Boxing

Diego Corrales - 1977-2007. God Bless "Chico"

Chico08.05.07 - By James Slater: As surely all boxing fans are now aware, Diego "Chico" Corrales tragically died in a motorbike accident in Las Vegas yesterday. This is one of the worst tragedies in recent years involving a boxer. The news is particularly heartbreaking due to the fact that Diego, only twenty-nine years of age as he was when he passed away, was one of the most well liked and respected of fighting men. Even his rival opponents in the ring had no bad words to say about him. And certainly, his many fans were never going to be in any way negative when speaking about their hero - such was Diego's massive popularity. This popularity, mind you, was earned the hard way in the ring. Never short on guts, "Chico" went way beyond the call of any boxer on more than a few occasions - he gave his all every time he fought. That he was killed in such an unfair and cruel way, when his life, not only as a man but as a fighter, had many more years left, is perhaps the most saddening part of Monday's tragic events.

Though no-one can do an adequate job of encapsulating Diego's incredible career in a mere article - such an exhilarating fighting life is more that worthy of an entire book being devoted to it - I try here to at least do Diego justice. In short, he will never be forgotten, and here I recall some of his greatest ring accomplishments.

Diego, born on August the 25th, 1977, in Sacramento, turned pro in March of '96. A three round TKO win over one Everett Berry was his and the beginning of a sensational boxing career had begun. Diego went unbeaten in his first thirty-three fights, picking up the IBF super featherweight title with a seventh round stoppage of Roberto Garcia in 1999. This belt proved to be the first of many titles Diego would box for.. Winning his first world title in his twenty-ninth fight, after attaining a superb record that contained twenty-five KO's, Diego very quickly became a fan favourite. He punched hard, was fast, and, most importantly, was utterly fearless. With a willingness to fight any and all comers Corrales was almost instantly respected - men like the aforementioned and previously unbeaten Garcia, as well as challengers John Brown, Derrick Gainer, Justin Juuko and Angel Manfredy were all seen off as he fought at championship level at 130 pounds. The best of his thrilling career was still to come, however.

In 2001, with a perfect record of 33-0, Diego signed to fight a man many considered the best in the world, pound-4-pound. That man was Floyd Mayweather. Diego had relinquished his IBF belt after the win over Manfredy. His intention was to move up to campaign at lightweight. Instead he fought "Pretty Boy" for his WBC 130 pound title. The decision proved to be a big mistake. Engaging in his first super fight, Diego was to suffer multiple knockdowns at the hands of the incredibly fast Mayweather. Only the heart and courage he would soon become legendary for kept Diego in the fight. Eventually, though, after what was the fifth knockdown Floyd had scored, "Chico's" corner stopped the fight at two minutes and nineteen seconds of round ten. Diego was furious at the time, but the halting of the action was something that had to be done. He was way behind on points and only a miracle, come from behind KO, could have saved him. A come from behind, miracle KO? Those are words that would actually be used when describing Diego's astonishing win in a fight some four years after the loss to Mayweather. For now though, the jaws of defeat were not going to let a victory be snatched from them. Diego had lost for the very first time.

After a two year hiatus, caused by personal problem inducing jail term ( details of which I'm not going into here, save to say Diego served his time and came back a better person) Corrales fought again in January of 2003. Anxious to get in the ring and do what he did best, Diego utterly destroyed Michael Davis in five rounds in Atlantic City. "Chico" was back!

After a further three wins, all three by KO, Diego fought a world title elimination bout. A win over the Cuban, Joel Casamayor would earn Diego a shot at his old IBF belt. Unfortunately, the win eluded him - in their first fight at least. The initial meeting between Corrales and Casamayor, held in Las Vegas on the Holyfield-Toney card, was a memorable and slightly controversial fight. Both men hit the canvas and an exciting slugfest was witnessed. Actually, Diego was put down twice, once again showing grit by beating the count both times. But a terrible injury to his upper lip lead to his TKO defeat after the end of round six. He had been hit so hard by Joel that a huge tear had opened inside his mouth. With the fear that he could choke on his own blood, Doctor Margaret Goodman called a halt to the action. Boos were heard from the crowd and once again Diego was unhappy that a fight of his had been stopped. A rematch was hastily signed.

Five months later, this time with the vacant WBO 130 pound title on the line, the two met again. This time, surprising Casamayor by boxing quite beautifully, Diego won the fight on points. It wasn't a Corrales fight without some drama though, and in the tenth round he was sent briefly to the canvas. He got up and captured a split decision win. With it he said goodbye to his days as a super featherweight.

In August of 2004 he made Acelino Freitas quit in round ten, and the WBO lightweight championship was his. Diego really was back on top of his game now. But then came THE fight for which he will always be remembered for. His unforgettable fight with the Mexican warrior that is Jose Luis Castillo was about to be upon us.

Enough has been written about this incredible fight already - and quite rightly, too. Many experts, to this day, list Corrales-Castillo 1 in the top three or four greatest fights in history. They are not wrong.

The pace was frenetic from the opening bell. Neither man was willing to give an inch and the resulting action had the crowd, that was actually far from a sell-out one, at fever pitch. But then came THAT round, the tenth. Marked up badly around the eyes and tiring, Diego was sent crashing to the floor twice in the session. Only to scrape himself off the canvas on both occasions and score a comeback KO win that was, without exaggeration, seemingly impossible. He got up, somehow regrouped or fired away on blind instinct (it's open to interpretation which) and pinned Castillo on the ropes. Whereupon "Chico" blazed away with an accumulation of punches that prompted the referee, Tony Weeks, to dive in and rescue Castillo. Those in attendance had just witnessed one of the most mesmerising displays of heart and guts ever seen in a boxing ring. Diego was the winner at two minutes and six seconds of round number ten. His place in boxing history, whatever else should follow, had been secured.

It is somewhat ironic that the date of this epic brawl, May 7th, is the very date on which Diego died. And while there were more fights to come from Diego after that incredible night on which he refused to accept he'd been beaten, I wish to pretty much end this tribute piece on that note. Sure, there was controversy about how Diego had bought extra seconds by spitting out his gum shield in the fight that is now two years old. Sure, they fought a rematch and this time an over-the-weight Castillo prevailed by a fourth round KO. Sure, Diego then lost his rubber match with Cassamayor. And sure, "Chico" then lost his debut up at welterweight, to Joshua Clottey. But with what has shockingly and heartbreakingly just happened, who wants to think about the fact that Diego lost his last three fights?

His place in boxing history should be among the bravest and most courageous fighters of all-time. There can be no more fitting a tribute to bare out the fact that this is just what Diego Corrales was, than his first fight with Jose Luis Castillo.

Diego "Chico" Corrales - 1977-2007. Former IBF super featherweight world champion. Former WBO super featherweight world champion. Former WBO lightweight world champion. Former WBC lightweight world champion. Final record - 40-5 (33).

Article posted on 09.05.2007



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