Given the potentially lethal nature of their profession, all boxers might be described as risk-takers. But former two-division world champion Diego Corrales took that concept to the extreme outside the ring as well, living as hard and as recklessly as he fought.
Corrales, 29, was pronounced dead at the scene after his newly purchased 2007 Suzuki 1000 motorcycle, reportedly traveling in excess of 100 mph, was involved in a three-vehicle collision at about 10:30 p.m. EDT Monday night in Las Vegas.
Corrales' estranged wife Michelle, who is 7 months pregnant, identified the body 3 1/2 hours after the crash. Corrales was wearing a helmet and, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police spokesman said, there was no evidence that drugs or alcohol were involved.
It is not uncommon for a fighter to say he would rather die than lose, but for Corrales - born in Columbia, S.C., raised in Sacramento, Calif., and, for the past several years, a resident of Las Vegas - it was more than a standardized mantra.
In the most memorable bout of his 11-year pro career, on May 7, 2005, a battered and nearly blinded Corrales arose from two 10th-round knockdowns at the hands of Jose Luis Castillo to stop Castillo later in the round in what many have called the most action-packed prizefight of all time. The lightweight unification slugfest received 60 of 61 votes for designation as Fight of the Year by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America.
"In my 35 years in boxing, that was the greatest fight I've ever seen," said Corrales' then-trainer, Joe Goossen. "I've never seen anybody come back like that, from those knockdowns. We were very worried in the corner. But I remember Diego telling me, 'If you stop one of my fights, I'll kill you.' "
But that was not the only time Corrales snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. On Aug. 7, 2004, he was well behind on points through seven rounds when he launched another desperate rally, flooring WBO lightweight titlist Acelino Freitas in the eighth, ninth and 10th rounds before Freitas signaled to referee Michael Ortega that he'd had enough.
"I was shocked," Corrales said after the Brazilian did something that Corrales himself probably would not have considered. "Acelino Freitas is one of the biggest punchers in the world . . . A puncher always has confidence that his punching power can bail him out of anything."
Tall (5-10 1/2) and spindly for someone who began his career as a junior lightweight and never fought at a weight class above junior welterweight, Corrales, like Thomas Hearns, packed putaway power in both hands. He was 40-5, with 33 knockout victories, and even in bouts that were going badly for him, he never stopped believing he could land that one big shot that would cause a momentum shift his way. In a Jan. 20, 2001, challenge of WBC super featherweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., Corrales was enraged when his stepfather, Ray Woods, threw in the towel in the 10th round, despite the fact he had been knocked down five times and was bleeding badly from cuts inside his mouth.
Corrales was 0-3 since the remarkable comeback against Castillo, and his personal life often was messy. He spent 14 months in a California prison for beating his pregnant wife, Maria, who later divorced him, and he was in trouble with the IRS at the time of his death.
For whatever reason, perhaps as a release valve for his boxing, domestic and financial tensions, Corrales - the father of four children and the stepfather to another - found escape in dangerous activities his family and handlers were unable to prevent him from engaging in. He once told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he had jumped from a plane at 14,000 feet, snowboarded on rocky terrain and scuba dived amid sharks.
"I'm only young once, I only get to live once," he was quoted as saying in that story. "If I couldn't do this stuff now, stuff I always wanted to do, I would never get a chance to do it."
Said Gary Shaw, Corrales' promoter: "Diego lived an X Games lifestyle . . . He skied like a wild man, he rode fast, he fought hard."
Corrales is not the first athlete to have sought thrills on a motorcycle and paid the consequences. Philadelphia middleweight James Shuler died in a motorcycle crash in March 1986, and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams and Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow II all suffered significant injuries while driving motorcycles. *