THE BEST ALMOST CHAMPIONS – RUBEN CASTILLO
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As the saying goes ‘to the victor go the spoils’, but sometimes even the ones who win 95% of the time fail to get what they deserve. Today we’re looking back at a true star in boxing history, one who could have dominated in many other eras, but instead had the bad luck of competing against all-time greats.
Ruben Castillo had an incredibly long career, boxing between 1975 and 1997. Boxing through hugely competitive decades, he was a contemporary of Hall-of-Famers like Alexis Argüello, Salvador Sánchez, Juan Laporte, and Julio Cesar Chavez.
Just five years into his career, in 1980, Castillo’s impressive technicality and speed had led to him amassing a 46-0 record and a shot at WBC Super-Featherweight champion Alexis Argüello. Argüello, frequently described as the best Super-Featherweight of the 20th century and ranked 20th on the Ring Magazines ‘100 greatest punchers of all time’ list, was given an incredibly tough fight by Castillo before he was able to stop him in round 11.
Two fights and three months later Castillo challenged Salvador Sánchez for the WBC Featherweight title. Again, he put on a fantastic performance but just fell short, losing a very close decision. Many of Sánchez’s opponents, as well as boxing journalists and trainers from the time, believe that had he not tragically died at the age of 23 in a car crash in 1982, Sánchez would have gone down in history as the greatest featherweight of all time.
Castillo’s next title shot would come in 1983 against Featherweight Juan Laporte. Laporte had been able to capture the WBC Featherweight title after Salvador Sánchez’s death, having previously lost a title fight against him. After another close fight, Laporte beat Castillo by UD and once again ruined Castillo’s hopes. Laporte was another fighter who could easily dominate in another era and was only made to look ordinary by his insane opposition.
Two years later, in 1985, Ruben Castillo would get his last world title shot, this time against WBC Super-Featherweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez. At this point, Castillo’s career of title shots is starting to look like a Greek tragedy, a human hero being made to challenge giants among men. Cesar Chavez was the first of Castillo’s title challenges that weren’t a close fight. Chavez dominated Castillo before stopping him in round 6, in hindsight a predictable outcome given the boxing God that Cesar Chavez would establish himself as over the next decades.
Following his loss to Chavez, Castillo’s impressive record stood at 61-4-2. Castillo kept boxing for the next 12 years, but would never again challenge for a world title, eventually retiring at the age of 39 in 1997. His career losses until Chavez had come almost exclusively to all-time-greats, leaving him with perhaps one of the most frustrating careers in boxing history.
Many of his opponents, like Juan Laporte, have gone on record to say that not only did Ruben Castillo have a great chin, but possibly the fastest hands they faced. Castillo’s textbook technicality, quick footwork, and rapid hands made him a genuine contender and someone who could do extremely well in today’s Super-Featherweight and Featherweight division. As it stands, Castillo is looked at by many as an ‘also-ran’, his failure to become world champion leading him to be forgotten by fans.
Boxers of his era will always remember him though, for being one of their toughest fights.
Do any of our readers have memories of watching any of Castillo’s fights? Let us know.