LAS VEGAS, Oct. 5 – As the wise man Don King once advised, “Don’t believe anything anyone says in boxing.” The rumor was going round the Mandalay Bay Arena that Diego Corrales, who was scheduled to meet with the media there yesterday, was being treated like an illegal immigrant and not someone born in Columbus, S.C., raised in Sacramento and currently residing in this all-American city.

The story was that Chico didn’t have the temporary credentials needed to enter the joint where he will meet Joel Casamayor for a third time this Saturday night.

Why he would need a stinkin’ badge was beyond our comprehension because Corrales’s picture was on the credential he allegedly didn’t have. It was a funny story and just because it was not true should not be held against Chico.

What was held against Corrales, and the reason he was late for his appointment with Kevin Iole, Jeff Haney and moi, was a six-month old cutie named Daylia.

“She tends to work on her own schedule,” said the father of nine. “She has her own agenda.”

His voice was tender, an adjective that would never be ascribed to his ring style. One of the Vegas scribes – whatever national boxing media allowed to wander during the baseball playoffs will probably be in Chicago for King’s freak show with the 7-foot Russian, Nikolai Valuev – asked Corrales about favorite fighters. He immediately mentioned Marvelous Marvin Hagler and his slugfest with John (The Beast) Mugabi.

He called the Beast “a real animal,” but loved the way Hagler “systematically broke him down, he boxed so well, a great jab, a great right hook.”

Hagler, I told him, once refused to visit his wife and newborn daughter in the hospital because he was training for a fight and didn’t want to become “soft” (in truth, the Marvelous One did sneak a peak at his ladies before taking out Caveman Lee in one round).

I thought Corrales was going to cry. He said he had not seen Daylia but for a couple of times in the last few months as he trained in Los Angeles for the still-dangerous Casamayor. He said it was “driving me nuts,” being without wife Michelle and baby Daylia.

“Who I am in the ring is different than who I am outside the ring,” he said. “I’m a borderline schizophrenic. I don’t mind being a soft and kind person. My dad, one of his favorite expressions, was you have to give a little to ask a lot.”

He has become the gentle warrior. His battles with Casamayor, Jose Luis Castillo and Robert Garcia look like they were scripted by Arturo Gatti. Yes, he did prison time for hitting his pregnant first wife, but he seems to have mellowed. He is very close with his kids, though only three live with him and Michelle.

“That’s more than enough,” he said.

“Girls, they’re the best, but they’re going to be dad’s torture later,” he said.

He said his eldest, a 13-year-old girl, called him recently and asked permission to go to a homecoming. Wait a minute, he said. Homecomings are for college and high school. His daughter was in the eighth grade.

She said “it was only a dance.”

“I’m not worried about the dance,” Corrales told her. “I’m worried about after the dance.”

He said it was a case of “been there, done that.”

He hasn’t been doing much in the ring lately. This will be his first fight in 364 days, or since his fourth-round knockout by the overweight Jose Luis Castillo. That was in the rematch of their classic fight-of-the-millennium get-together four months earlier, when he was knocked down twice in the tenth round, only to get up and stop Castillo.

He was supposed to have a rubber match with Castillo, but again the former lightweight champion couldn’t make the 135-pound limit and Corrales refused to put himself at risk again fighting a bigger man who did weaken his body to accommodate the scales.

He didn’t think he had any old business remaining with Casamayor. But last July, the Cuban exile called him out when Corrales wound up doing commentary for Casamayor’s lackluster victory over Lamont Pearson.

That will not be the same Casamayor he will face Saturday on Showtime. He knows that, hell, he’s looking forward to having another scrape. It’s what makes him a future hall of famer. He said it wasn’t up to him to decide whether he got into Canastota, “but I don’t care what they call me, I had a great career and I love my job.”

There’s been a lot of trash talk echoing between the camps. Casamayor may well be trying to make sure Corrales is angry enough to abandon his more careful boxing style that he used so well in the second fight. Corrales figures that.

“The first time me and Cas fought, it was a war,” he said. The war was called after Casamayor had knocked him down twice and he had returned the favor once in only six rounds. Corrales was bleeding like a pig after Casamayor punched a hole in his mouth with the assistance of a faulty, non-fitting mouthpiece.

Corrales felt he was one more right hand from ending it in his favor. Thing is, Casamayor was one left hand away from the opposite. Thing was, Corrales was surprised somewhat by the 1992 Olympic champion and former WBA junior lightweight titlist, “how sharp he was then – but that’s how sharp I am to him now.”

Casamayor’s trainer then, Joe Goossen, and the Cuban parted company and for the second fight Goossen emerged in Corrales’s corner. Maybe it wasn’t quite the same as Leo Durocher leaving the Dodgers to manage the Giants, but the impact on the two sides was perhaps more telling.

The southpaw Casamayor, however, was still able to drop Corrales with one of his hard and straight left hands. That gives him three knockdowns to one in their rivalry.

“But he was hurt bad,” said Corrales in his defense.

Casamayor said “everybody knows he doesn’t have a chin, but one thing he does is get back up.”

With all the verbiage making the rounds in the prefight hype, there is the respect for each other that two fighters will grudgingly give after a couple of brawls.

“He’s tough because he’s a southpaw and he’s very good at fighting that way,” said Corrales. “He has very good hand speed, but it’s his accuracy that is great. He’s very sharp.”

Goossen said the second fight he showed Corrales how to avoid certain things “and Joel’s accuracy wasn’t as great.” Corrales is the 2-1 favorite (the buy-back odds on Casamayor are $1.70 to $1). That seems a little high, especially since Corrales is coming off his two brutal fights with Castillo and hasn’t fought in a year. On the other hand, the 29-year-old champion – I think this is for his WBC belt, though it’s really for the real, true lightweight championship – said the break left his abused body refreshed.

Casamayor is 35 and though he hasn’t looked good this year while scoring knockouts over Antonio Ramirez and Lamont Pearson – and last year was held to a draw by the crude Almazbek (Kid Diamond) Raiymkulov – great fighters don’t always get up for small fights. This is it for his career. It should be a great event, there’s a raw but exciting flyweight champion, Vic Darchinyan, in the co-feature, defending against Glenn Donaire, and this is a “free” weekend where the premium cable network, Showtime, is showing off its programming to entice new subscribers.

MEANWHILE…: On HBO, the current drek continues to flow. Okay, there’s a rematch of last year’s war between Tomasz Adamek and Paul Briggs (I doubt if it’ll be so good this time around), but Nikolai Valuev and Monte Barrett is probably no better than the last crap I saw on that formerly No. 1 boxing network. The walk-ins were better than the fight, certainly a hell of a lot longer. Jorge Arce riding to the ring sucking on a red lollipop, wearing a cowboy hat and riding on the back of Harley outdid his overmatched challenger, Hawk Makepula, who sang some religious chant that took longer than Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Makepula made it only to the fourth round, and that’s because Arce had picked that round – he probably could have ended the mismatch a lot sooner….But look at some of the other shows coming up to challenge the skills of Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant to stay awake – like Joe Calzaghe vs. someone named Sakio Bika, Juan Manuel Marquez vs. something named Jaca (on pay-per-view, no less), Winky Wright vs. the long-in-the-tooth Ike Quartey, and can we wait until next year’s Ricky Hatton-Juan Urango thriller? What is going on over on Sixth Avenue? I can’t believe they miss Lou DiBella that much.

PENTHOUSE: This is personal, so skip to the more interesting OUTHOUSE below, but I have to give thanks to David Tua, who kindly supplied me with wheels yesterday. The Tuaman has a fight lined up for Nov. 3 on a Cedric Kushner card and hopefully, a couple of more tune-ups will get him ready to re-enter the heavyweight fray. However, I fear that he is just too nice a guy for this business.

OUTHOUSE: Where do we start? Don King for using the 7-foot-2 (or maybe only 7-foot-flat) Nikolai Valuev to help raise money for the Republican party is one choice. King has made sure no GOP attorney general will ever look into his business again, so I’m hoping the Democrats, whoever they are, get into power. Supporting George Bush and his war should be a hanging offense….Sterling MacPherson, who once was a Don King fighter and then a Don King flunkey (until the promoter angrily accused him of trying to steal Mike Tyson), has crawled from under his rock with Tyson in tow for a “world tour” of exhibitions. There are already scheduled stops in Australia and China, but the world begins Oct. 20 in Youngstown, Ohio. It is of course sad that Tyson can think of no better way to start paying off his debts, but I am reminded of what Iran (The Blade) Barkley once told me when I asked him how he was preparing for his post-boxing career: “I’m going to rob your house,” he said. At least Tyson is not mugging people or picking pockets and if there are suckers out there willing to pay $25 to watch him sweat, so be it. They can probably find friends at auctions to buy Pete Rose confessional baseballs. What is really criminal, though, is the use of longtime sparring partner Corey (T-Rex) Sanders (not the Corrie Sanders from South Africa who knocked out Wladimir Klitschko, but the one from Maryland who once knocked out Oleg Maskaev). Sanders has been fighting maybe eight years with one eye and I don’t care if it is only an “exhibition” with pulled punches, pillowed gloves and headgear, he should not be doing this for a living and Ohio – the very state that King helped carry for Bush in 2004 – should be kicked out of the union if it allows this to happen….I first visited the beautiful town of Dubrovnik, on the spectacular Dalmation Coast, in 1967 and later on I made sure to take my bride to the medieval walled city. My first trip, I saw Tito and the Shah of Iran walking arm in arm on the way to the local casino. Now in Croatia, Dubrovnik will host the WBC convention this month and Jose Sulaiman has invited Tyson to attend so the organization can “extend a special tribute to one of the greatest heavyweight champions in history, regardless of what others might say.” Kind of chokes you up, doesn’t it?