A Parallel Between a Mexican and a Puerto Rican
By Antonio Santiago, Doghouse Boxing (Sept 21, 2010)  
Just last night, I was watching the great 1939 story, "The Champ", a heart-warming movie about a boxer who dies trying to give his son the best he can afford. Just before he died, 'The Champ', one of the film's two main characters, asks his son, the other main character, if he is proud of him.

Deaths do occur occasionally to celebrities during their performances. In 1979, the great Oscar Walenda died in my own country, Puerto Rico, while performing a tightrope act crossing one hotel building to the other hotel in front of it (I actually stayed at that very same hotel, now one hotel and not two like it used to be, during my 2008 vacation back home). There hasn't been any baseball injury related deaths since more than six decades. Brandon Lee died of a freakish accident during filming of "The Crow" in the early 1990's, and Owen Hart died from another freakish accident, a fall, before a Wrestling "match" some years ago. But those are few and far in between accidents. How many times has a fashion designer or a model died during a show? How many singers you remember whose deaths were played in front of a large television audience live? Sadly, boxing is the only endeavor in which the celebrities we admire and respect are at a very risk of getting permanently hurt in front of our eyes.

But when I was a kid, I did not understand that well. Sure, Duk Koo Kim had just died when I turned into a boxing fanatic. At that time, Wilfred Benitez, one of our Puerto Rican heroes, was just sliding as far as his skills, but still near his prime enough so that at least his fans held some hope of him conquering Marvelous Marvin Hagler in a future superbout down the road and winning what would have been a history making fourth world title. Even as a fan of Hagler myself also, I still thought a fight between Hagler and Benitez would be intriguing enough for me to watch it on HBO while wondering who'd win until the end. I mean, Wilfred had just gotten over Tony Cerda Jr. by a one point, split decision, but he had just lost a fairly close fight to Thomas Hearns, who is...well, none other than Thomas Hearns, right?

Well, right and wrong. Right because it was Tommy Hearns that we are talking about and, two years later, Wilfred would muster enough of the old magic back to ruin the career of undefeated sensation Kevin Moley. But in the meantime, he got whupped by Mustapha Hamsho and Davey Moore, not winning a single of the 14 rounds he went against them. I am also a fan of those two fighters, but with all due respect to them, they'd been cleaning Master Benitez's boots during Wilfred's prime.

Time, I guess as they say, makes one wiser. I am not that same kid who, one year after Benitez's 1983, was overly excited to see Sugar Ray Leonard come back to boxing in 1984. I've seen enough to know that usually, unless you are George Foreman or Larry Holmes, you do not have a second run similar to your first one. And that the last thing boxers lose is not their reflexes, speed or power, but their hope.

27 years later in the calendar, we have another guy who is dreaming and talking about title shots. Jose Luis Castillo was one of the great fighters of the 2000's and may someday join Benitez in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, although, honestly, I am not so convinced of that latter assessment as some seem to be. He beat Stevie Johnston in 2000 to win the WBC world Lightweight title once carried by Duran, Watt, Arguello, Rosario and Chavez among others. It was a fight that many thought controversial at the end but I personally saw no controversy in the win. He did, in my not so humble opinion, beat Johnston fair and square. Castillo and Johnston fought to a draw in a rematch I cannot comment on because I've never seen it, and then he got jobbed against Floyd Mayweather, and I'd say he actually was robbed by the judges twice against Floyd, even as most thought Floyd did indeed win the second time around. He also had those two wonderful wars with Diego Corrales, the first of which he lost after having Corrales all but out in the same round, and the second in which he won in murky circumstances at best.

After beating one of the boxing world's passers by recently in Mexicali, Mexico, by a second round knockout, Castillo told TV Azteca's cameras that he expects to fight for another world title in December. Who is he kidding? Maybe too many Coronas before that fight?

Castillo is now sliding just like Benitez was in 1983. He still has enough to beat most, but he just got shown by Alfonso Gomez a few months ago. Like Mustapha Hamsho did to Benitez so many moons ago, Gomez absolutely outclassed Castillo, a rival Gomez could not have even been in the same street with had they both been in their prime. Hoping maybe for a superfight against Manny Pacquiao down the road, Castillo fights on. But like in Wilfred Benitez's case, the road down has been far harder and more uphill than the road up, and I am afraid it will only keep getting even more and more hard. He wins against whom he was always supposed to win against, and loses to those who wouldn't stand a chance against him before.

Little known fact to most is that Benitez actually lived in Argentina for one year because an unscrupulous promoter stole his documents while he was there for a fight in 1987. The way Castillo is going, it would not surprise me if the United States and Mexico revoked his license to box and he ended up stranded in Guatemala or Honduras for one year himself after going there to fight! Castillo's career has taken an eerily similar turn to Benitez's, and as a longtime friend of the Puerto Rican three time world Champion, I can't help but worry that Castillo may end up like Benitez is currently: penniless but worse, punch drunk and diseased.

After all, boxing has had one too many "The Champs" already.

Please send all Questions and comments to Antonio at TJ69662094@aol.com.

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