It is 1980 and Alexis Arguello is a two-time world champion, already regarded as a future Hall of Famer, if not an all-time great. The Nicaraguan is the proud bearer of the WBC junior lightweight championship belt and such is his reputation that the WBC’s number one contender, Frankie Baltazar, cannot accept the offer of a title shot because manager Jackie McCoy won’t let him inside the same ring as Arguello. Suffice to say, no higher compliment can be paid a reigning champion than top contenders turning down chances to fight him.
So instead of Baltazar, it was Ruben Castillo, a featherweight, who was offered the chance to battle for Arguello’s title. Unlike Baltazar, Castillo decided a title shot is a title shot, even if it isn’t in one’s preferred weight class. The match took place in Tucson, Arizona and was carried live on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports. Castillo was undefeated in 45 fights, but he had yet to face a truly formidable contender and was moving up in weight to challenge “El Caballero del Ring.” Thus the oddsmakers made him a solid 5-to-1 underdog.
But despite the fact few gave Castillo a serious chance to win, the challenger put up a valiant effort. The crowd was solidly behind the American and he gave them plenty to cheer about as he boxed smartly in the early and middle rounds, moving away from Arguello’s power and then countering with quick punches when the champion left himself open. He showed speed and good hustle while Alexis patiently pressured his man, landing heavy shots to the challenger’s ribs and belly when he had the chance.
Castillo was keeping the match close, and even winning rounds, but while he was more active than the champion, Arguello was clearly stronger and more powerful. His body attack was taking its toll and by round eight Castillo was running out of answers, not to mention stamina. In round ten Arguello punished the challenger with power shots to both head and body and in round 11 a left hook to the liver put Castillo on the canvas. Clearly in agony, he bravely got to his feet but the referee wisely stopped the fight, giving Arguello his 13th championship win.
“[Castillo] fought a very good fight,” said Arguello afterwards. “He knew what to do out there. He boxed me very well. But I knew I would begin to hurt him and slow him down. I have a lot of respect for Ruben. He has nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I thought I was doing very well,” said Castillo. “I was surprised at how strong he was. Much stronger than I thought. I didn’t want this fight but the money was too good to turn down. From now on, I’m only going to fight as a featherweight.”
The challenger boxed with courage and skill, but he was in the ring with a prime Alexis Arguello and something more was required to defeat this future legend. Very soon “The Explosive Thin Man” would move up to the lightweight division to become only the sixth man in boxing history to win three divisional world titles. And only a fighter as great as Aaron Pryor could stop him from winning a fourth. — Robert Portis