The most debated fight in Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s undefeated career is unquestionably his first bout with Jose Luis Castillo on April 20, 2002. Mayweather was 27-0 and moving up to 135 pounds for the first time, where Castillo (45-4-1, 41 KO at the time) held the WBC's title. Their rematch a few months later would decide the Ring Magazine lightweight championship, crowning Mayweather as the division's first Ring champion since Pernell Whitaker moved up to 140 pounds in 1992.
When Mayweather goes on and on about his flawless pro record, a lot of detractors point to this very fight as a gift from the judges. To this day, Floyd haters and Floyd admirers alike call this his toughest fight ever, and to most people, it's the only one you can even argue that he just might have lost.
This is also one of the most controversial fights of the decade, famous for a mid-fight Larry Merchant rant against Vic Drakulich and the fact that it seemed then and now that the vast majority of the public scored this fight for Castillo. I dare not to offer any "definitive" opinion, just one of a million.
I've had several people ask me if doing a round-by-round for classic fights ever crossed my mind, and it has. I figure now's as good a time as any to start.
Larry Merchant praises Mayweather's wins over Genaro Hernandez and Diego Corrales before the bell, and wonders if Castillo's nine-pound advantage in the ring will be a factor.
Mayweather dominates the opening minute with speed, Castillo landing nothing of note. Floyd moves all over the ring fluidly, taking Castillo on a tour of their work space for the night. Floyd sneaks in a few shots in the second minute, nothing notable, but Castillo does very little and almost refuses to be the aggressor.
Castillo swings a big left uppercut a couple times, looking to counter with it, but can't find it. Easy round to score for Mayweather. Castillo's nose is bloodied at the end of round one.
Mayweather's corner: Roger, Rafael Garcia, and Leonard Ellerbe. All these years later, still the same.
Floyd swings a left hook, Castillo goes down, but it's ruled a slip. Big clash of heads with 1:54 remaining in the round, both men hurt by it, slight cut on Mayweather. Floyd still moving, still waiting for JLC to set him up with counter opportunities, and finding himself waiting longer than any counter-puncher really wants to. At some point, somebody's gotta do something, and a guy like Floyd hates to lead the dance more than just about anything.
Quick right hand by Mayweather as Castillo slowly lunges at him. Nearly happens again in the exact same spot of the ring. It's a curious first two rounds for Jose Luis Castillo, who is being dominated at this point.
George Foreman agrees with the Mayweather corner: Keep jabbing, stay away from the ropes. So within moments, Mayweather gets himself on the ropes, but he slips away without taking a shot. Floyd jabbing to the body. Castillo missing just about everything. Mayweather continues slipping and jabbing, Castillo keeps trying to find a chance to get Floyd pinned somewhere and do some work. Castillo with a left to the body, and then a right to the head. Castillo misses a roundhouse right near the bell. Could be scored a Floyd round, but he landed nothing of significance whatsoever. Castillo landed the two best punches of the round.
I rarely score even rounds, but this was one.
You can see Castillo deciding to open up the offense more in the early part of the round, and Mayweather seems no more comfortable now than he did in the first three rounds, when he was frustrated by Castillo's unwillingness to engage and give him any counter chances. Castillo keeping his hands high, blocking a lot of Floyd's hooks, which have leaned on the wild side. Mayweather going southpaw now and again, and there's a right uppercut shot in while Floyd side-steps defensively. He saw an opening and made something happen. Castillo was also warned for using his head.
There's Floyd pulling the "oh no, my back is to you now" move that he pulled on Ricky Hatton five years later. Uppercut from Castillo sneaks in, and frankly, this was a big Castillo round. Floyd was out of his element in this round.
Very quick between-rounds ad for an upcoming Boxing After Dark, with Lampley remarking, "You like Boxing After Dark? May 18th, a classic Boxing After Dark matchup." He mentions no names, just a graphic on the screen and Lampley briefly remarking that it's a good fight.
The fight? Gatti-Ward.
Lederman gives the fourth to Mayweather. Beautiful counter left hand from Mayweather out of the southpaw stance. Floyd putting together some good shots in the first half of the round, and Castillo keeps coming right at him. Nasty body shot for Castillo with about 40 seconds left in the round. He fires upstairs now, with Floyd dodging back, then popping a potshot. Straight right from Castillo misses, but then he follows up with a flurry upstairs. Castillo goes to the body just before the bell.
Roger tells Floyd to stop going southpaw. Castillo's corner tells him to go to the body.
Mayweather working the jab, Castillo pursuing and chasing. Mayweather backs Castillo down, then ducks a jab and clinches up. He clinches up again the next time Castillo comes to him. Floyd popping the jab, making JLC miss with just about everything, but also clinching every time he feels like he might be in any trouble whatsoever. BIG straight right by Castillo, best punch of the round. Floyd comes back with a good left hook. Mayweather continually warned for holding. He grabs up again, Castillo hits him to the body and Floyd falls down on half a shove. Castillo warned for "wrestling," which is absurd. He didn't initiate the grappling. Castillo with some good shots, Mayweather with a right, Castillo with a good left, and another round for Castillo, making that two straight rounds I don't think you can argue as being for Mayweather.
After six rounds, Lederman has it 3-3, and Merchant has it 4-2 for Floyd. Floyd with good counter shots in the first minute, as he moves around the ring. Floyd takes a couple blows on the ropes. First two minutes of the round are Floyd getting it closer to where he wants it, ripping some good counters and making Castillo miss upstairs, though JLC is landing some body shots. Castillo with big shots near the end of the round, and he steals this round.
Mayweather snapping the jab, really working it in quite well, using his legs and finally staying off the ropes. Lampley starts comparing the fight to Taylor-Chavez, but it's really nothing like that at all. Castillo with some body shots, but this is Mayweather in his comfort zone, taking over the pace and making Castillo work really hard to land very little. When the 10 second warning sound, referee Vic Drakulich takes a point from Jose Luis Castillo. Then the classic exchange happens:
Foreman: "That's what you want a referee to do."
Merchant: "I feel this referee has been altogether too involved in the fight, too officious."
One can't help but wonder if Larry hadn't been waiting to use "officious" for some time.
Mayweather 10-9 (-1 point extra to Castillo)
Beautiful counter right by Mayweather, and here we go, as Larry Merchant freaks out:
"Now why was the referee in there breaking them up? They had broken themselves up, and they were ready to keep fighting." (Drakulich breaks them again, and tells them to 'calm it down') "What do you mean 'CALM IT DOWN?' It's a FIGHT! Referee's tellin' two fighters who wanna fight to CALM IT DOWN? HE should calm down! Nobody paid to see this referee!"
Classic. Castillo with a body shot as we return to action, and he's working the round beautifully in the first minute and change. The other key point is how little Mayweather is using his right hand now, which was due to injury. Castillo drives a lot of the pace still, even slowing down, and lands some decent shots this round. Mayweather lands a shot just after the bell, or maybe just before, and Drakulich considers taking a point...but doesn't.
Harold has it 85-85 through 10.
Castillo chasing again, and it's clear he's slowing down. Mayweather works a good round, but Castillo turns up the heat in the final minute, and Mayweather is warned for shoving him. Mayweather then gets a point taken with about 12 seconds left for using the elbow. So the point deductions are even. A hard round to score. Mayweather outclassed him early in the round, but Castillo outlanded him and did some excellent work late in the round. I think Floyd ekes it out.
Mayweather 10-9 (-1 point for Mayweather)
Roger gives rare advice: Stand, punch, and move out. You rarely see the Mayweather corner rattled, but they are.
Castillo trying to dig away, trying to dictate pace, and he's finding a Floyd Mayweather in front of him that is nervous, unsure of himself, and just plain uncomfortable in this fight. Mayweather struggles to make it a fight, because that's not his game, but with about a minute left, he finds himself landing some really good shots. Castillo, though, leans on him, fires back, and eats Mayweather's shots. It's winnable for either in the last 30 seconds, and then Mayweather steals it by making Castillo hit a lot of elbows and landing some good blows of his own. Castillo's body work was strong again, but Mayweather closely wins a battle he shouldn't, at least for one round.
"We've seen upsets of Hamed, of Lewis, of Trinidad, of Mosley in the last year. Is this yet another one?" -- Larry Merchant
Mayweather back to the "running," and Castillo rips in two body shots, both arguably low. I haven't said enough that Castillo absolutely got away with a lot of low and borderline low shots in this bout, so I'll say it now. Castillo is fighting with strength and hunger in this final round, tearing at Mayweather, desperately trying to get at him and seal the deal. At this point, many had him just needing to not get out. I personally have it even right here, and Castillo is fighting like it's even, he's behind, or he needs a knockout. He's putting in some vicious work, to the body and upstairs. But there's Floyd with some good jabs again late in the round after working them early on. Still, Castillo clearly, CLEARLY wins this round, and they end it trading shots.
The Final Tally
Anek Hongtongkam, Thailand: 116-111 Mayweather
John Keane, England: 115-111 Mayweather
Jerry Roth, Nevada: 115-111 Mayweather
So What Happened?
This is one of those fights where I think you can argue very easily that the judges scored a fight how they supposed it would turn out, with Mayweather getting a decent test but surely winning at the end of the day. But we didn't get a Mayweather-style performance. What we got was a blueprint in 2002: "How to Beat Floyd Mayweather," by Jose Luis Castillo.
When I say blueprint in 2002, emphasize the "2002" aspect. Mayweather learned from this fight and adapted. They rematched, and I think Mayweather definitely won that fight. It still wasn't easy, but he obviously knew he had to change something against this guy, and he did.
Is this an effective strategy for Marquez? Well, that depends on what you mean.
Can Marquez lean on Mayweather and attack his body like Castillo did? No. Not a chance in hell that'll work for him. Marquez won't be nine pounds bigger than Floyd, as Castillo was in this fight. This fight had Mayweather going 130 to 135, and tomorrow night, Marquez will go from 135 up to 144.
But are there psychological tips to study here? Yes, and Oscar de la Hoya's fight with Mayweather had a lot of the same stuff. If you make Floyd question himself, he's beatable. Nobody in the entire history of boxing has been unbeatable, and Floyd can hype his status as undefeated as much as he wants, but he's had his scares. Castillo got in Floyd's head from the get-go in this fight. Yes, Floyd clearly won the first two rounds, and a lot of people think he dominated the first half of the fight. But you could see his gears working in there, as Castillo came out and didn't attack. Team Mayweather expected a guy that was going to come full throttle, try to make it a barroom brawl. They could have countered and outboxed that guy all night.
Instead, for as rough as Castillo wanted it to be inside, he boxed in this fight. He moved Floyd around, trapped him constantly, and made good use of his power advantage when he had a chance to throw some big shots. He didn't headhunt; the vast majority of his good work went to the body.
Mayweather's public persona is brash, arrogant, cocky, and all that, but a lot of armchair psychologists will tell you that that comes from insecurity, and I think Floyd in a lot of ways is obviously insecure. As a fighter, he's generally confident, because he's the best guy in the ring, clearly, almost every time he's ever been in one. Castillo and Oscar tested him, and most of that came from getting Floyd to question his ability.
Now, the elephant in the room of this psychobabble nonsense is the fact that Floyd was lighter than Castillo on fight night and was clearly smaller than Oscar at junior middleweight. He won't have that problem against Marquez.
But however he has to adapt it to fit what he can do, Marquez hopefully looked at the things Castillo and Oscar did to mentally bother Floyd as much as physically bother him.