It’s easy for me to say Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I is the Fight of the Decade, under the circumstances. It’s because I think it’s the best fight ever. Period.
There are good arguments for Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns and Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III, among a handful of others. If you haven’t watched Castillo-Corrales, though, I want you to stop reading right now. I want you to go watch the whole fight, sans any description of what happens in it. I then want you to come back and tell me how many days it took you to believe what you saw.
I have the fight on my iPod, and forget, occasionally, that I have it there. When I’m on a long flight, I’m always happy to rediscover it. I’ve seen it so many times that when I show it to people by way of proof that boxing, at its finest, blows every other sport out of the water, I sometimes mumble the lines of Showtime broadcasters Al Bernstein and Steve Albert at the same time they do. (P.S.: It never fails. Nobody who sees Castillo-Corrales [Why’s it usually in that order, by the way, even though Corrales won?] can deny boxing’s greatness, not that I’ve met yet.)
As recently as the late 1990s, I had serious moral qualms about boxing, and I still harbor a few. By around 2002, I’d begun to watch fairly regularly, largely because I’d come down with a bout of insomnia and with live boxing, I never knew the ending, unlike the infomercials and television reruns that are often on at late hours. I became a real boxing fan after another Fight of the Decade candidate, Toney-Jirov, when something HBO commentator Jim Lampley said crystalized the sport for me: “It is amazing that humans can do this.” But Castillo-Corrales turned me into a boxing fanatic.
I actually believe Castillo-Corrales is a monument to what mankind can achieve. Corrales getting up after two knockdowns to score a knockout in that same 10th round — a round in which Corrales probably needed a knockout because the ringside physician was right on the verge of stopping the fight due to his badly swollen eyes — is as good an example of mind over matter as exists. It’s why, a few years ago, then-New York Jets coach Eric Mangini played it before a game for his team. The Jets won, 23-16. I couldn’t make this up.
None of this, by the way, takes into account that even if you sliced off the ending to Castillo-Corrales, it still would have been a strong contender for Fight of the Decade. For nine rounds, these two lightweights exchanged dozens upon dozens of head-snapping, knee-weakening power shots, and both absorbed inhuman amounts of punishment. They went one better than toe-to-toe — they were cheek-to-cheek. Several times, both of them were in danger of going down, and somehow nobody did until the 10th. Castillo never even went down at all. Knowing their back stories, everyone anticipated this would be a classic; Castillo was the unhurtable force, Corrales the unstoppable power with a dubious chin but not a dubious heart. But few saw it live, and it’s become kind of Woodstock moment in boxing, where everyone said they were there.
It says a lot for Castillo-Corrales that it shared space in the 2000s with two fights each from the Gatti-Ward, Barrera-Morales and Vazquez-Marquez trilogies and came out on top. There’s plenty of lore from Castillo-Corrales I’d love to revisit, but I think it’s overdue that somebody writes a book about the fight. If that person’s me, I’d like to save some of it for then.
Ten years of boxing, boiled down to the “best of” in four categories: Round of the Decade, Knockout of the Decade, Fight of the Decade and Fighter of the Decade.
Sunday: Round of the Decade candidates, plus Knockout of the Decade candidates. Monday: Round of the Decade and Knockout of the Decade winners and Fight of the Decade candidates. Today: Fight of the Decade winner now, plus Fighter of the Decade top 10 later. Wednesday: an awards-season Open Thread.