Oct. 16, 1970: Olivares vs Castillo

The rivalry between Ruben Olivares and Jesus Castillo—one of the most revered in Mexican boxing lore—took place in an era when the bantamweight division was dominated by Mexicans, with the great “El Púas” and Chucho being the best of the bunch. Their first bout, which took place a mere six months before the rematch, saw Ruben defend his bantamweight crown in an all-action fight against a determined Castillo who in the end came up short on the scorecards. For this reason, as well as for the contrast in personalities and the melding of their fighting styles, their rematch at The Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles was highly anticipated. Thankfully, it did not fail to live up to fans’ lofty expectations.

“El Púas” (right) lands his trademark hook on arch-enemy Chucho Castillo

“El Púas” Olivares is rightly considered one of the best bantamweights of all time, and in his time was regarded as the best Mexican fighter to ever lace them up. His nickname translates as “spikes”, but it fails to accurately convey the threat his punches posed to his opponents. Ruben didn’t sting his adversaries with his shots, he pounded them; and while his right cross was emphatic, his left hook upstairs was his most valuable asset. The vicious power he possessed allowed him to put together two strings of consecutive knockouts–of 22 and 21 victories–that rank amongst the longest in the record books.

Jesus “Chucho” Castillo

As a kid, Olivares first demonstrated his fistic prowess at school, where he spent much more time hitting fellow schoolmates than the books. Young Ruben caused so much trouble that his elementary school principal offered him the diploma on a silver plate as long as he promised to stay away from the premises for the rest of the school year. Eventually, Olivares found the discipline and focus he lacked in a boxing gym. Even though he posted a solid amateur run, what he really wanted was to turn pro and get big fights as soon as possible. He garnered commercial success and popular appeal thanks to his violent style, outgoing personality, and the exciting finishes to his fights, with opponents invariably lying at his feet and his fists lifted proudly in the air.

The contrasting personalities of Olivares and Castillo were a big part of their rivalry and its appeal to fight fans. While Ruben enjoyed the spotlight—partying with Mexican celebrities and even making cameos in comedy films—Chucho was soft-spoken and maintained a low profile. Those who knew him agreed that Castillo was an introvert outside the ring, but Chucho believed that that trait inhibited him from performing to his best inside the roped square. In fact, in order to maximize his chances against “El Púas” the second time round, he went as far as seeking psychological counsel before the rematch.

Ruben “El Púas” Olivares

But the spirited competition between Olivares and Castillo really began with their efforts to dethrone bantamweight champion Lionel Rose. Chucho had his shot at the title-holder before Ruben, but the judges controversially favoured Rose in a close fight, thus igniting a riot by the heavily pro-Castillo crowd at the Los Angeles Forum where that contest took place. Eight months later, Olivares got his chance to win the belt from Rose at the same venue. Minutes before the ring walks that night, the director of the venue paid Ruben a visit in the dressing room, confessing that he feared a second riot if the Mexican didn’t emerge the victor. Olivares guaranteed that wouldn’t happen, and soundly delivered on his promise by knocking out Rose in the fifth round.

A rematch between Olivares and Castillo after their dramatic first fight was well justified by their storylines as well. “El Púas” was still undefeated and on a serious tear, beating everyone he faced by flattening them with his fearsome power. For his part, Chucho had previously participated in three rematches in his career, looking to avenge past losses; he won all three thanks to gritty determination and fistic power. If there was anyone alive who could challenge “El Púas” inside a ring, that was surely Castillo.

The early rounds of Olivares vs Castillo II were subdued, with both fighters trying to find out if anything had changed since their previous encounter. But as early as the first round, a head butt opened a gash above Ruben’s left eye, releasing blood freely, which poured down his face. The pace picked up considerably in round three while both guys scored with their trademark shots: Ruben using the left hook and Castillo landing right hands upstairs. By round five, however, the action reached a higher plateau, as both fighters traded punches freely and kept closing the distance. In a few minutes, what had begun as a lively discussion at a distance became a shouting match inside a phone booth.

Soon it became evident that the cut was bothering Olivares, even if only at a psychological level. His corner did a great job of containing the bleeding through the middle rounds as the crossfire intensified, but Ruben’s punches were clearly the less powerful ones. Castillo kept coming, launching combinations at “El Púas”, and scoring as well with the left fist as with the right. Chucho’s attack was more assertive, even if he was not dominating outright; the bout remained close throughout its entirety, with momentum shifting often within the same round.

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Olivares and Castillo rumble in their first battle.

In the ninth stanza Olivares made a big stand, pushing forward with determination and backing Castillo to the ropes. As Ruben unleashed combinations relentlessly, Chucho fought back, matching the champion punch for punch. And as the ecstatic audience celebrated the display of bravado of the champion, the two Mexican warriors pummeled each other ferociously in what had escalated to a textbook war of attrition.

As the contest moved to the championship rounds, the pace remained neck-breaking. Violent in-fighting became the norm, with exchanges to body and head, as Ruben protected as best he could his cut eye with his left glove, and with Castillo intent on breaking down Olivares and finally snatching the coveted title.

In the end, neither fighter yielded nor backed up; it was the referee who stepped in to put an end to the hostilities at the end of round fourteen, when Olivares’s blood was again flowing liberally from the cut above his eye. The stoppage meant Castillo had avenged one more of his losses, and that Olivares had lost a professional fight for the first time in his career. More importantly, it meant that the world had a new bantamweight champion: Jesus “Chucho” Castillo.  –Rafael García   

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