It’s not the ideal Mother’s Day for Danny Castillo, but as the UFC lightweight returns home from Brazil, where he competed in a grappling match against Haider Rasheed on Saturday, you get the impression that his mom, Roxana, understands, and that her son will most certainly make it up to her when he arrives back in Northern California.
“I think every day should be Mother’s Day,” said Castillo, and that’s not just talk, as “Last Call” has always made a concerted effort to let his mom know how special she is. “She’s my biggest fan. She’s been following me around for years, ever since I was in college wrestling. She would fly to wherever and she’s always been there watching me.”
He’s not exaggerating, as Roxana has been there throughout her son’s wrestling career, as well as at 22 of his 23 pro mixed martial arts bouts, with her only miss – his 2009 WEC bout against Phil Cardella – due to back surgery.
“I think he needs me there,” said Roxana. “I’ve been there since Day One when he was born, all through his wrestling, and I’ve been everywhere with him. And I need to be there in case anything happens.”
Last month in Baltimore, Roxana and Danny’s younger sister were with him as he fought Charlie Brenneman at UFC 172. A spectacular second round knockout of Brenneman got things off to a great start for the Castillo family, who then went on to do some sightseeing in the area, as well as in Washington, D.C. It’s become a tradition, but that doesn’t mean fight night is easy.
“She’s like every mother,” said Castillo. “She barely watches it from what my little sister tells me. It’s gotta be tough. You can only imagine seeing the person you love so much in life that you created having some animal locked in the cage with him trying to kill him. (Laughs) But she’s a good sport about it. I’ve been knocked out a couple times in my career, and she was extremely worried, but once I give her that phone call that everything’s fine, she’s good. As long as she hears me.”
“I go to all his fights and I’m physically there, but I can’t watch,” adds Roxana. “My other kids tell me one day I’m going to have a heart attack because the minute they close that cage, it’s ridiculous. My heart just starts to pound, my hands are shaky, and I just wait. Sometimes you can hear those punches and kicks all the way up in the stands, and I hope to God that’s not Danny. So I just wait.”
More often than not, it’s good news, as Castillo has compiled a 7-3 UFC record, which coupled with his 5-3 WEC slate means that the 34-year-old can handle himself. But there are always hiccups, most notably the head kick knockout he suffered at the hands of Anthony Pettis in their 2010 WEC bout. Things ultimately were fine, but waiting to hear from her son after he was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons was torturous for the mother of four, who has been a fighter even longer than her son has.
“She was a single parent, so she was trying to be the mom and dad the whole time I was growing up, and of course I was a stupid kid, being a knucklehead and just fighting with her every way around,” said Castillo, referring to a ten-year period of his youth when he was a self-described hellraiser.
“He was just hardheaded,” said Roxana, who had Danny when she was 19. “He didn’t do anything that normal teenagers don’t do. I was blessed that he never got into drugs or drinking, so I count my blessings at the same time. It was difficult (being a single parent) because you always want someone to help you, and from the day I saw him, I was by myself. His father left us before he was born and so I delivered him by myself. But I made a promise to him that I would always be there.”
She never went back on that promise, working tirelessly to make sure her kids never wanted for anything.
“When I was younger, we didn’t really have too much money, but my mom made it where I had no idea,” said Castillo. “I wouldn’t say we were super poor, but we definitely didn’t have a lot. She did everything in her power to hide that from me. When I would get a new pair of shoes as a kid, she would work that overtime to make it happen for me. We couldn’t afford it, but she made it happen. I owe her so much. She’s one of the strongest women I’ve ever met, and she instilled a crazy work ethic inside of me and that’s the reason why I’m where I’m at today.”
After his college wrestling career ended, Castillo entered the workforce, picking up a good job as a senior account executive for a company in San Francisco. There was something missing though, and a talk with his longtime friend Urijah Faber made him realize what it was. Faber suggested that he get back to competition through mixed martial arts, but Castillo had to have another talk first – with mom.
“I told her that I talked to Urijah and he said I should do it, and I was really thinking about it,” he said. “I was expecting her to say no, but she was all for it, so I was kind of shocked. Here I was, 28 years old, deciding to quit the desk job that I had that had full benefits and a retirement fund to take this gamble. But she said you’re not getting any younger, so if you’re gonna do it, you need to do it now.”
“If his heart is in it, I would support him no matter how I felt,” recalled Roxana. “I told him that there was the possibility that he could get hurt, but that whatever he decided, I was a hundred percent behind him.”
She hasn’t wavered, and that support is appreciated more than Castillo can articulate with words. So he hopes he can give her something more one day.
“She sacrificed a lot to raise me and I just want to give her nothing but exciting wins, and I want to bring home that belt to her,” said Castillo. “It’s something that’s been haunting me forever, to be a champion. In high school, I promised her a championship, it didn’t work out. Junior college I promised her a championship and it didn’t work out. And on the four-year level I promised her a national championship and I lost in the national finals by three points. I was so close to giving her that promise. But they say everything happens for a reason, and maybe if I won that national title, I wouldn’t be fighting today.”
Whatever he wound up doing though, you know Roxana would be right by his side. That’s a mother’s love. Danny Castillo knows it, appreciates it, and even though he’ll be out of the country on Mother’s Day, his mom is never that far away from him.
“She’s owed smooth sailing and blue skies for the rest of her life,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about anything because I know I can count on her.”
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