By Fiona Manning
It’s official: former WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo and Juan “The Hispanic Causing Panic” Lazcano will go 12 rounds for the interim WBC lightweight championship at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 5 on.
Castillo, who is 49-6-1, 45 KOs and Lazcano who is 33-2-1, 25 KOs, will open the HBO PPV telecast in what promises to be a barn-burning start to headliners Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Sturm and Bernard Hopkins vs. Robert Allen.
While Mexican-born Castillo sees this as his dream chance to win back the title he initially won over Stevie Johnston, Lazcano, isn’t called The Hispanic Causing Panic for nothing.
“I have full respect for Castillo and watched each of the fights he had when he was champion,” Lazcano said during his first week of training with new trainer Joe Goossen in Los Angeles.
“I saw him defending it against Johnston (D12), Cesar Bazan (TKO 6), Sungho Yuh (TKO 1) before losing twice to Floyd Mayweather Jr. I thought the first loss was kinda controversial. I thought Castillo won that. But Mayweather won the second fight.
“Castillo won’t beat me though. I am prepared to take the title home to Sacramento.”
Lazcano, who hails from El Paso, Texas, won a WBC eliminator, stopping Stevie Johnston (TKO 11) last September.
On Wednesday, Castillo headed for training at the Otomi which is in the mountains north of Mexico City.
Lazcano has chosen to join “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero and Diego “Chico” Corrales in Goossen’s un-fancy, boiler-room like Van Nuys facility for the biggest fight of his career.
“He’s an old hand,” said Goossen. “We’re just working on his stamina, sharpening his tools. He has excellent speed, good hands. We’re working on his power and it all starts with stamina.”
The often prickly 28 year old boxer has severed his ties with former trainer Freddie Roach.
“I liked the way Joe treated his fighters. I was in this gym sparring Joel Casamayor when I was training for Stevie Johnston and I thought, ‘ I want to be here.’”
Often dressed colorfully in lime green, purple and pink ensembles, he takes his fighting seriously however and promises to deliver a solid performance against Castillo.
Lazcano, who got his nickname as a teenager working as a grocery bagger and frequently got into arguments with management and customers, has waited longer than most for a shot at the title.
Last year, he turned down a reported million-dollar offer to fight WBC lightweight champion Floyd Mayweather, surprising everyone around him.
“Yeah, it looked like an opportunity of a lifetime but the offer was on short notice. My manager, Don Chargin and I decided I couldn’t repeat an earlier career mistake.
“The last time I fought someone strictly for money, I got stopped by Golden Johnson. It sucked. Big time. I swore I’d never take a fight on short notice again and that I’d be ready for every fight from then on.”
Facing Castillo represents Lazcano’s elusive opportunity of a lifetime and he’ll do it before millions of fans. The fight at the 18,000-seat MGM Grand Garden is already selling out, and the pay-per-view sales in El Paso and elsewhere are approaching records.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Lazcano is greeting the pressure with his typical focus and wacky sense of humor.
“I’m at ease,” he said. “I’m relaxed. I’m doing good on my weight, right around 139 pounds. I know I’m facing a formidable individual someone who’s been there and done that. But so have I.
“Every fight I train hard like there is no tomorrow. But this time I feel different. I feel a little stronger. And more loose in the muscles.”
Lazcano has his hands full with the ferocious, aggressive Castillo. He’s already had his share of problems with experienced boxers. In 1999, he won a disputed decision over savvy former champion Jesse James Leija who boxed smartly and relied on guile. Most observers felt Lazcano was lucky to get the decision.
“Lazcano is in the defining fight of his career,” Chargin said. “We can do great things for him if he gets the win.”
Lazcano’s wife, Lourdes, has been at her husband’s side through the peaks and valleys, and is excited and nervous at the prospects of what could happen in June.
But she wants Lazcano’s Latino fans everywhere to know that he will be working for them.
“We left El Paso for Sacramento because sometimes you have to get out of the city you love for an opportunity,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we left El Paso behind. We do it for El Paso. We do it for all Latinos everywhere who have a dream.”
Lazcano believes this fight, this interim title is his destiny, and that he has prepared to the best of his ability for this great chance.
He has worked hard, waited more than two years for a break, and now the moment will soon be here.
“I’m confident; I’m ready to go to war,” he said. “I’m ready mentally, physically and spiritually. Everyone gets their time. He was champ, and that’s good. But tomorrow has come.
“My career is guided by God; it’s not about the money. I have a mission. And I’m here to fulfill it.”