The fight didn't go the way anybody figured—except, naturally, Ruben Olivares won, making half of the people and all of the bartenders in Mexico happy. It's just that it took the jaunty little playboy—an undefeated 3-to-1 favorite—the full 15 rounds to defend his world bantamweight title against Chucho Castillo last Saturday night in Los Angeles, and he hasn't had to work that long in one day since he gave up wood carving six years ago. Usually he's on a plane to Acapulco half an hour after the fight starts. He's better than Nembutal. In his 57 fights before Castillo, Olivares had scored 55 knockouts. And yet when it was over Saturday, there was Castillo, bloodied and gasping, but wide awake. As they read the votes, all for the champion Olivares stared at his fists as though they had betrayed him. "Oh, well," he said, "at least maybe now all of Mexico will accept me as its champion."
World title fight? Ha! That was just the gravy. For Olivares and Castillo, this was to prove who was the No. 1 bantamweight in Mexico, and to them that was much more important. There was a bitterness between them, and it had been building for a long time. "Winning the title is not important," Castillo had said. "The only thing I want to do is beat that loudmouth, that clown. It is what I live for, what I dream of. Olivares does not deserve to be champion. I am the national champion, and I am the one that Mexican fans want to be the world champion, and I will be."
And that is about all he said before the fight. Castillo is a quiet, moody 25-year-old off the toughest streets of Mexico City. His father, who was killed in a traffic accident three months ago, eked out a living selling used clothes from a pushcart. The family lived in a two-room hut. Food was a luxury. Castillo grew up withdrawn, suspicious and angry.
"He was always quiet," said Geronimo Lopez, his manager, "but when his father was killed he became even more so. He is in a very dark mood. He will only talk to me. He has dedicated this fight to the memory of his father."
When Castillo became the champion of Mexico in 1967, Olivares challenged him. Castillo told him that he would have to wait his turn. Finally a fight was set, but when Castillo was given a shot at Lionel Rose's title late in 1968, Olivares was again told to wait. "He knows I'll beat him," said Olivares. When Castillo lost a controversial split decision to Rose, Mexico almost severed relations with Australia. The Mexican fans who were crammed into The Forum in Los Angeles that night rioted for over an hour. "Why all the fuss?" said Olivares. "Rose won. I was surprised the voting was that close." Ruben didn't win any popularity contests in Mexico after that. Then stories circulated that Olivares was paying more attention to tequila than to training, and he became even less popular. Mexicans expect their boxing heroes to become drunks. It's something of a tradition. But they want them to wait until they retire.
When Olivares knocked out Rose to become bantamweight champion last August, he thought all would be forgiven and forgotten. It wasn't. At least half of Mexico was still in Castillo's camp. They demanded a second chance at the title. Rankled, Olivares made Castillo wait while he knocked out British Empire champion, Alan Rudkin last December. Then he agreed to meet Castillo. For the fight he would be paid $100,000, tying a bantamweight record.
"But it is not for the money." he said. "It is for the pride and respect of my people. That is why I am fighting Castillo." He was serious for a moment, and for him that is a world record. Olivares came off the same tough streets as Castillo, but by a different route. He enjoys life to its fullest, and to find him you have only to follow the laughter. "But don't tell Parnassus what I said about the money," he said. "He might not want to give it to me then."
Parnassus is George Parnassus, the 75-year-old Greek who has become boxing's No. 1 promoter. The Olivares-Castillo fight was the 10th championship he has put on in the last 18 months. "This fight," chortled Parnassus, "will be the greatest in Mexican history." It was suggested that he put it in the 50,000-seat Mexico City bullring. Parnassus said no. For one, the government says you can charge no more than 60� for the cheap seats. For two, the government says all fights must be put on free live TV. For three, Los Angeles is second only to Mexico City in Mexican population. Parnassus put the fight into the 18,762-seat Forum and it sold out almost immediately. The gross gate was $281,840, a California indoor record.
So was Parnassus happy?
"Hell, no," he said. "I could sell 40,000 more seats if I had them. If the weather wasn't so lousy this time of year I would have put it in the Coliseum. And why are the papers turning this into a grudge fight? We don't need that. We're sold out."