The sport of boxing is in desperate need of a spark to electrify its spirits. We are losing fans due to lackluster alphabet soup champions (IBO, WBU, etc.), decisions decided by bribes rather than objective scoring, and the fact that we don’t have too many “old school” popular fighters who remind us of boxing’s golden years. We need a champion who can help us forget about the indictment of Bob Arum and Top Rank, the Mike Tyson circus, and the abolitionists calling for the end of our beloved or what they call barbaric sport.
Luckily, we have found that spark in Diego “Chico” Corrales, a fighter who helps you fall in love with the sport of boxing. Articulate, charismatic, humble, this 27-year-old lightweight champion of the world is that role model we’ve been looking for. On October 8, Corrales will defend his titles in the highly anticipated rematch with Jose Luis Castillo, who came so close to victory only to see his opponent get up off the canvas twice and knock him out all in the same round. My father, who’s covered fights dating back to the 1930’s, called the Castillo-Corrales war THE greatest fight he’d ever seen.
And thus a star has been truly born. The man nicknamed “Chico” because of his slender physique as a kid has emerged larger than life in the boxing world. He’s been a championship caliber fighter for years, but a new and improved “Chico” has graced the ring who seems to have more determination and willpower than ever before.
On the eve of his training camp for the Castillo rematch, Diego seems ready to go back to war just like a soldier bravely returning to the battlefield. He’s determined to win, to make his family proud, and to show the boxing world that he’s the best lightweight in the world. There’s a driving force behind him, constantly pushing him to work harder and be better, even helping to pick him up off the canvas in the heat of battle and carry him to victory. That powerful force is his family.
As Diego said, “I could never let my family down. I don’t want my son ever saying, ‘Daddy, why did you give up?’ I never want them to question how driven I am.”
Life is about overcoming adversity, learning from our mistakes, and becoming a better man in the process. Diego Corrales is a testament to that, rebounding from a big loss to Floyd Mayweather and some adolescent legal problems to become a responsible family man, a role model to boxing fans, and one of the best lightweights to come along since Roberto Duran.
“There’s a bigger picture today and that’s taking care of my family,” Corrales said. I used to make decisions just for myself and now I make decisions for my family and not me. That’s what maturing is all about.”
How often do we hear of great champions who are even greater human beings outside of the ring? Forget about boxing, rarely do we have the opportunity to engage a top-level athlete as low-key and levelheaded as Diego Corrales. As my father told me after we spent time with Corrales before his last fight, “The only other fighters that I’ve felt as close to in my life are Ali and Marciano. He’s so much fun to be around.” Well that’s pretty good company.
How many fighters do you know that would give a 91-year-old man the team Corrales warm-up suit to wear out of the dressing room or give him his belt to hold before the fight? How about fighters opening their home to you as if you were a member of their family? My father and I have experienced this with Diego Corrales and we know how rare and remarkable it is. As my father said, “You don’t see many like these in your lifetime.”
You also don’t see too many trainers like Joe Goossen, who came into Diego’s corner after his first bout with Joel Casamayor, who he was actually training at the time. Goossen helped propel Corrales to victories over Casamayor, Acelino Freitas and Jose Luis Castillo, taking him to the top of the lightweight division. Corrales believes that their relationship has made him a better fighter. “We genuinely care about each other,” Goossen said. “We push each other to the limit. One can’t benefit without the other.”
Goossen, who has trained many top fighters, including the Ruelas brothers, knows how special his relationship to Diego is. “There’s only been a couple guys in thirty plus years that I feel a close kinship with and that I live and die in the ring with. Diego is one of them.”
Together, trainer and fighter, they are a perfect match, yet the warmth that they both exude makes you think that they work in a gentleman’s sport such as tennis, rather than the gritty, brutal sport of boxing where manners aren’t high up on the list of practiced principles. Goossen is a fascinating character who seems as willing and able to teach political theory, as he is to teach the art of boxing. Always well-dressed in the ring like a teacher in his classroom, Goossen’s unique style as a trainer lies in his ability to combine two opposing worlds, the intellectual world and the boxing world.
These two men have forged a bond between them that spans much larger than the square ring that they work inside of. They are part of each other’s family. “I go over to his house for dinner at least twice a week during training camp,” Corrales said. “I know all his kids.”
As the latest training camp begins, look for the Goossen’s to welcome their “adopted” son for dinner. Joe enjoys having his prized fighter at his house because the family enjoys his company.
“I love and respect the guy. The way he interacts with my wife and kids is amazing.” Joe’s wife said to him after Diego first came over for dinner, “I can’t believe it, he’s a normal guy, he talks like a regular civilian.”
And when Joe is in Las Vegas, where Corrales lives with his family, the same hospitality is guaranteed. “He invites me to his home. He takes care of me like a favored family member. A guy at 27-years-old doing that is rare and commendable.”
Many fighters aren’t so hospitable and are even less inclined to praise their trainer as a key element in winning a fight. Corrales understands the importance of a team in boxing, and that he’s not just on doing it all on his own. Goossen continues to be enthralled by Diego’s selflessness.
“He realizes that it’s a team effort and he includes me in on his victories. He’s given me special calls saying how much I mean to him and how much he cares about me. Not too many fighters do that.”
The magical quality resonating from Corrales is a genuine sense of gratitude from deep within him that guides his life. “It’s every kid’s dream of becoming a professional athlete, and not only am I that, but I’m successful,” he said. “I’m one of the guys who truly respects what I do and I’m so grateful to be where I am.”Whether it is in the ring or out, he brings a fun loving, positive attitude to life that just makes you want to be around him. “You see how much fun I’m having,” he told me. It’s impossible not to have fun with Diego Corrales. My father and I have taken many trips to Las Vegas over the years to cover fights, and never have we had such a memorable experience as we did spending time with “Chico” when he fought Castillo. “This is the best time I’ve ever had,” my father said to me. I agreed.
As Corrales’ trainer, Joe Goossen, said, “He’s got a heart and conscience that allows him to be open. From prince to pauper, he’s very endearing.”
As savage and vicious as Corrales is inside the ropes, he is as caring and loving outside. He is quite an enigma in a sport known for its ruthlessness, not its compassion. Diego Corrales is a role model for us all, a champion of champions, and we as boxing fans should be grateful for having such a refreshing, shining star emerge in the murky stratosphere of our sport.