“That might be the single most extraordinary comeback within a round to win a fight that has ever happened,” claimed Al Bernstein, the Hall-of-fame broadcaster.
When you think of the greatest rounds in boxing history, one of the first that leaves the lips of boxing fans is the tenth round of the first encounter between Diego Corrales vs. Juan Luis Castillo. The stanza had everything you could wish for over 12 rounds, knockdowns, point deductions and a knockout. All-out action crammed into three minutes.
Corrales was floored twice before being deducted a point for spitting out his gumshield on the second set of the referee's counts. Diego was heading for a 10-7 round against him; with his left eye already closed from punishment received earlier in the fight, Corrales was seemingly losing grip on the victory.
In the corner of ‘Chico' was the experienced Joe Goossen, who reminisced with NY Fights on that spectacular round.
“To me, we were ahead, even if the scorecards were not what I'm saying. But it felt like we were ahead after nine, okay? But it was a close fight all the way; I won't doubt that all the way. I think we had a good first four rounds, especially.” Corrales was ahead at the time of the stoppage, with judges Daniel Van de Wiele 86-85 and Lou Moret 87-84 scoring in favour of Diego and judge Paul Smith 87-84 for Castillo.
“So, I think we banked some early rounds, which was my strategy to do that, to go out there and kind of submarine them and go in the pocket and work on the inside. They probably figured we were going to box because of our height and range, but that just wasn't in Diego's make-up and I knew it. So, I knew Diego could fight on the inside, and they were probably expecting that we were not going to fight on the inside. I figured we might have the element of surprise early on, bank some rounds and bang him up a little bit. I think that worked because had we not done that and softened him up a little bit early, I think it would have been difficult to knock out Castillo in 10. He had never been knocked out before.
So knowing that I knew we had to soften him up early or else he was going to be fresh down the road and he was fresh, he was able to put Diego down twice in the tenth. But exerting that energy to put Diego down and try to finish him also can drain your energy bank. I think Castillo had used a considerable amount of time and energy trying to knock out Diego in that tenth round. And the fact is, I refer back to our conditioning; it was an incredible camp with Diego for that fight.
Even after getting dropped twice in that 10th round, which would normally kind of take all the energy out of the guy getting dropped, as well as it takes energy to try to knock the guy out, he recovered so well. And then it turns out because he worked so hard in that camp that our punching power was still evident, even in the tenth round. And that's, I think, because of the conditioning and the fact that it was a rugged fight for both guys. That again, when you have an equally talented competitor across from you, it boils down to who is in better shape at the end of the day, and even though we got dropped twice, we were in better shape, we were able to get up and then turn the screws on Castillo, and surprising him. I'm sure he was going, ‘What the hell?' I thought I had this guy out, and now he's punching harder than ever. And he was.”
As Goossen reapplied the gumshield back into his fighter's mouth, albeit admittedly at a delayed pace to buy his charge a few more vital seconds, the trainer bellowed at his fighter, “you gotta fucking get inside on him now,” almost as if he knew the end of the fight was near.
“Diego, he came back to the corner on the second knockdown; when I put the mouthpiece back in, I had one last chance of encouragement to pass to him. And he was clear-eyed… Look, he was arguing with the referee about taking a point away from him. So those were the things that were encouraging to me as I looked at Diego; if you look at body language and somebody getting up from a knockdown, there are all sorts of looks you can see. And the look that I saw was positive for me. Because he got up strong, he went down very… He went down; it looked like it was a type of knockdown you aren't going to get up from, but when he did get up, he was strong; he was arguing with the referee. And those are all good signs to me that I could make some determinations where we were, where he was physically and mentally at that point.
So when he did come back to the corner to get his mouthpiece, I felt comfortable not telling him to hold, and I felt comfortable not telling him to run, but I felt comfortable telling him to go back in there and take care of business. So you have choices as to what to say to a guy when they get knocked down, depending on how hurt you think they are. But the signs were all pointing to encourage him to get back in there now and turn the tables on Castillo, and that's exactly what he did. So I'm glad I gave him those instructions, and I'm even happier that he was able to follow them and then just pull out one of the great turn-around upsets that you could ever see. And that's what he did; he was an amazing warrior. God, he was good. He was so good.”
It's in those moments that define a fighter. Have you got it in you to grit your teeth and show you've got balls? Go out on your shield, win, lose or draw. ‘Chico' showed a whole lot of grit and balls and gained legendary status for it. “I've trained a lot of guys let me tell you; This guy was something else. He had an intestinal fortitude; he had a desire to win; he didn't care how rough it got; he thrived on that to tell you the truth. He was a very… Outside of the ring, maybe one of the greatest, sweetest guys you'll ever meet, seriously. He was just so much fun and so soft-spoken and intelligent. But inside that ring, when he flipped that switch, whoa man, he was just the epitome of what I really liked in a fighter. I can't express how much I appreciated Diego Corrales, as a friend, as a fighter and as a warrior champion. Yeah, it was just amazing.”
They say it takes two to tango but in boxing, it's easily forgotten that three's not a crowd. During this spectacle, the man in the middle was referee Tony Weeks. A man who Goossen placed a lot of praise upon for how he dealt with this war and claims if not for Weeks we may not be talking about it now.
“I've said it before and I'll say it again, Tony Weeks was the man of his time. I could not see anybody else as great as the referees that are out there then and now. I have to tell you; I think it was destiny that Tony Weeks was in the ring that night because he really handled it like a pro. And if not for him, we may have been deprived of that legendary comeback, and he let the fighters fight; there was very little clinching. There were a few punches straight and low, but both fighters were respectful of that, and nobody was intentionally trying to do anything like that. But they're great body punches, and sometimes those punches are going to go a little bit below the belt and nobody got hit squarely low, purposely.
So Tony Weeks would reprimand when appropriate, but he stayed out of the fight because he knew the two guys, and he knew how they fought. And Tony Weeks, he was a veteran, even at that point. And man, I just say, anybody else that night in there, reffing that fight, it could have turned out differently. So I've always given Tony Weeks a lot of credit for how he handled that fight by not interfering in it too often. Only really, when it was totally necessary for him to do it did he. And that's why it was so great.
And he didn't panic. See, I think Tony judged Diego's condition very quickly and very accurately in the tenth round, which is something that the great referees can do. They can size up, just like I sized up Diego's condition from my vantage point in the corner; I was very encouraged by his body language and otherwise. And Tony Weeks, I think, observed the same thing; it is why he let that fight go on by Diego's physical response and his verbal response to Tony Weeks. He didn't panic, and he allowed the fight to go on; he knew it was a nip and tuck fight and that we're almost close to the end of the fight and he just made, God, all the right decisions, thankfully. But I cannot give him enough credit because I think that was a real pressure-cooker situation for any referee. And that was a five-star performance by Tony Weeks.”
This was to be Diego Corrales' final victory, for he was tragically taken from his friends and family two years to the day after this battle with Castillo. May 7 is a day to be remembered, not mourned.