It was a big night for the 130-pound weight class. Two undefeated, 23-year old stars, Diego Corrales and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., were to square off at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, live on HBO. Mayweather wasn't yet one of the most polarizing figures in sports, simply an outstanding young boxer with skills that were drawing comparisons to Sugar Ray Leonard and Willie Pep. Diego Corrales had yet to quite make his legend as one of his generation's gutsiest warriors. Though, unfortunately for Corrales, this night would be a start on building said legend.
When Mayweather and Corrales met, the pound-for-pound rulers in the sport were Roy Jones, Jr., Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad. A hair under seven years later, and Shane Mosley has just suffered a hard-fought loss that has him thinking retirement. Trinidad has retired -- twice -- and is making another comeback next month, coincidentally against Jones, who has long since fallen from the pound-for-pound lists.
Diego Corrales, sadly, is no longer with us. Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is gearing up for a gigantic fight against undefeated English star Ricky "Hitman" Hatton.
Mayweather-Corrales doesn't seem too long ago, but my, how the game has changed.
You know the fight. Corrales is a shade under 5'11", tall, rangy knockout puncher. Always coming forward. Mayweather, at 5'8", is a slickster's slickster. He moves back, but he's always ready to counter punch. From a boxing family, Mayweather has it in his blood. Corrales has it all in his heart.
I was about to turn 19 years old when this fight took place. I knew boxing as a casual fan, having fallen off, but I was familiar with these two guys. I thought Chico Corrales was too long, too powerful for Mayweather. He'd beaten up on some damn good fighters -- including Angel Manfredy and Roberto Garcia -- and as much skill as I thought Floyd had, I didn't think he was the type of guy that could handle a potential gut check like Corrales would be able to.
I may well have been right about that. But man, was I wrong about the outcome.
Because Floyd never allowed a gut check to come. With a fantastic left hook that he used liberally and to great effect, Mayweather owned the ring against Corrales. Coming into the tenth and final round posted above, Corrales had gone down three times, the first three times of his 33-0 career. The 24-0 Mayweather was too fast, too sharp, too intelligent, and plain too much for Chico.
Another knockdown comes in the tenth on one of the short left hooks. Corrales is up with ease, just down on shot legs. No one ever said Mayweather was a big puncher, but Diego took so many shots that he had nothing left, even though he was coherent and very much in the fight mentally.
With plans A through R having failed him, Corrales was stuck with a right hand that sent his body twisting, landing him on one knee. His father then stood on the apron and put the white towel on the corner.
Watch it all the way until the end, because it is one of the two memories of Diego Corrales that I think are so vivid and so Chico.
Having been knocked down for a fifth time, and losing every single round except for one on one ringside judge's scorecard (and I don't see how he won a round, either), Diego Corrales was incensed with his father for putting the towel in.
"No, no, no, no, no! What are you doing? What the hell are you doing?"
He never wanted to quit. It hadn't even entered his mind.
The other moment, with Corrales being lifted in the air, almost in disbelief, after knocking out Jose Luis Castillo, would come later.
As for Mayweather, I think a lot of people forget how gracious a winner he was. He said after the fight to forget all the trash talk that led up to the bout -- he respected Corrales as a fighter, hoped Chico did the same in kind, and wanted them both to get on with their careers. Corrales, fighting back tears, was devastated by the loss. Never having dealt with such an outclassing, it overwhelmed him. Asked by Larry Merchant if he could come back from it, Corrales very honestly replied, "I don't know."
It turned out that he could, of course. And it reminds me of the final memory of Corrales I have.
Jumping to welterweight in April against a tough opponent, Corrales was dominated by Joshua Clottey. He was knocked down two times in ten rounds, losing a unanimous decision. Like always, he didn't quit moving forward. He never gave up.
After the fight, Showtime's interviewing reporter asked Corrales if he would retire.
"Nah," he said.