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Unsung 20th Century Fights: Alexis Arguello vs Ruben Castillo

Alexis Arguello battled Ruben Castillo in a 1980 war from Tucson, Arizona.

Alexis Arguello battled Ruben Castillo in a 1980 war
Alexis Arguello battled Ruben Castillo in a 1980 war

Alexis Arguello squaring off against Ruben Castillo can be likened to a National Geographic one-take of a lion chasing a roe deer in the jungle. The lion — bigger, stronger and more imposing, with a higher kill count — persistently chases the roe — smaller, yet shiftier with a more deceptive range of movements in his arsenal.

The roe makes the lion miss many times, changing directions and outpacing the apex predator. It even makes it look like a fool on occasion, doing what it takes to try and win its battle. Then, after some time, the lion kicks into overdrive and overtakes the valiant roe, unleashing the fullness of its strength.

For eight rounds, Castillo was a monster, out-boxing Arguello. He was much quicker to the punch, dictating pace, and impressively neutralizing Arguello’s reach advantage. Yet, Arguello was patient, “downloading information” and waiting for his opportunity to turn the tide.

Their fight on Jan. 20, 1980 gave boxing fans a tactical fight to enjoy. It marked the seventh title defense of Arguello at 130 lbs, and afforded Castillo yet another championship fight — one of four in his respectable career spanning 81 fights and 69 wins.

The Fight

The opening round was slow. In the second, Arguello match-made his right cross with Castillo’s face. A counter flurry from Castillo all missed; he had to rely on his left cross as an orthodox fighter throughout the round to keep Arguello preoccupied. And Arguello, patient almost to a fault, fell victim to effective 1-2 combos throughout round three. Castillo countered a left hook with one of his own that landed upstairs, and pressed on with a thudding right, left cross, and a straight left that Arguello absorbed on his way to an 0-3 hole.

Arguello fought sideways throughout the fight, making Castillo focus on his shoulder. He was very calculated with his jab and stalked the mobile Castillo throughout the ring, waiting for a mistake. Arguello beautifully dodged a left hook and both fighters popped each other simultaneously with short left crosses, en route to a winning round for the Nicaraguan.

Castillo connected on a right and left that riled up the legendary Howard Cosell in round five. Arguello’s game plan was to flick his jab and box Castillo into a corner, but Castillo’s side-to-side movement was too good for that to happen.

Castillo continued his brilliance in round six, lunging at Arguello with a right hand that twisted his head and prompted a short-lived smile. In round seven, Castillo went into his bag and came out with a roundhouse left to the skull that partially landed. Two lefts to close the round gave Castillo a convincing six out of seven rounds as the fight carried into the second half.

Arguello had scouted enough by round nine, and he began to come alive. He was very precise with his springy jab, but in Joe Frazier-eque fashion, Castillo came on lunging, striking Arguello with yet another wide left hook. An uppercut that missed gave Arguello license to catch Castillo with a short right that pummeled his temple. Arguello was ducking punches, landing uppercuts and dominated the round.

Arguello kept the fire burning in round 10 with a sneaky trap card of an overhand right that stunned Castillo. Suddenly, great ring movement became stagnation and aggressive punching turned into a crouched defense. Arguello really let his defense and counterpunching shine. The amount of landed jabs and successful defensive maneuvers on the part of the Nicaraguan was a thing of beauty to watch for a fighter who was patient as ever for much of the fight.

Round 11 was the last Castillo would see, as Arguello struck with punches that looked like they didn’t hurt, but must’ve. Soon, quick uppercuts and straight rights became the bane of Castillo’s existence. A nice left hook sent Castillo into the protective arms of the referee, and Arguello into the arms of the mirthful Don King.


Arguello made one more successful defense of his super featherweight crown before moving up to lightweight, where he won the WBC and The Ring titles and defended them four times. He had a storied set of fights against Aaron Pryor for the WBA and The Ring light welterweight titles, suffering knockout losses in both.

Castillo spoke to The Ring about some of the best fighters he had faced throughout his career. He had these laudatory remarks for Arguello’s jab:

[Best jab I faced h]ad to be Alexis Arguello, he was so tall and lanky, his jab was like a right hand. When we fought, he was a 130-pounder in 1980. Alexis went all the way to 140-pounds. At that weight and 5-foot-11, he could hit you from across the room.”

Castillo finished his career at 68-10-2 (35 KO).

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