Three years ago, the boxing world was riding a major high. The May 5, 2007 fight between Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. had done phenomenal business, giving boxing the sort of widespread media coverage that hadn't been seen in a long while. Sports Illustrated even called it "the fight to save boxing." This was dopey, but to many, that's what Oscar-Floyd was.
Two days after the big fight, we were hit with the news that Diego Corrales was dead. He was just 29 years old. Without sounding cold, the young passing of "Chico" didn't shock people. He lived a high-energy lifestyle (to put it one way), had had his out of the ring troubles over the years, and was just one of those guys where you think all along, perhaps with a small bit of admiration, that they won't be there forever.
But while it may not have been shocking in the purest sense, it did hurt. Corrales had been one of the great action stars of his time. His death came two years to the day following what most feel was the best fight of the 2000s, his thrilling comeback stoppage of Jose Luis Castillo in 2005.
He had fought just one month prior, moving up to welterweight and losing a bad decision to Joshua Clottey, who hammered Corrales for 10 full rounds. To be honest, at 29, Corrales looked shot. The years of punishment and his inability to make his optimum weight any longer appeared to have taken their toll. I wondered if Corrales would ever really be a contender, and I figured probably not. But I knew he'd keep fighting, whether anyone liked it or not. He was a fighter.
I think most people regard Corrales' rivalry with Castillo as the greatest of his career, but I go with the overlooked trilogy against Joel Casamayor. In their first fight in 2003, the two went to battle, with Casamayor winning via TKO-6, the fight stopped due to two cuts inside Corrales' mouth. They met again five months later, and that's the fight we'll be talking about today.
Rest in peace, Chico. And thanks for all the memories.
Rematch - Vacant WBO Junior Lightweight Title Fight
(30-1, 19 KO)
(37-2, 31 KO)
March 6, 2004 | Foxwoods Resort - Mashantucket, CT
Referee: Steve Smoger | Judges: Julie Lederman, Steve Weisfeld and Don O'Neill
Corrales out to "Blueprint 2" by Jay-Z, one of the many times where before he gets going, Jay-Z requests some tinkering with his headphones. Casamayor out second to something that isn't Jay-Z and thus I don't know what it is. It's in Spanish!
Corrales, as he usually did, came in with a pretty substantial height advantage. At a shade under 5'11", he was massive for a lightweight, and he hadn't even gotten to 135, as this fight was Chico still down at 130. Casmayor was no small junior lightweight at 5'7" with a good reach (69" to Chico's 70"), but he looks tiny next to Corrales.
And by the way, if ever there was a referee fit for a Corrales fight, it's Steve Smoger. This was the only Corrales fight Smoger ever worked, at least as far as I can tell. He may well have worked something else at some point.
Of Interest: This was also the first time that Diego Corrales was trained by Joe Goossen, who had trained Casamayor prior to this bout. Casamayor and Goossen had a pretty amicable split, and Goossen was replaced by Buddy McGirt. So both men were working with new trainers for this rematch, one of whom had just been in the other guy's corner. McGirt had also been offered the job with Corrales, but Main Events didn't like that idea. They did like Casamayor and McGirt working together, which according to Buddy came up the very next day. Somehow, against all odds, nobody ever got nasty. In fact, the two trainers had nothing but good things to say about one another.
Right after the bell, you can hear a man shout, "Hit that sumbitch!" First minute has Corrales flicking his jab as Casamayor works his way around the ring. Joel strikes first with a sharp left hand, and another one lands moments later. That left hand dominates much of the first two minutes, in fact. Casamayor using good combination punching, not a lot of it landing, but those lefts are getting in there, and Corrales just isn't getting off first. Chico with a combo of his own with about 50 seconds remaining in the round, but Casamayor gets moving again. Corrales with a short right, not much on it. Chico trying to jab in, trying to slow Casamayor, but not having much luck yet. Casamayor both stayed on the run and provided the best punches of the first round.
In the corner, Corrales tells Joe Goossen that Casamayor has nothing, and they seem happy enough with the round.
Corrales pressuring to start the round, Casamayor moving all around the ring. Corrales warned for his elbow, Casamayor for a rabbit punch while they clinch up. Casamayor looking as though he has no desire to trade punches with Corrales, constantly looking to tie up. And it happens again when Corrales really lets a right hand go. Casamayor with a nice shot, but Corrales comes back with a right hand that keeps Casamayor on the move. Little firefight, nobody really gets the better of it. Corrales round mostly on pressure.
McGirt tells Casamayor to jab more.
Casamayor with a good left to the body. He comes out to center ring and stands his ground more to start this round than he had in the first two. Now Corrales' pressure gets him fighting off the back foot again. Didn't last long. It's againt he Corrales pressure that is dictating the round. One thing I found interesting about Corrales was that despite his lack of pure skill, he usually adapted well to his opponents. If they wanted to war, he'd war, shaky chin and all. Here, you have Casamayor playing spoiler to the extreme at this point, and Corrales is staying within himself far more than he ever had before. He's using his jab, constantly stalking Casamayor, and while you can say that Casamayor is also neutralizing Corrales, Corrales is definitely neutralizing Casamayor. Casamayor with a couple shots at the end of the round, but not enough.
Casamayor out aggressively to start the fourth. Now moving again after that brief flurry didn't back Corrales off any. Casamayor clinches again. Casamayor doing slightly better this round with his jabs to the body, but it's still Corrales just being more aggressive. It's really kind of an odd gameplan by Casamayor and McGirt. This lack of aggression against Corrales is going to do no one any favors, and Corrales wasn't the sturdiest guy in the world. While Casamayor had been ridiculously called "feather-fisted" by some of his detractors, the truth is when he sat down on his punches, he could do some real damage. He had more than enough power to do a lot more than he's doing here. Basically, Casamayor and the gameplan are beating themselves at this stage of the fight. Corrales isn't putting on some master class performance, he's just getting the better of the rounds purely because Casamayor seems disengaged.
Between rounds, Goossen is about the most positive guy ever. "It's going your way. Do you feel it going your way?"
Casamayor sticking and moving, meaning he's added "sticking" to his arsenal this round. The first two minutes are good work from Casamayor, and he staggers Diego with a counter left hand down the pipe. Corrales comes back hard, like he generally did, but Casamayor is finally throwing enough and showing enough fire to look like he's really in the fight, at least for the first time since the opening round. It's not that the second through fourth were really blowout rounds, but Casamayor just wasn't really there. He wins this round fairly close, in my view.
At this point on the official cards, Corrales was up 4-1 on one and 5-0 on the other two.
Starting to mix it up a little more this round, but again the base visual is Corrales stalking and Casamayor on his back foot. Casamayor trying to take his corner's advice to target the body, and his occasional charges forward seem to have Corrales a bit more tentative than he was early on. Those long jabs to the body are in Corrales' head, and now Casamayor starts swiping him upstairs. Corrales with a flurry late in the round, but Casamayor gets away. Casamayor eats a right hand, then dances. Corrales has no reaction. Close round, but I favor Joel by a hair.
Goossen wants the jab from Corrales. McGirt tells Casamayor to start backing him up.
The seventh round starts hot with a brief exchange that Corrales wins. And then it settles back into the familiar pattern of the fight: Corrales advancing, Casamayor moving, now with shots targeting the body. Corrales makes Casamayor miss on a couple shots upstairs. Corrales gets the jab pumping, then shoots a long right hand. Everywhere Casamayor goes, Corrales is in his face. They bang away, but Corrales stops Casamayor cold in his tracks with a left hook to the side of the head. Corrales landing meaningful punches as Casamayor looks to get more offensive. It's like Chico has been sitting on this stuff for six rounds, and he's licking his chops at the idea of letting his hands go, which is what he loved to do.
Casamayor, though, is doing good work, too. A lead left catches Corrales flat late in the round, and Casamayor sticks him with another one as they exchange near the bell. A Corrales round, but competitive and the most exciting round of the fight to this point.
Like the last round, Casamayor is definitely involving himself more and more. He still wisely doesn't want to exchange with Corrales, but he seems intent on making his presence well-known. Those early rounds where he laid back too much were not Casamayor -- he's always painted with the tactical fighter brush, and he was one, but he also had a mean streak and could be very effectively aggressive. His speed and style allowed him to be something more than his pure power might have dictated. At his best, anyway.
Corrales has spent most of this fight doing what he should, fighting tall and allowing Casamayor to trap himself in a way. Casamayor doesn't at any point in this fight look bad, but Corrales' stalking is taking the majority of the rounds to this point, because Casamayor rarely looks truly good, either. He's fighting in bursts, and just not enough.
Corrales still stalking in the first minute, firing off lefts and rights. Casamayor ducking, dodging, and dancing to try to get into Corrales' head, even as Casamayor's tactics begin to look like they're wearing on his stamina just a bit. Corrales, on the other hand, looks fresh and composed in there. A left from Casamayor lands just before a right from Corrales can get home, and Corrales and Casamayor exchange big punches again seconds later. The fight starts, in the last few rounds, to heat up some. Casamayor is getting some swagger going, and Corrales is starting to drop his guard more than he should. It's Casamayor getting off first more often than Corrales in this round, with Chico there with Casamayor step for step, but that little bit behind him.
McGirt tells Casamayor to not stay in front of him, to use his jab, but to fight back and "don't wait."
Corrales wanders out of his corner, looking like he wants to touch gloves, but Casamayor rips him with a lead left hand right off the bat. The tone is getting set: we're seeing Casamayor's meanness come out, but at the same time you can see the genuine respect these two have for each other. When Casamayor roughs Corrales up on the ropes by accident, he shakes his head and extends his glove, and they exchange half-cocked smiles. They know each other. They know who the other man is in the ring. And they know this is a fight.
About halfway into the round, Corrales is blasted by a left hand from Casamayor and goes down. He's up quickly, but looks a bit glassy-eyed. This entire round has seen Corrales caught with his pants around his ankles, so to speak, and now it's Chico moving backwards, with Casamayor throwing that left hand at will, hoping to connect again. He knows again that he can hurt Corrales, that he can put him on the mat. And it has invigorated the sneaky Casamayor. He looks like a cobra in this round, striking at Corrales with precision and force. Chico, to his credit, recovers pretty well, gets his legs back, and more or less had to chalk this up to a lost round. But he got out of trouble and went back to his corner.
Casamayor is again the aggressor, with Corrales looking thrown off. The way he backed Casamayor down early in the fight just isn't there anymore. It's now Casamayor doing the stalking, with Corrales having to keep his head moving and his chin down. He's not employing the jab he had earlier. Casamayor cracks him in an exchange, but Corrales fires right back with a good right that gets Casamayor's attention.
Both men are throwing this round, with neither landing much of note, really. Corrales seems aware that he was letting himself get walked down, and is doing his best to change that. They clash heads on a fiery trading of punches, but the action doesn't stop. A closer round, but Casamayor squeezes out another one.
Goossen tells Corrales that he hurt Casamayor in that round, and while he did shake him a bit, he never had him in real trouble.
11 back-and-forth rounds come down to the 12th and final three minutes of a very good, very underrated fight. It's no Fight of the Year type, but it shows a lot about both of these fighters. It is, in a way, a microcosm of the careers of both men.
It's a safe first half of the round from both. I'm not sure either of them were particularly confident about the fight's scores, though both are fighting really as if they're comfortably ahead on the cards. Casamayor is moving and boxing, while Corrales is following half-hearted and throwing a long jab. It's like they're both trying to do just enough to not look like they think they've got it in the bag, and not so much that they get hurt. It's a strange round to watch, because this is a very close fight and you've got two guys who appear to think it's sewn up. They end it by both dancing around with their arms up, believing in their impending victory.
THE FINAL TALLY
Julie Lederman: 115-112 Corrales
Steve Weisfeld: 114-113 Casamayor
Don O'Neill: 115-112 Corrales
Nothing much -- truly, I have no problem with the way this fight was scored. After five rounds, I had it a 3-2 edge for Corrales, while the official cards him up 5-0 twice and 4-1 once.
It was a fight of sections. Early on, Corrales controlled with Casamayor beating himself. As the fight progressed, Casamayor started taking over with skill, speed and hard, accurate punching. Corrales was not Diego "Chico" Corrales: Action Man! in this fight. You could say this was his safest and most reserved performance in a major fight. Rarely did we see the super aggressive Corrales, as Goossen kept him from getting overly anxious, pulling the reins on the guy who loved a brawl and made him fight like a tall guy, which he was.
Casamayor, I feel, won this fight. You might wonder why I'd choose a fight that I think Corrales lost to remember him on the anniversary of his tragic death.
It's simple. Diego Corrales fights, for the fans, were less about who won and who lost than they were a celebration of a double-brave fighter and the opponent across from him, be it a dominant Floyd Mayweather Jr., a rugged Jose Luis Castillo, or the crafty Casamayor. Up until the very end of his career, and so shortly thereafter his life, Corrales fought like there was nothing else he could possibly imagine doing with his life. He was wildly outmuscled and outgunned against Joshua Clottey in his final bout, but despite the thorough beating, he just kept coming. A lesser fighter would've had a referee pull the plug. Corrales got the benefit of the doubt, because he was Diego Corrales.
Three years later, and it still stings when I think that Diego Corrales is gone. As I said before, I didn't think much of his career prospects at that point, but I still wish we'd seen him give it another shot. Maybe a little time off would have done him some good. Probably not, speaking honestly, but maybe. Corrales was a guy tough to count out, because he wouldn't stay down. He wouldn't give up.
Corrales and Casamayor would fight a rubber match in 2006, a somewhat disappointing bout won via split decision by Casamayor. I again scored it for Casamayor, too, and feel he proved he was a better fighter than Corrales. After that fight, Casamayor, never known for his positive attitude or his smile, called Corrales his friend. Jose Luis Castillo also expressed great respect and admiration for Corrales, to whom his career is forever tied, and vice versa.
He was that sort of fighter.