By Jake Donovan
Robinson Castellanos and Rocky Juarez both went into their featherweight title eliminator well aware of the implications of a loss at this stage of their respective careers. In the end, it was the visiting Castellanos who lives to see another big fight after scoring a landslide decision win Monday evening at Cowboys Dancehall in San Antonio, Texas.
It’s rare that you see two fighters each with 10 losses competing in a fight where the winner is the deserving challenger of a future title shot. Castellanos and Juarez both earned their way to this point thanks to key upset wins in recent times.
On this particular night, Houston’s Juarez couldn’t reach deep enough into his bag of tricks. What began as a competitive fight turned into a showcase appearance by Castellanos, fighting in the United States for just the second time in his career.
Things began to go south for Juarez after suffering what appeared at first glance to be a questionable knockdown call in round five. Already contending with a cut above his right temple, Juarez swung and missed with a left hook, causing his momentum to pitch his body forward and eventually to the canvas. Replays revealed that Castellanos snuck in a left uppercut during the sequence, thus lending validity to referee Rafael Ramos’ ruling.
There was nothing questionable about the beating Castellanos dished out throughout the second half of the Fox Sports 1-televised main event. Juarez, who suffered a cut over his left eye from another clash of heads late in round five, was rocked at the start of round seven, and once again hurt in rounds eight and nine. The 34-year old refused to wilt, scoring to the body and with right hands upstairs in round ten in a brief bailout moment.
Still, Castellanos was well in control as the bout entered the championship rounds. Juarez steadily charged forward, but was unable to find that tide-turning moment to keep the recent good fortunes going in his briefly resurrected career.
It was quite the opposite in fact, as he was nearly stopped for the first time ever. Castellanos went all-in for the 12th and final round, scoring two knockdowns within the first minute of the round and putting him down for a third time moments later.
By that point, it became a question of whether or not Juarez could remain steady enough to hear the final bell. It was all he was able to accomplish, as the three knockdowns punctuated a terrific performance by the 32-year old Castellanos, and likely the last time we see Juarez in a pro fight.
Scores were 118-106 (twice) and 118-107 in favor of Castellanos, who rolls to 21-10 (13KOs). The win is his second straight, coming on the heels of a one-sided 5th round knockout of previously unbeaten Ronny Rios last September. The bout was just his third overall outside of his native Mexico, with a 2011 win over Celestino Caballero in Panama officially putting his journeyman career on the map and surging to present day form as a featherweight contender.
His lone loss over the past four-plus years came two fights ago, a 9th round stoppage of Rene Alvarado last February. Monday's win comes full circle for Castellanos, who beat the man who beat his last conqueror.
Juarez (now 30-11-1, 20KOs) scored a shocking 12-round win over the Nicaraguan last Memorial Day in Fort Bliss, Texas, his second straight win following a disastrous seven-fight winless streak spanning nearly four years. The win put him within one fight of what he and his handlers hoped would be one last shot at a major title, having come up short in five separate tries (0-4-1 in title fights).
Instead, his pro career ends metaphorically similar to that of his amateur run - settling for second-place. Juarez captured the Silver medal as a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing team competing in Sydney. His conqueror, Kazakhstan's Bekzat Sattarkhanov didn't get to enjoy a pro career, his Gold medal-winning effort the last great moment of his boxing life before tragically dying in a car crash on New Year's Eve 2000.
Juarez' pro career began 13 days later, full of promise as his early years saw showcase fights on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights and Showtime's Shobox series while coming up under the Main Events promotional banner. He ran up a record of 24-0 before running into then-unheralded Humberto Soto in Aug. '05. What was intended as an HBO showcase - his first fight on the network - instead became the first loss of his career.
Beginning with that defeat, Juarez is 7-11-1 over his last 19 fights. Several losses came at the top level, dropping decisions to Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Juan Manuel Marquez and Chris John, also fighting to a 12-round draw with the then-unbeaten featherweight titlist from Indonesia. The draw verdict was the start of a seven-fight winless stretch that had many fans calling for his retirement seemingly after every setback.
A career-bailout 8th round knockout of Antonio Escalante in Oct. '12 had fans reconsidering their position on his future. For a while it appeared as if the win would serve as the high note on which he could go out, but Juarez resurfaces 17 months later for the impressive showing versus Alvarado.
All good things come to an end, though. Hopefully Monday night marks the end of a 14-year run for which Juarez needn't feel the least bit apologetic.
Meanwhile, Castellanos can look forward to a future title shot. He is now the mandatory challenger to countryman and reigning featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez, though it's possible his that Castellanos winds up fighting for a vacant belt. Gonzalez is being groomed for a title defense versus one of three Al Haymon-advised fighters - Abner Mares, Leo Santa Cruz or Gary Russell, Jr.
Win or lose, it could be his last fight as a featherweight. Gonzalez is eyeing a shot at 130 lb. titlist Takashi Miura later this year.
Regardless, Castellanos will find himself in a title fight one way or another by the time he next enters the ring.
In the opening bout of the evening, unbeaten super lightweight prospect KeAndre Gibson outslugged Nelson Lara in a terrific eight-round war.
The matching scores of 80-72 from all three judges didn't at all tell the story of what took place in the ring. Lara has suffered stoppages in his past three fights - and in fact hasn't won since 2008 - but was determined to change his luck.
Gibson was game for the cause, perhaps too much so as he allowed a boxing match to evolve into a war of attrition. Round after round, the two fighters stood toe-to-toe. Gibson remained a step ahead but was reminded during every sequence that he was in a fight.
The well-schooled 24-year old prospect from St. Louis improves to 12-0-1 (5KO) with the win, his third straight in as many fights in Texas dating back to last May. Lara falls to 15-7-4 (8KOs).
Javier Rodriguez made the most of the bonus coverage he was afforded on television, scoring a highlight reel 5th round knockout of Quincy Wesby.
A vicious left hook instantly ended matters early in round five, with Wesby down and out. Referee Rafael Ramos waived off the fight without bothering to count, as ringside physicians were immediately ushered into the ring to tend to the fallen fighter.
The official time was 0:49 of round five.
Rodriguez - a local super bantamweight prospect - rolls to 12-0-1 (2KOs). Wesby - a 36-year old Dallas native - loses his sixth straight as he falls to 2-8 (0KOs).