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Corrales finds his way back

8/5/2004

When Diego Corrales challenges Acelino Freitas on Saturday night on
Showtime for the WBO lightweight crown, it represents his biggest fight
since his one-sided loss to Floyd Mayweather in January of 2001.

In that watershed moment, Corrales was sent to the canvas time and time
again before being stopped in the 10th round. For Corrales, a knockout
loss to Mayweather was the least of his problems.

Those problems began in July of 2000 when he was charged with spousal abuse
on his then-wife, Maria, who was reportedly 98 pounds and pregnant at the
time. He was eventually released on $100,000 bail, and he went on to stop
Angel Manfredy that September. To anyone who had dealt with Corrales, the
allegations were shocking.

Who knew that this well-mannered, docile and polite young man had such a
dark side? He was so soft-spoken; it was in stark contrast to the
testosterone-laden fight game, but underneath it all was a smoldering pain
and dark side that existed.

"I was shocked that he got into the trouble he got into," said Bob Arum,
whose company Top Rank, promoted Corrales to his first world title. "Because
personally, as far as I was concerned, he was always very polite and very
cooperative and a nice young man. So it was almost like it was a different
guy that was getting into trouble."

Corrales went into the Mayweather fight knowing he was facing imminent
jail time. On the line that night was a lucrative HBO deal for the winner, but only if "Pretty Boy" came out victorious. Corrales had only hard time
to look forward to, win, lose or draw.

For this fight against Freitas, he has a whole new outlook and focus.

"Jesus, it's night and day," he says, shaking his head at the thought. "I
think you can tell that every time you guys talk to me. Anybody that's
talked to me and talked to me then could tell a lot of bad stuff was going
on. My hat's off to Michelle; she's a good woman. She's definitely the rock
behind me."

Michelle is Diego's third wife and so far she seems to be the most compatible.
Corrales has a tattoo above his heart that reads "Pain for Love." And for
good reason. In addition to his problems with his second wife, he had
another former spouse sell off his first championship belts on eBay. Pain
for love, indeed.

But in his darkest days, Corrales says Michelle was the guiding light.

"Me and Michelle sat back and everything was going so wrong, so bad, and she
sat back with me one night, it was really, really late and I was drinking,"
he recalls. "She said, 'Y'know, everything looks so bad for you right now ,but
I promise you one thing, everything can go wrong and I'll still be here. No
matter what happens, I'm still going to be here.'

"It was one of those things where you go, 'Yeah, right' and I told her
that."

Soon after his loss to Mayweather, Corrales opted for a plea bargain and began a 14-month sentence at the Duel Vocational Center in Tracy,
Calif.

"I went to the prison and the day before I turned myself in, I gave her all
my money and said, 'Well, I don't expect to hear from you anymore.' And she
was like, 'I can show you better than I can tell you.' My day of release
came and there she was. I think that's when things really started turning
around. For anybody to sit through and watch me -- people didn't even know
that she was there, she was there through the Mayweather fight. All the
stuff that went on, all the turmoil that went on before that, she was there.

"No one knew that she was still behind the scenes, holding it down. She made
it through all that and just showed me she was strong and I think that's
when things started turning around."

Corrales' next appearance in the ring did not take place until two years
after his first professional loss to Mayweather in January of 2003, when
Corrales stopped Michael Davis in five rounds. From that point he engaged in a series of tune-up bouts to rebuild his stature in the game. Last
October, he got back into the big leagues by facing Joel Casamayor in October. In an
exciting back-and-forth duel that saw both men hit the deck, Corrales -- who
was suffering from profuse bleeding in his mouth -- was not allowed to come out for the
seventh round.

He got a rematch with the Cuban this past March, and in an ironic twist,
he did it with Casamayor's former trainer, Joe Goossen. The two have quickly
formed a bond which was strengthened by their victory in March.

"It definitely has developed; there was a little trepidation I'm sure on
Diego's part the first few days we got together before the Casamayor fight,"
admitted Goossen at his gym in Van Nuys after an afternoon workout. "After
all, we were adversaries just a month or two before and that melted away
quite quickly in the gym. But then it evaporated after the Casamayor
victory. That put us on a real good footing personally and professionally,
and we have a really good relationship."

Goossen replaced the highly respected Kenny Adams, whose strong, forceful
personality had begun to wear on the fighter. At this stage of his life and
career, Corrales needed a softer touch.

"Diego's a very good man, he's a very good person," says Goossen. "He's a
family guy. We've all had rough spots in our lives, and he's no exception to
that rule and he's overcome it. He's really turned the boat around. He's got a
beautiful family. I've been to his home, and I've stayed at his home to show
you just how close we've gotten."

Several months ago, while Goossen was in town for a charity golf tournament,
he shacked up at casa-Corrales in Las Vegas.

"He treated me like a king, I tell ya'," Goossen says. "I'll never forget
how well he treated me up there. Since then, he's spent a lot of time at my
house with my family. He's a family guy. One of the things he told me that
he was impressed with was the fact I've got a close-knit family and that's
something most people like.

"I think that spells out that there's loyalty, camaraderie, trust. If you
can keep a family together it's a pretty good sign for most people that
you're a decent person. And he is, so we share a lot of the same common
interests and values. And that's brought us closer."

The feelings on Corrales' side are mutual.

"Joe's great," he says. "We came a long way, leaps and bounds from when we
first started. When I first came down here, it was not a very trusting
situation. I was on edge; I'm sure he was feeling the same way. But the more
we got to know each other, the more time we spent, the more work we've done,
just the time we spend together outside of the gym -- I spend time with his family every week
just about, have dinner every week -- that relationship has changed from just
trainer to also friendship and very close companionship."

Edward "Jack" Jackson, who is the second assistant and camp liaison, sees
the chemistry between the two.

"It's like they've been working for three, four, five years because Joe gets
Diego to do certain things that Kenny couldn't get him to do," he explains.
"It's personalities -- Kenny's a great trainer, he's a great guy, he's still
my man. But some days Kenny was like, 'I don't feel like going through this
with Diego. I'm going to tell him that's it.' And that's not the way you get
the most out of Diego.

"Joe and Diego are just the opposite. Plus, Joe knows how to pull and tug
when he needs something and not just always push. You have to know how to
move around the guy, because fighters are moody."

Now you want to talk about ironies, the fact that Goossen is now Corrales'
trainer pales in comparison to the fact that James Prince is now his
manager. The same Prince that once managed Mayweather and led the tasteless
taunting of Corrales prior to their fight. Mayweather had proclaimed that he
was dedicating that bout to abused women everywhere and he even talked of
flying in Maria to be ringside for the fight.

Now, as you fast forward a few years, Mayweather isn't exactly standing
arm-in-arm with Gloria Allred for the protection of battered women, and he
has a few cases of his own pending. It seems a role reversal has taken
place.

"Nah, I couldn't have envisioned it," says Jackson, who works with Prince
and his boxers, while chuckling a bit at the circumstances. "Plus, I really
didn't know Diego. I just knew what I read. Floyd's a good kid, very
impressionable, but I say that the bigger and better things got for Floyd,
the little more out of control things got for Floyd. He's still a great
athlete, still a great boxer; as far as turmoil and crazy things, you always
gotta have that daddy. You always gotta have somebody tell you, 'Hey, man,
listen, you ain't doing this right.' And if you ain't listening to none of
them, then it's only a matter of time."

Looking back at that time, Corrales was simply in no state of mind to
compete with a supreme talent like Mayweather -- whose style will always give
him trouble, even at his best.

"Yeah, I mean you look at it now, hindsight's 20-20, but it was my job,"
Corrales says. "I had to do that; I had to go out and take that fight. Even
though there were so many things going wrong and yeah, I was beat before I got there, but
it's still my job to compete and do the best I can. I did the best with that
situation."

After his incarceration, Corrales eventually signed a promotional
agreement with Gary Shaw, who was a bit weary of the baggage he brought.

"When we talked about first signing him and he had just came out of jail and
all, and obviously not for something that was really pleasant, it was
somewhat scary," admitted Shaw. "But the first time I met him, I couldn't
believe it. I mean he was so soft-spoken and easy going and everything's
'Mr. Shaw'. It was an unbelievable experience.

"Since that time that I met him in Atlantic City, when he went on my card
and I signed him, he's just been the most soft-spoken, easy guy that I've
ever worked with."

And now as Corrales goes into his biggest fight post-Mayweather, he still
savors his biggest win after it. For Corrales, the feeling after being
announced as the winner after his rematch with Casamayor was pure
exhilaration and ecstasy.

"It was a long time coming; it was good because it's one of those things
that no matter what you go through, you can still come out and change it
all. I did not let anything beat me. I could've quit a long time ago and gave up and just let
life in general beat me. And that was a real testament to the resiliency of
human nature in general."