gym in Van Nuys a few weeks back. "And he had just finished Diaz, and within two weeks, they said he had to go back to camp again.
"That's hard, to remotivate yourself to get back in there. I've been through it; when you do back to back to back fights, when you have those two, three training camps in a row, that's very hard on the body, mentally and physically."
Of course, old-timers must laugh at this type of talk. There was a time when men like Henry Armstrong used to make three or four title defenses in a single month.
But it's a different era we live in today, an era when a fighter – such as Castillo – who has four tough fights in 11 months is considered extremely busy.
"The other guy may be a little worn out going into this camp," Goossen said of Castillo. "It may be a real low energy camp for him because even though it's a big fight, to motivate your body, it's a lil' fatigued. On the other hand, Diego, we had three fights in a row," says Goossen of Corrales' last three bouts against Joel Casamayor (twice) and Acelino Freitas, which took place last August. "Those three camps in a row take their toll on you. All that sparring, running, strength work – sometimes you need a break to have a little fun, put on a little weight and then you've got something to go back and work off of. You've gotten all the fun out of the way, so you can attack your gym work with enthusiasm and vigor.
"And I think that's the position we're in and I think alternately Castillo's in a position where he stated quite unequivocally, "I'm going to have a hard time getting back into camp.'"
Castillo says that he has had no problems getting back into the swing of things and the quick turnaround into the Corrales fight should alleviate a problem that has
plagued him in the past – the battle to make 135 pounds.
It wouldn't be unusual for Castillo – who is perhaps the most physically imposing lightweight of this past era – to walk around in the 150'sand be forced to starve himself to the lightweight limit.
"I think it'll help me not getting out of shape, it really helps me to make weight and I shouldn't have any problems making 135," Castillo said last week.
After being relegated to the Telefutura-circuit in 2003 after his back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr., with long layoffs in between his bouts, Castillo is in no way complaining about his recent itinerary.
"I love it," he says of his recent schedule. "I love staying active, fighting big fights people want to see. I've enjoyed it, and I think these are tremendous fights for the public, for myself and they're very important. But the ones after Corrales are even more important. That's why I have to beat Corrales."
But not only does Castillo like staying busy, the reality is that he has no choice in the matter. Unlike his stablemate Erik Morales, despite being a Mexican with an impressive resume, Castillo, while earning the respect of the boxing world, has not translated that into success at the box office.
But he just keeps fighting on and currently he's on the most impressive run in the sport.
"Absolutely," says Bob Arum. "He's a real fighter, he loves to fight and he never, ever, ever, ever asks for a soft touch. He never says, 'Hey, when am I going to
get an easy fight?' Because he realizes that unlike some of these other guys, that he is what he is as far as being a draw and in order for him to attract attention, he has to fight the best guys out there."
Jimenez believes that Castillo has been overshadowed by a cadre of his countrymen who have transcended their demographic and their weight class.
"I think there are so many good Mexican fighters right now and he doesn't really live in Mexico City, so that's always hard to get, the publicity," he explains. "He's known, probably besides Morales and Barrera, they probably know him as well as any of the other boxers. I just think there's too many of them."
But you'd figure a guy who was once the sparring partner of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez would get a bit more love from his people. But as Larry Holmes
once found out, being the sparring mate of a legendary fighter can cast a shadow that is oftentimes difficult to get out from under.
"That only takes you so far," says Jimenez. "I think he's always been a bit unappreciated. People didn't think he was going to get to this level. Some Mexicans
win a title and will defend it once and then they'll lose it and everybody forgets about those guys. I think everybody expects him to lose the next fight. Even most of the Mexicans, when he was fighting Stevie Johnston, they thought he was going to lose."
Perhaps if he didn't get the short end of a controversial decision versus the "Pretty Boy" in April of 2002, he would have then received the adulation received by a Morales or Barrera. After all, any Mexican with a win over a Mayweather – any Mayweather– will receive plaudits from his countrymen.
"Then with Mayweather the second time around, they didn't know if he could make it back with the weight and everything," continued Jimenez. "He had a lot of
critics, even in the Mexican press, about him being able to make the weight and then actually winning the title."
He didn't. Mayweather would clearly out-point Castillo in the rematch and it's just now that 'El Temible' has regained the momentum he once had.
The time and place when a fighter becomes a household name in this sport is oftentimes an intangible that's hard to compute. Fighters, no matter how talented or accomplished, sometimes never stumble upon the right set of circumstances that lift them to the next plateau of stardom.
Jimenez, who wrote for the highly influential Latin publication La Opinion, from 1986 to 2000, before joining Top Rank, remembers when the great Chavez crossed over fully.
"I think it was the 'Macho' Camacho fight," he says of the 1992 encounter against the flamboyant Puerto Rican. "I thought that fight had a lot of intensity about it. Camacho spoke both languages, he was well-known to everyone, he marketed himself very well and I think it was one of those fights that people enjoyed watching, seeing Chavez shut the guy up."
It's hard to believe that fight meant more to his marketability than his wins over Edwin Rosario and Meldrick Taylor.
"Oh, yeah, definitely," he insists. "That's the one where beating him, to me, that was the biggest moment of his career. After that he could do anything – lose, win, whatever. But winning that fight was huge."
Most likely Castillo will never have an event of that stature, but beating Corrales will take him to another level, where bigger fights and paydays await.
"He beats Diego Corrales, I have a commitment from Showtime that they will use every effort in the world to match him with Kostya Tszyu," says Arum.
Tszyu is scheduled to face Ricky Hatton in Manchester, England in June, but is heavily favored in that fight. Tszyu-Castillo or Corrales is something that interests
"Oh, absolutely," says Showtime's boxing czar, Jay Larkin, of that possibility. "Both 'Chico' and Castillo have expressed that they want to fight Kostya should he beat Ricky. That would be a tremendous fight; we'd love to make it happen. Again, we don't make matches, we're not matchmakers, we're not promoters, we buy
fights. But we certainly have the ability to let the promoters know what we're interested in buying.
"We'd very much like to put on the winner of Hatton-Tszyu versus the winner of Castillo-Corrales."
But first things first. Castillo has to get past a fighter who is perhaps the most dangerous puncher he's ever faced.
"On paper I would say so," Castillo agreed. "But we haven't faced each other in the ring. So I'll never know until I face him and actually feel his power."
Castillo has shown a sturdy chin since bursting onto the world-class scene in 2000, when he dethroned Johnston for the WBC title. But he was stopped by the likes of Ivan Alvarez, Javier Jauregui (twice) and Cesar Soto, which he explains away by saying, "Cuts were involved in a few of them. I think I was robbed a couple of times and they stopped the fights at the wrong time."
But those losses seem like a lifetime ago, because Castillo is a different fighter today, one that is highly accomplished and decorated, but one still fighting for respect.
"I think we're getting there, but not 100-percent, yet," he says. "I think there's still a lot of questions from some people. But I think after I win this fight, I think I'll get the full recognition as an elite fighter."