Hatton vs. Castillo


Maybe he was already broken. Maybe he wasn’t. In either case, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Jose Luis Castillo back together after Manchester’s own Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton caught him with a vicious left hook to the liver that put him on the canvas and kept him there.

After struggling with sub par opponents in January, both Hatton and Castillo were being written off by a great portion of the boxing public albeit for different reasons. Hatton, celebrated as one of the more exciting fighters in the world, looked unimpressive in his unanimous decision win over Juan Urango while Castillo struggled to earn a split decision against Hermann Ngoudjo. Having to hold and hit his way to an easy but ugly points victory, Hatton was said to have lost his luster as an all-action combatant. Meanwhile Castillo was more harshly labeled as over-the-hill for not being able to have his way with a young unknown. On the night of June 23, one of these arguments seemed to hold a bit of weight. The other, however, was completely negated.

In front of a raucous crowd made up largely of British and Mexican factions that rivaled the atmosphere of the Miguel Cotto-Zab Judah fight in Madison Square Garden two weeks ago, Hatton and Castillo went toe-to-toe as advertised in the Thomas and Mack Center. What was not expected was the early end to the fight that came about thanks to a picture perfect liver shot from Hatton, who is often heralded as the best body puncher in the sport. With one crippling blow, Hatton ruined any chance of creating the classic for the ages he had expressed a desire to compete in earlier in the week, but that was more than all right for his boisterous British fan base, which sang continuously throughout the fight to motivate their man and created a surreal atmosphere in Las Vegas the likes of which has rarely, if ever, been seen.

Accompanied by compatriots Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Jorge Arce, Castillo was fighting not only for the pride of Mexico but also with the incentive to get out of the debts incurred by failing to make weight against Diego Corrales a year ago. Adding such burdens to the fact that he had been in so many wars throughout his career, including the epic struggle against Corrales, many were skeptical that Castillo could handle the pressure of another physically taxing slugfest. In the end, he couldn’t make it halfway through.

Hatton pounced from the first bell on, trying to rough Castillo up by holding and hitting as is his custom. After taking a wrong step, Castillo dipped down, leaving himself exposed, and caught a pair of body shots. Hatton proceeded to smack a right hand over the back of Castillo’s head and push him down onto his gloves. Though Referee Joe Cortez correctly ruled Castillo the victim of a slip, Hatton had established himself as the aggressor, a role he would retain for the rest of the evening whether landing punches or wrestling. Before the end of round one, Cortez took care to lay down the law in the early going, telling both guys he didn’t want to see any holding.

That particular tactic happens to be a big part of both men’s style and thus became an unavoidable part of the fight. Hatton, it turns out, is much better at it, knowing when to punch and when to grip. Whenever Castillo managed to free himself, Hatton would punish him with brief combinations made up of short, sharp punches. Especially effective for Hatton was the uppercut, which he used to snap Castillo’s head up on several occasions. At the end of the first round, Castillo returned to his corner with a bloody nose for his efforts.

Though he caught two warnings for low blows, Castillo got some good work done in the third, the only round he could make an argument for winning. Cortez had warned Hatton during the instructions that his trunks were a bit high, but Castillo’s punches still strayed too low for the referee’s liking, forcing Castillo to watch where he put his punches for the rest of the fight. Answering back with his own uppercuts, Castillo managed to hold his own and trade with Hatton up until the bell, giving the fans their money’s worth and offering a bit of hope for the Mexican faithful.

Unfortunately for Castillo, he could not maintain his success beyond that round. A belt line low blow in the fourth round cost him a point to put him right back in dire straits. Though the call was debatable, Castillo didn’t offer up any objections, deciding instead to fight his way back into contention if possible. The relentless Hatton, however, wasn’t ready to let him back in so easily. After faking a left hook upstairs, Hatton connected with one to the body, striking Castillo right behind the elbow on the liver. Castillo experienced a delayed reaction as it took him a moment to turn completely away and drop to a knee beside the ropes, clutching his side, his mouthpiece sticking out and his nose bleeding.

It was the first knockdown Castillo had ever suffered in his 17-year career. Moments later, either unable or unwilling to get to his feet, it turned out be the first time he was officially knocked out. Cortez reached the count of 10 without seeing Castillo even attempt to get to his feet, perhaps acknowledging and accepting the twilight of his career as he bowed his head and closed his eyes.

Everyone expected a war, but few could have anticipated the ease with which Hatton conquered his usually indomitable opponent. Without a doubt, “The Hitman” lived up to his moniker on this night, taking out a man that had hardly taken a step backwards in over 60 fights. Whether or not he gets credit for defeating Castillo, the means by which Hatton accomplished the task are unprecedented and therefore admirable. The British fans packing the Thomas and Mack Center certainly thought so as they hung onto Hatton’s every word during the postfight interview and cheered in response to whatever their man had to say. For what may be the first time in boxing history, Las Vegas, on this night, provided sights and sounds more comparable to Great Britain than much closer Mexico, and we have Ricky Hatton to thank for it. Hatton’s “British Invasion,” announced prematurely in his shaky arrival to the United States last year, has begun.