By Robert Coster
Photo: Dario Figueredo
When Dominican Oxandia Castillo won the female WBO jr midlleweight title by stopping favored Hanna Gabriel in Costa Rica on February 28th of this year, she became at 18 boxing’s youngest current world titleholder, male or female. The previously unknown Castillo (12-0-2, 9 KOs) was given a hero’s welcome in her homeland. Many Dominican boxing fans identified with Oxandia, a young girl that overcame poverty and a difficult family situation through effort and determination. Says manager Jose Rafael Lantigua, “There are other girls here that have won world titles but Oxandia, in particular, touched a soft spot with the fans.” Fightnews caught up with the teenage champion flanked by her manager and trainer Alcibiades to know more about her and her Cinderella story.
Oxandia, how did you get your start in boxing?
I was 12. I was living at home with my Mom and six siblings. There was always a lot of fights at home, we were cramped. I felt so restless. But there was this older girl called Grecia Nova. She was a national boxing champion. I used to see her pass by. She dressed well. I wanted to be like her and I asked her to take me to her gym. When I got there, I decided that boxing was going to be my life.
Question: You decided you wanted to become a boxer at age 12 ?
Answers Trainer Alcibiades: She started training and immediately I could see she was special. She was a natural athlete, strong and powerful. And she was so disciplined and focused. I was impressed. I went to her mother and convinced her to let Oxandia move in with me and my family. I told the mother ‘Your daughter has a special talent. Don’t let it go to waste.’ Oxandia became not only my boxer but almost, my adopted daughter.
So, Oxandia, you fought as an amateur?
Yes, three years. At age 15, I had no more opponents so I decided to turn pro and I also quit school to dedicate myself to boxing.
You quit school for boxing? Something of a gamble to do that, no?
Yes but it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t succeed in boxing.
What was your first important fight?
I only had 5 pro fights. I was 16 and I was put against Cindy Serrano of Puerto Rico who had 19 fights and been a former world champion. People thought I was going to be massacred but Alcibiades told me I had the style to beat Cindy. After 6 rounds, they called it a draw but most people believed I had won the fight. After the bout, Mr Lantigua and his partner Wilfredo Rivera of Puerto Rico offered me a contract. The fight with Cindy was my big break.
Tell us about the title fight with Hanna Gabriel?
Hanna is a national hero in Costa Rica, she was the unbeaten WBO Champion. When Mr Lantigua told me of this fight, I knew the time had come to make it happen. I was so confident. At the weigh-in before the fight, Hanna came in, very glamourous with a beautiful attire and all the press was around her. When we squared off, I looked her straight in the eyes. I said to her “This is not a beauty contest. You’re going down!” At that moment, she stopped smiling and playing the movie star. I think she saw the determination in my eyes.
Tell us about the knockout.
Yes, I had only one plan–knock her out. I didn’t want it to go to the scorecards. When I connected with the straight right to her chin in the second round and I saw her slump to the canvas, I realized that she wasn’t going to get up.
Since you’ve won the title, how have things changed for you?
All the attention, the press, being received by the authorities. But I don’t want it to go to my head. I am the same Oxandia. This is just the beginning. I am defending the title in Panama in July.
Intervenes manager Lantigua: Outside the ring, Oxandia is a regular teenager. But she’s different when it comes to her life as a boxer. She’s so mature, so disciplined, so incredibly focused. She knows what she wants and she’s willing to do the sacrifices. That is why she’s so ferocious in the ring.
In a nutshell, Oxandia, what is the most your are aiming for as a boxer?
I want to be a three division world champion: at 147, 154 and 160lbs. My trainer tells me that my body is still growing so I think I can go up to 160. I can also make 147 easy. But first thing first: I have to retain my title in July. I want to prove to everybody that my winning the title was no fluke.