By Jake Donovan
Not even the lowest point of Roberto Castañeda’s career, when the losses were piling up with alarming regularity, had the effect that he has been left with in the aftermath of his recent loss to Jose Lopez.
The 23-year old journeyman knows his place in the sport, at least to a degree. He understands that the deck will be stacked against when matched against house fighters and more popular opponents. But nothing in his five-year (and growing) career prepared him for what he was forced to experience on August 16 in the days since.
“It’s been more than a week, and I can still say we’ve never been through anything like what happened in Puerto Rico,” insists his adviser, Alex Camponovo.
Castañeda had lost five of his last six bouts – and all six career losses within his past nine starts – prior to his showdown with the unbeaten Lopez earlier this month in Caguas, Puerto Rico. His first defeat actually came in his own Mexicali hometown, when he was stopped in five rounds by perennial super flyweight contender Felipe Orucuta more than two years ago.
From there came knockout losses to the likes of Gary Russell Jr,, Christopher Martin, Daniel Rosas and most recently to Jessie Magdaleno. All told, six losses – five by knockout – in a span of barely two years – would have been enough for any fighter to call it quits, or settle into a role as career opponent.
Some will argue that Castañeda has already reached that point, but he was feeling pretty good about his chances against Lopez, an unbeaten but vulnerable prospect fighting under Miguel Cotto’s promotional banner.
“He came in off the win over Andres Tapia (a clubfighter from Castañeda’s Mexicali hometown), a fight we made as a confidence builder,” explains Camponovo of his fighter’s mindset. “We knew Lopez was the favorite, but we saw things in him that we knew we could exploit.
“We knew it was going to be tough to win a decision in Puerto Rico. We just didn’t expect to have to bring a machine gun with us to have a fighting chance.”
A fight featuring seven total knockdowns – including five in a wild opening round that is sure to land Round of the Year consideration during awards season – resulted in Lopez escaping with a split decision. Castañeda was dropped early in the round before flooring Lopez four times before round’s end.
It has since come to light that tampering may have been involved with the official scoring, with an investigation launched into the alleged actions of Puerto Rico boxing commissioner Jose ‘Toto’ Peñagaricano. Judge Cesar Ramos claims the veteran boxing head harassed the three ringside officials into altering their scorecards to ensure that Lopez didn’t trail too far behind. This request allegedly came even with the benefit of the round being scored 10-7 as rules for non-title fights in Puerto Rico call for rounds to not be scored any lower regardless of the number of knockdowns to take place.
The official scorecards turned in to the Puerto Rico Professional Boxing Commissions (PRPBC) reveal that there was tampering involved with the total after four rounds. The scores were announced on UniMas – which televised the bout along with Felix Verdejo’s shutout win over Oscar Bravo in the main event – as 36-35 (twice) and 36-34 in favor of Lopez.
The wider score was the result of judge Carlos Colon reportedly giving in and changing his opening round score from 10-7 to 9-7 at the demand of the commissioner. Drawing a red flag to the score is the fact that it fails to comply with the ’10-point must’ system, in which at least one of the two fighters is required to receive a 10-point score. The argument for a 9-7 round, it was alleged, is that both fighters were dropped and therefore should have points deducted, but it’s still a violation of the scoring system to enter a round like that.
When as much was explained by Ramos, the ongoing investigation suggests that the four-round totals were manipulated after they were announced through open scoring. The scoresheet turned into the PRPBC shows that Lopez lead 36-34 on all three scorecards.
It was hardly the only sign of hometown favoritism experienced by Castañeda and his team.
Lopez was floored just before the bell to close the round. As referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. was attempting to restore order, the unbeaten prospect jumped up and raced to his corner, perhaps fearing that one last knockdown would have resulted in a technical knockout.
Ramirez acknowledged the knockdown, but all while still allowing the one-minute rest period to take place in between rounds.
“The proper call would have been to clear the corner, make him stand up, issue the count and wipe his gloves clean before signaling the end of the round,” Camponovo points out. “Instead, he got to sit down, get iced down and time to recover while (Ramirez) issued the eight count.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I mean, why not just give the guy a stretcher to lie down and relax?”
Lopez trecovered and proceeded to drop Castañeda in rounds two and three, although losing a point for rabbit punching in a third round to make the fight that much more interesting on the scorecards. In retrospect, Castañeda was surprised at still being permitted to fight.
“Had the knockdowns been reversed, and Roberto dropped that many times after flooring Lopez first, they never would have let him out of the first round,” Camponovo believes. “He was dropped hard in the beginning of the fight, but they gave him a chance to fight back, and he almost knocked out Lopez. When he went down in round two and again in round three, I thought they would look for a reason to stop the fight.
“That was really the only chance they gave him, looking back. But then to do him like that with the scorecards – I’m not saying he should’ve won. But he should have been allowed to leave with a draw and winning on one card, which would have been the case if they didn’t mess with the scorecards.”
Both fighters were given every chance to fight back, but Lopez perhaps a bit too much. A replay of the fight reveals an extra rest period prior to the start of the eighth and final round, something not initially picked up in the delayed UniMas feed due to how the commercial breaks were structured.
Lopez’ corner was ordered by Ramirez to clean up water in their corner, a tactic often employed when a fighter is hurt the round prior and needs extra time to recover. Such was the case towards the end of round seven, when Lopez was once again badly hurt but somehow managing to stay on his feet.
The one minute between rounds apparently wasn’t enough time to recuperate.
“What the heck was that?” Camponovo rhetorically asks of the sequence that saw Lopez examined by not one but two ringside physicians, despite the fact that he wasn’t cut. “It was like they were giving him a second pre-fight physical. I was waiting for him to get an EKG.”
Once reports surfaced of the fight being investigated for improper actions on the part of the local commission, Castañeda’s team took proper action. An official protest of the fight has now been filed, while they await their next move.
“With a kid like Roberto – yeah a win over Jose Lopez would look great on his record, but leaving with a draw would have provided the same effect on his career,” Camponovo believes. “He left their feeling great despite losing the fight, but even with people claiming a moral victory, it’s still a loss. Realizing now that they went out of their way to rob him, it’s more disheartening than the loss itself.”
Despite it all, his next move could result in another road trip.
“Crazy enough, he was offered to fight again in Puerto Rico in November,” reveals Camponovo, who views that timeframe as his next ring return, regardless of where and against home. “At the end of the day, he’s still a fighter who has to feed his family. He doesn’t care where he fights. So who knows?
“Wherever it is, we know to expect anything. He went into that fight with a lot of losses but still feeling like a million bucks. No matter how bad his career has gotten, he’s never felt like a losing fighter, like an opponent. It stinks that the commission went out of their way to treat him like one.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox