I feel fortunate that I later spent some time with Corrales away from boxing and became friendly with him. Corrales was killed in a motorcycle crash in Las Vegas in 2007. He was 29, way too young.
Diego "Chico" Corrales climbed up from the canvas and directly into the annals of boxing's greatest comebacks Saturday night with his spectacular 10th-round stoppage of Jose Luis Castillo at Mandalay Bay.
Trailing by a score of 10-6 in the 10th round -- having been knocked down twice and assessed a penalty point for spitting out his mouthpiece -- Corrales got up and drilled Castillo with a left hook that changed the course of the lightweight division and, perhaps, both men's boxing careers.
Wobbly and still reeling from the two knockdowns earlier in the round, Corrales then battered Castillo with an onslaught of big punches that left Castillo out cold against the ropes, his neck limp and his eyes glazed.
Referee Tony Weeks waved the fight to a stop at 2:06 of the 10th, and a weary Corrales celebrated his unified lightweight title as ringside observers reached back in their memories across years, even decades, in what might have been a vain attempt to recall a more dramatic round in a world championship fight.
"It was a left hook inside," Corrales said of the crucial shot in the finishing rally. "I knew I couldn't let him off the hook. He was hurt, and I had to go for it."
Corrales improved to 40-2 with 33 knockouts with the victory against Castillo (52-7-1, 46 KOs). He captured the rugged Mexican's WBC championship to add to his WBO belt in front of 5,168 fans at the Events Center on Cinco de Mayo weekend.
"I told everyone this was going to be a fight of pride, a fight of honor," Corrales said. "I promised I was gonna go in there and bring the fight to him, and I did. ...
"To be in a fight like this against such a great champion was an honor. I said it was going to be a war of attrition, and it was."
The bout immediately drew comparisons to such classic fights as Evander Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe (1995), Bobby Chacon vs. Cornelius Boza-Edwards (1983) and Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (1982, 1983).
Veteran boxing publicist Bill Caplan said he had never witnessed anything quite like Corrales' performance -- not even in 1995 at Caesars Palace, when Bowe recovered from a sixth-round knockdown, the first of his career, to floor Holyfield twice in the eighth and score a technical knockout.
"I worked Holyfield-Bowe, and this was even better because (Corrales) came back during a 10-6 round," Caplan said.
Dave Cokin of ESPN Radio Las Vegas said he hadn't seen such heroics in the ring in at least a quarter-century.
"I can't remember how long it's been since there were so many times during the fight that I thought, 'Now it's over,' " Cokin said.
Co-promoter Gary Shaw called Corrales-Castillo "the fight of the year, next year, and the next decade."
"You probably saw the best fight you will ever see in your lives," Shaw said.
When the bell rang for the 10th, the faces of both fighters bore the visible damage of nine previous hard-fought rounds in the brutal brawl.
Blood had been trickling from Castillo's left eye since an accidental head butt in the fourth round, and the swelling around Corrales' left eye had taken on the hue and size of a small eggplant as a result of Castillo's relentless punishment.
Working Corrales tight on the inside as he had all night, Castillo executed a Spalding Guide left hook to send the taller man (5-foot-11 to 5-8) to the canvas for the first time.
"It was a great left hook he hit me with," Corrales said. "The first knockdown was the harder one. I didn't expect that shot."
It was clear Corrales had not completely recovered when Castillo put him on his rear end a second time.
"When he got me again, I was still buzzed," said Corrales, of Las Vegas by way of Sacramento. "I knew I was going to get up. I was aware of what was happening."
After each knockdown, Corrales spit out his mouthpiece, which allowed him to gain a few extra, precious seconds as his cornermen rinsed and replaced it.
Weeks deducted a point from Corrales' score after he spit out the mouthpiece a second time, having ruled it was done deliberately both times.
"The ruling is the mouthpiece must be replaced when it comes out when there's a lull in the action," Weeks said.
Moments later, Weeks stopped the fight because he believed Castillo was in dangerous straits, unconscious on his feet just inches from the fists of a rejuvenated Corrales.
"He got hit with some bombs, and his eyes rolled back in his head," Weeks said. "He just went limp. He was out. He was out on his feet."
Ever the Mexican warrior, Castillo said he was willing to continue.
"I don't know why the ref stopped the fight," Castillo said. "He let him get up from two knockdowns, but he didn't let me get up from one. He hurt me a little bit but it was not worth stopping the fight for. ...
"The ref gave him 15 extra seconds to put in his mouthpiece. Those 15 seconds are crucial when you have him hurt."
Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes Castillo, also was furious about what he perceived as an unfair advantage for Corrales.
"You cannot circumvent the rules by taking out your mouthpiece and throwing it to get more time," Arum said. "I never heard of that. He should have made him fight without the mouthpiece -- that's the penalty."
Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said the referee acted appropriately. ("He's not trying to blame Ratner, is he?" Ratner said of Arum.)
Arum did say the thrilling bout is likely to be named the fight of the year, and added, "Part of why I feel this way is because my guy lost, I admit that."
The fighters went toe-to-toe for the first 27 minutes of the bout, hammering each other with short lefts and hard uppercuts with workmanlike precision.
After nine rounds, Corrales led 86-85 and 87-84 on two judges' cards, and Castillo led 87-84 on the third. The Sun had Castillo ahead, 86-85.
Scheduling a rematch might seem natural after such a closely contested fight, but Camp Corrales balked at the idea late Saturday night.
Joe Goossen, Corrales' trainer, said a second fight like this one could jeopardize the careers of both men, if not their long-term health.
"They should never fight again," Goossen said. "It's too much."
Shaw agreed, saying you'd have to be "sadistic" to want to see an encore.
Castillo had a differing viewpoint when he was asked in the postfight news conference if he's eager to fight Corrales again.
He answered in Spanish, but at least one word of his reply was readily recognizable to nearly everyone in the ballroom.
"I'm ready to do it tomorrow," he said.
Sidebar: A sampling of the greatest turnarounds in world championship fights in boxing history:
May 7, 2005, Las Vegas. Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo, lightweights: Knocked down twice in the 10th round, Corrales recovers to score a TKO later in the same round, pummeling Castillo against the ropes with a barrage of unanswered punches.
March 23, 1996, New York. Arturo Gatti vs. Wilson Rodriguez, junior lightweights: Floored in the second round and fighting with badly swollen eyes, Gatti finishes Rodriguez with a hook to the chin in Round 6.
March 13, 1993, Las Vegas. Michael Carbajal vs. Chiquita Gonzalez, flyweights: Carbajal is knocked down twice, but gets up to KO Gonzalez with a left hook in Round 7.
Dec. 2, 1992, Tortoli, Sardinia. Kennedy McKinney vs. Welcome Ncita, junior featherweights: Trailing on the scorecards, McKinney is forced to take a knee in the 11th round but recovers to KO Ncita with a straight right later in the same round.
April 25, 1987, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fidel Bassa vs. Dave McAuley, flyweights: Knocked down twice in the ninth round, Bassa comes back to stop the local favorite in the 13th.
March 16, 1974, Panama City. Roberto Duran vs. Esteban DeJesus, lightweights: Duran is dropped in the first round but roars back to stop his opponent in the 11th.
Nov. 3, 1973, Johannesburg. Arnold Taylor vs. Romeo Anaya, bantamweights: Taylor hits the deck three times in the eighth round and once in the 10th before registering a one-punch KO in the 14th.
Dec. 10, 1958, Montreal. Archie Moore vs. Yvon Durelle, heavyweights: After hitting the canvas four times in the first five rounds, the Ol' Mongoose rallies to score an 11th-round stoppage.
Nov. 30, 1955, Boston. Carmen Basilio vs. Tony DeMarco, welterweights: Basilio is knocked cold on his feet by a DeMarco hook in the seventh round, but hangs on to record a 12th-round stoppage.
Sept. 23, 1952, Philadelphia. Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott, heavyweights: Marciano tastes the canvas in the first round and is trailing on the scorecards when he KOs Walcott with a short right to the chin in the 13th.
Sept. 27, 1946, New York. Tony Zale vs. Rocky Graziano, middleweights: Zale sustains a knockdown, a bloody face and a broken thumb before reaching deep for a hard right and a left hook to KO Graziano in the sixth round.
Sept. 14, 1923, New York. Luis Firpo vs. Jack Dempsey, heavyweights: Knocked down seven times in the first round, Firpo then catches Dempsey with a straight right and sends him flying through the ropes. Dempsey is saved by the bell and KOs Firpo in the second round.
Oct. 16, 1909, Colma, Calif. Jack Johnson vs. Stanley Ketchel, heavyweight /middleweight: Knocked down in the 12th round by a big right hand, Johnson rises to KO the smaller man with an uppercut that rips five of Ketchel's teeth off at the roots. (Source: The Ring Magazine Boxing Almanac)
Las Vegas Sun, May 9, 2005