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Diego "Chico" Corrales: 1977-2007

Diego "Chico" Corrales gave a generation of fight fans more to cheer for than just about anyone else.
Diego "Chico" Corrales died on May 7, 2007 (two years to the day after his most memorable victory), as the result of a motorcycle accident in Las Vegas. I was on the SB Nation Sports Report last night to talk about Chico's tragic death and the legacy that he'll leave, plus what his passing means to boxing.

Corrales' death means a lot to boxing. At 29, Chico still had some time left. He had moved up to welterweight on April 7, losing convincingly to Joshua Clottey, which marked his third straight loss for a career that ends sadly short.

He wasn't going to be a champion or even a contender at 147, most likely. He seemed to be considering a move down to 140. But Diego Corrales lived to fight. Corrales was a fighter. It underrates his boxing skills a little bit to say he wasn't a boxer, but as far as the sweet science goes, Chico was no boxer. He was a warrior. He defined the term inside of the squared circle. Diego Corrales could be counted on every single time he stepped into the ring to deliver excitement. He wasn't going anywhere -- Chico was going to stand in front of you and fight, and he was going to do so with absolute vigor.

I've never seen a fighter that was harder to keep down.

Two examples, OK? Corrales/Castillo I. The best fight of the last God knows how many years, in my opinion. Fighters do not get hit flush on the button with left hooks like Castillo bombed Corrales with in that tenth round, and then come back to score a TKO in the same round. I've never seen anything like that, and I doubt I ever will again. Jose Luis Castillo is a fantastic fighter, and would wind up beating Chico in their rematch. The rubber match, as we all know, unfortunately never came to pass. But Corrales will go down in history as having one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- one-round comebacks in the history of boxing. Corrales/Castillo I was a landmark fight for boxing and for the lightweight division. It was a fight that everyone wanted to see again, and once they did, they wanted to see it again.

The second fight is Chico's devastating loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., in 2001. Mayweather turned in what should be considered a career performance. Corrales was no chump, and Floyd floored him five times before Chico's corner mercifully threw in the towel. But did Chico want to quit? No. He protested. He wanted more than anything to keep fighting, seemingly sincerely believing that if he could just stay up two more rounds, he'd find an answer to Mayweather's utter domination.

And what did Chico do after Mayweather hammered him? Knocked out Michael Davis. Knocked out Roque Cassiani. Knocked out Felix St. Kitts. Knocked out Damian Fuller. Four fights after the Mayweather disaster, Diego Corrales was about to start a new chapter in his career.

The IBA super featherweight title was vacant. On October 4, 2003, Corrales and Cuban Joel Casamayor were paired up to settle a new titleholder. They went to war.

Corrales and Casamayor destroyed each other. The fight ended in six rounds because of a vicious cut inside the mouth of Corrales, giving Casamayor the victory. But we all knew nothing had truly been settled. Corrales had been knocked down twice, Casamayor once. And as we'd all find out later, Corrales had the kind of fortitude that could have come back no matter what the situation was.

They fought for a second time on March 6, 2004. This time, the IBA title was on the line, as well as the WBO title that had been vacated by Brazilian hero Acelino "Popo" Freitas. Corrales and Casamayor picked up where they left off, going the full twelve rounds, with Chico winning a hard-fought split decision victory, though he had again been put down by Casamayor. Now on top of the world at 130, Corrales moved to 135.

His first fight as a lightweight was against Freitas, a very popular star, particularly in his homeland. Freitas started fast, and he was beating Corrales pretty handily early on. But then Chico made his push. After ten rounds, Freitas had had enough, submitting the fight to Corrales. Diego Corrales had made the undefeated Popo Freitas quit.

Diego "Chico" Corrales: 1977-2007.
Then, of course, came Castillo. The video of the 10th round of their first fight is posted below. If you're new to boxing, have never seen that fight, or even if you've seen it 1,000 times, I can't encourage you enough to watch the round. You'll never see a better one.

And, as it turns out, it was the final victory of Diego Corrales' career. He lost the rematch to Castillo, lost the rubber match to Casamayor, and lost to Clottey in an attempt to move up a full 12 pounds to welterweight. Even in his loss to Clottey -- a fight he was never really in -- he put forth the trademark Chico Corrales effort. He refused to stay down. And he never, ever quit.

Diego Corrales was everything that everyone wants to see, deep down inside. Yes, it's great to appreciate the pure skill of a Floyd Mayweather, the beauty of the sweet science in its purest form, and true, that's what the art of boxing is really all about. But Diego Corrales -- like Arturo Gatti, Micky Ward, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and a host of other fighters over the years -- was the type of fighter that could make you stand up and cheer from the bottom of your heart. You want them to succeed because, in some way, they represent the everyman. They're good fighters, but they're fighters. The exceptional natural skill isn't their calling card. They succeed because they have guts. They win because they refuse to stay down, even if they're being battered by a superior opponent. And they never back down from a challenge.

Corrales fought the best. Chico wouldn't have turned down a fight against Godzilla if one was proposed. He was, in many ways, a heroic figure in boxing. His personal issues outside the ring are not what he'll be remembered for, and rightly so. Nobody in this world is perfect, and nobody is immune to making mistakes, no matter what they are. Corrales in the business -- especially his last few years -- was one of the most humble, likable characters in the sport. When asked after his fight against Clottey if he was going to consider retirement, he simply responded, "Nah." And he never made an excuse as to why he lost. And he never came off as disrespectful of his opponent or the fight game.

So, if the question is whether or not Diego Corrales will be greatly missed, the answer is yes. If the question is, "What is his legacy?," then the answer is simply that Corrales was one of the toughest and most memorable fighters of an entire generation in boxing.

Gary Shaw said of Corrales, "He lived an X-Games lifestyle," which is befitting of the type of fighter he was. There are few fighters that never let you down, and even fewer that have the heart that Corrales did. Goodbye, Chico, and thank you for all the excitement you provided fight fans over the years. You'll never be forgotten.