|Tuesday, June 3
|Diego Corrales: No More Drama|
By Thomas Gerbasi
This was as bad as it gets.
After a series of progressively deepening lows, Diego Corrales, a former junior lightweight champion fresh off his first professional loss (a 10 round drubbing at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in January of 2001), had made a decision that would affect not only his life and the lives of his family, but permanently place a cloud over his already shaky public image.
And as he sat around the dinner table with his mother and girlfriend, Corrales was about to break the news that he had accepted a plea bargain that was place him in prison for two years on one count of abuse against his then-wife Maria.
"I was sick and I just wanted my life to come back to normal," said Corrales (34-1, 28 KOs), who headlines the season premiere of ShoBox this Thursday night against Felix St. Kitts. "I didn't talk to my wife, who was then my fiancée, about it. I didn't talk to my parents about it. I just went in and made the deal to turn myself in."
"I want you guys to know that this is what I did, and I can explain some of what I did and why I did it," he told them.
The reaction was predictable.
"I remember watching my mom and my wife, and they bawled," Corrales remembered. "They cried, and they pleaded for me to not do it and to fight this thing out. All I could tell them was that I just want my life back. I just want to be me and for my life to go back to normal. I remember feeling the kind of hurt inside that you just need to get away from you. That was probably the lowest point my life could hit. Everything after that just stayed that low. The next three months home stayed that low. It never worked itself back up until I started getting closer to coming home from prison. Things started getting better and I started getting more life back."
After 14 months in the Duel Vocational Institute, a correctional facility in Tracy, California, Corrales has his life back. No more drama. No more hurts. No more bars and prison walls to separate him from his loved ones.
Now the hard part begins - reviving a career that was in shambles thanks to the flashy fists of Mayweather along with managerial and promotional issues, and rehabilitating a name that was dragged through the mud so many times it may never be clean.
"It's a rough game, but I'm an even tougher fighter and person," said Corrales, 25. "I think I've showed that a million times before and that's what helps me get over the top and get to where I need to be. The fact that I am so tough and mentally strong enables me to go in there. Even where talent may fail, mental toughness is what does prevail for me and that's what gives me the ability to go as far as I go. It gives me the confidence to surpass what I've done before."
He's had two wins since returning to the ring in January, a fifth round TKO of Michael Davis, and a first round stoppage of Roque Cassiani. A third victory should follow against St. Kitts Thursday, and in a fairly weak lightweight division, another win or two over quality foes should put him back in the title mix at 135 pounds, where the six footer plans on staying for the time being.
"Right now lightweight's looking nice," said Corrales. "It's comfortable and I feel real healthy, and those are the most important things to me. It's taken me the whole time I've been back home to get into the real swing of things again though. It's taken me a little while."
Training with Kenny Adams will help get his in the ring life back in order, along with regular activity and better opponents. Outside the ring, new promoter Gary Shaw and manager James Prince are handling the business end of things; giving Corrales a peace of mind he hasn't felt for a while.
"These are all great changes for me outside that ultimately affect how I perform, how I work, how I feel about what I'm doing," said Corrales.
But the biggest battle for Corrales isn't against a glove-wearing opponent; it's against the public's perception of him, as well as his own personal demons.
These demons, which surfaced in one way, shape, or form in July of 2000, changed his life forever, and were in stark contrast to the easy-going and accessible "Chico", whose heavy hands had made him a fan and media favorite in rapid fashion.
Maria Corrales, then carrying Corrales' child, suffered serious injuries after an argument with her husband turned violent. Corrales proclaims his innocence, but it's not an in your face' denial that reeks of insincerity. You get the impression that there's more to the story than meets the eye, but anytime a man - especially a professional boxer - puts his hands on a woman, there is guilt.
He admits as much.
"In order for any situation to escalate to the point that it escalated, absolutely, you have to take some part in it," said Corrales. "For me to give a complete denial and say that I had no piece in this, no, that wouldn't be true. I had some wrong, but nowhere near what the media portrayed. But in order for any situation to escalate to a horrible situation, there has to be two parties involved. If there was only one person involved there is nothing to escalate to."
Once news of the incident hit the airwaves, the media ran with it, convicting Corrales before a court date was even set.
"Good, bad or indifferent, stories sell," he states philosophically. "Most of the time it's bad. There is no news unless it's bad news. You don't really see things on TV or on the news about the guy who did something great, you see the person who did something bad. That's news, that's the media. It was real difficult because I never got to explain my position. I never got to explain anything. All you could do is sit back and watch people pound you verbally. That's a hurtful thing. That's a real hard thing to take. And I told my wife before, these people really just killed Chico' and just left Diego.' There was a very fun loving, childish Chico'. That was me. That part was taken."
He took whatever backlash came his way, and tried to live his life, all the while preparing for the biggest fight of his career, a clash with Mayweather that saw him struggling not only with out of the ring problems but a continuous battle with the scales.
It all caught up to him on January 20, 2001. Five times Corrales hit the floor, and each time he dragged himself up, waiting to accept more punishment in the hopes of landing an equalizer. It never came, and after the fifth knockdown, his stepfather Ray Woods halted the bout above the protests of "Chico".
The fight still rests uneasy in Corrales' mind, and he yearns for another shot at "Pretty Boy Floyd."
"The honest truth is that no one scared him as much as I did," said Corrales. "He fought me purely out of fear. There was no way he was going to let me land the big shots. The one time I landed a decent shot, it wasn't clean, but it was enough to get his attention. He picked up, never sat still again, and that made the difference. The fact that he knows what he's facing now, and he knew what he was facing then, there is just no way for him to take that or to convince him to take it."
Mayweather was never better than when he beat Corrales in that Las Vegas ring, and since then, his defensive wizardry and boxing artistry have dazzled solid foes like Jose Luis Castillo and Jesus Chavez, but his brittle hands haven't allowed him to put things together offensively like he did more than two years ago.
Corrales thinks the time is ripe for a rematch, and he believes Mayweather will give him one.
"Oh yeah, I think he would," said Corrales. "I think he's gonna make me go through the wringer, and he has every right to, but he would (give me a rematch). He won the first fight regardless of the situation. I'll definitely go through everything to get my revenge."
To "Chico", everything means whoever is put in his path. And unlike some fighters, Corrales is willing to take the long way to get his shot at redemption.
"I welcome the opportunity," said Corrales. "I'd go through Leonard Dorin first, (Paul) Spadafora second, and then (Artur) Grigorian next, just to get the shot at Mayweather. I'll take on all three of the titleholders just to get my revenge at Floyd. I'd take it any day of the week."
His focus on Mayweather keeps him driving, keeps him working long hours in the gym, and keeps him at 135 pounds. He is still an assassin in the ring, though he claims his second time around, "It's not going to be so much of the reckless Diego. Of course that will always be there and will always be the backup if need be. If someone just out-talents me, well then of course I have to go to what's natural and make a fight out of things. That's always gonna be there. My style now is still an aggressive boxer-puncher style, but just a little bit more elusive."
Time in prison has also made him readjust his life outside of the ropes, where it ultimately matters, and where he has been able to make something positive out of a multitude of negatives.
"I just re-evaluated my life, and re-evaluated how I was living my life," said Corrales, who married Michelle in January, and is father to her two children as well as two of his own from previous relationships. "I think the biggest change in me has been in my private life - how I live at home and how I strive to live at home. That, the media can't see. Nobody sees it but my wife and my kids, and that's okay with me. The biggest change is what came outside, where no one else sees, and only they see. And where it needs to be. That's the biggest plus for me because I have had to change so much of my life."
Corrales gains inspiration and focus from his family life now, especially his children, and he hopes to give that back to them. "The kids, no matter what you do, are here," he said. "They're gonna find a way to get the best out of you. And they always do. I hope if I can teach them any one thing, it's just to never give up and never accept what's given to them. Hopefully I can teach them a great deal of the determination that I have and to never accept just getting by. Getting by is not enough."
Change is a good thing, especially given Corrales' past, and time will tell if it sticks. You want to see it happen because the world doesn't need anymore tragedies; doesn't need any more athletes going off the deep end, especially those who have been given a chance to rehabilitate themselves. What may even make it worse in Corrales' case is that "Chico" is an intelligent and articulate young man who should have known better. But he is wiser now, more guarded, and more careful about who he associates himself with and about what situations he gets himself into. Yet he's not bitter.
"I definitely watch myself," said Corrales. "I guard my feelings and my emotions a lot more than I have in the past, just based on what happened to me. I'm a lot more guarded. I know what the media is and I know what their job is. Am I bitter? No. They're doing their jobs. But I also wonder where the job cuts and where better judgment comes in with the job. This is still a young kid we're butchering. Why don't we look at the facts and investigate the facts a little deeper? Questions like that pop up, but to say I'm a little bit bitter about it, no, not at all."
He still has the fire though, the fire that led him into trouble and into ring supremacy at the same time. Controlling that flame is the supreme task for him now, and when asked whether the second part of his career will be "revenge" or "redemption", Diego Corrales' fire burns.
"It's almost a 50-50 split," said Corrales. "I've said it this way, never to the media, but I've said it to my family and my management, that somebody has to pay for what I've been through. Somebody's got to feel what I've been through. And I've got to let somebody see what I've been through. I've got to take that back for myself. I've had so much taken from me. Someone's got to pay for it, and it just happens to be the guys that are there in the ring with me."
Where it ought to be.