LAS VEGAS — In the 10th round Saturday night, Diego Corrales was in that twilight zone where boxers fear to tread. Mind hazy from two solid knockdowns in the round, legs wobbly, his left eye reduced to a slit by heavy swelling, his body enveloped in fatigue, Corrales seemed to be one Jose Luis Castillo punch away from defeat.
Or, even worse, serious injury.
And then it happened, a shift in ring momentum unlike any referee Tony Weeks or the many veteran ringside observers at the Mandalay Bay Events Center had seen before.
Somehow Corrales rallied his aching body and confused mind to throw a left hook that found Castillo's jaw.
Then a Corrales right hand landed.
Corrales connected again and again and again behind a reserve of will that seemed to have deserted him only seconds earlier. Three straight punches landed ... four ... five ... six ... seven.
The crowd of 5,168, poised for the seemingly inevitable Castillo victory, stood stunned.
So was Castillo. The first barrage of punches backed him up to the ropes. The sixth punch straightened him up. The seventh caused his head to whiplash backward, his eyes in a blank stare.
Weeks jumped in and wrapped his arms around Castillo.
Fight over. Corrales, the man who had been about to tumble into the abyss of defeat, was now securely on the shoulders of his trainer, Joe Goossen, marching around the ring in triumph. Castillo, who had anticipated his arm being raised in victory moments before, now struggled just to raise his arms off the ropes, struggled to figure out where he was and what in the world had happened.
"I didn't want to let him off the hook," Corrales said. "I had to go for it."
Thus ended the lightweight championship match between Castillo (52-7-1, 46 knockouts), the World Boxing Council titleholder, and Corrales (40-2, 33), the World Boxing Organization champion.
"Castillo was hit with some bombs," said Weeks, who stopped the bout at the 2:06 mark of the round. "He went limp. His eyes rolled back in his head and his hands dropped. He was out on his feet. My determination was that he could not continue."
Up to that point, it had been a close fight. It had been expected that Corrales, who at 5 feet 11 was three inches taller, would try to outbox Castillo, using his jab to keep his harder-hitting opponent from getting inside.
Instead, Corrales chose to brawl with Castillo inside and paid the price, Castillo's devastating uppercuts inflicting heavy damage, especially under Corrales' left eye.
Both knockdowns in the 10th round were caused by left-hand punches from Castillo. On each occasion, Corrales spit out his mouthpiece, gaining valuable seconds to clear his head while the mouthpiece was washed off and reinserted. Weeks penalized Corrales a point after the second occurrence.
So as the final sequence of punches began, Corrales was looking at losing the round 10-6, a scoring gap rarely seen.
Instead, Corrales won the round. And the fight.
"I have never seen anything like it in 20 years of boxing," said Corrales' promoter, Gary Shaw.
From the arena to the post-fight news conference, his words were echoed over and over on a night when the usual cynicism about boxing had been replaced by awe.
In the semi-main event, World Boxing Assn. and International Boxing Federation featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez (44-2-1, 33) of Mexico defended his title by winning a unanimous decision over Victor Polo (34-5-3, 24) of Colombia. Marquez knocked Polo down in the seventh round and dominated throughout.