Chico: 'I'm going to retire at 30'

10/5/2005 - Boxing

If you're going to sit in on a Diego Corrales workout, you had better clear your schedule for the day. "Chico" works full shifts in the gym.

On sparring days, which are four or five days a week, he'll often go as many as 15 rounds with three or four sparring partners. On non-sparring days, he does at least 25 rounds of bag work and various floor exercises (in addition to his road work and strength and condition training).

Corrales is about as happy-go-lucky a fighter as you'll meet, but once he starts training, his focus is almost scary. He views boxing as a serious occupation.

Corrales faces Jose Luis Castillo on Saturday (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET) in a lightweight title rematch of their instant classic that took place five months ago, which Corrales won by a miraculous 10th-round technical knockout.

Coming from a working-class and military background, Corrales has always been dedicated to his craft. After an amateur career that culminated with a bronze medal at the 1995 Pan-American Games, Corrales didn't bother shopping himself around to promoters. When it was clear that most of boxing's power brokers were keeping an eye on the boxers who made the 1996 Olympic Squad, he packed his things and relocated from Sacramento, Calif., to Texas, where held down a trucking gig and attended classes at a junior college.

Corrales did this for nearly a year, contently he adds, before former manager Cameron Dunkin came looking for him with an offer to fight for Top Rank. Dunkin moved Corrales to Arizona and matched him with veteran trainer Ken Adams, a stern former military man, and the two got along with each other. The former Army (and Olympics) coach was a good fit for Corrales because of his country background (Southern Missouri roots) and his no-nonsense approach to training. Adams is a notorious disciplinarian in the gym, which was fine with Corrales, who was just as demanding on himself.

He has to be. Corrales, 28, says he's not going to be one of those fighters who stays in the game past his prime. In order to retire and stay retired without regret and without the need to try to come back, he says that a fighter must face and at least try to conquer all the challenges he sets for himself.

"I'm going to hold myself to retiring at age 30," Corrales said. "I know I will stay retired because I've done everything that I set out to do when I started boxing.

"Don't get me wrong, boxing is an addiction. It's very hard to leave behind. As fighters, we spend our lives striving for this job; we sacrifice our lives for it. Even when we are old and we should leave it alone, we want to stay in it for that last hurrah. We don't want to hear someone tell us to leave with a pat on the back after all we've put into this sport."

Corrales' words take on an eerie significance in the wake of the passing of Leavander Johnson, a brave warrior of a boxer who stayed around too long.

"I'm not going to stay in this brutal sport much longer," Corrales said. "I don't want to do anything to destroy the legacy I've built. I've worked my whole life for that."

In 9½ years as a pro, Corrales has won four major world titles in two divisions and took part in a fight earlier this year that many consider to be among the greatest ever. So you believe him when he says he's accomplished all of his goals.

The only reason for Corrales to keep slugging away now is for the big money, which he's due. Of course, there's something to be said for dedication to one's craft and for just keeping busy.

Even after his emotional and spiritual meltdown in 2000 -- which started when he beat his former wife that summer, continued with a beating of his own at the hands of Floyd Mayweather in January of 2001 and ended with his spending a year in jail -- Corrales refused to be idle, tutoring his fellow inmates in English (according to his former comanager Barrett Silver).

Corrales believes the year away from boxing after his amateur career and his two-year hiatus from the game while incarcerated helped to preserve his body and mind, both of which he'll need to function fully if he wants to win his next fight.

"I had almost three years of breaks before and in the middle of my professional career," said Corrales.

"That's probably why I'm accelerating now."

Corrales has been accelerating since his release from jail in mid-2002. The only bump on the road to his immortal confrontation with Castillo this past May was a technical stoppage loss to Joel Casamayor in October 2003, a loss he avenged five months later with the help of Goossen, Casamayor's former trainer.

Corrales split with Adams after the first Casamayor fight for personal reasons. He was supposed to be trained by the guy who wound up training the Cuban for his rematch, Buddy McGirt. Corrales was about to start camp with McGirt when the former two-time champ received an offer he couldn't refuse (full payment of $60,000 paid up-front) from Casamayor's promoter, Team Freedom.

Before McGirt switched teams, Corrales had received a call from Goossen's right-hand man, Elan Haim, shortly after splitting with Adams. The phone call went well until Haim brought up the prospect of Goossen's training him. Corrales shouted at Haim and hung up the phone.

Haim called again at the behest of Goossen after news of McGirt's training Casamayor circulated. This time Haim just asked Corrales whether he would meet Goossen in person.

Corrales, who says he can see into a fighter's soul and know instantly whether they are going to fight or fold by looking directly into their eyes, likes to do business face-to-face. He agreed to the meeting.

"When I got here, Joe just said 'Let's sit down and have a talk,'" Corrales said. "As we sat down, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out can of chewing tobacco and began to tap it as he started talking. It reminded me of my Dad, who's from South Carolina, and it put me at ease."

The union has worked well. With Goossen's guidance, Corrales did to Casamayor what many naysayers said he could not do. He outpointed the master boxer. Five months later, Corrales forced Acelino Freitas to call it a night after 10 rounds, winning the WBO lightweight title and reclaiming his place among elite fighters.

He never doubted he could make it back all the way, even when many followers of the sport gave up on him after his loss to Casamayor.

"I took that loss in stride," Corrales said. "To go directly from fighting C-level fighters to fighting an A-level one and being competitive after two years off let me know that I was back. In boxing it only takes one big win and you can be back in business."

Nothing can top his victory over Castillo, another working man of the ring for whom Corrales has the utmost professional respect (the Mexican national took on Juan Lazcano, Casamayor and Julio Diaz in a nine-month span going into their first fight).

He expected hell in the first bout and he got it. He expects it again in the rematch and he's training accordingly.

"They always show up for me," Corrales said. "I don't care who they are. The worst fighter will put on the fight of his life when he fights me. I know the best possible Castillo will show up and that's my motivation to work so damn hard."

He paused, took a deep breath before walking to the heavy bag, and said: "They should give me a medal of honor for the [expletive] I put myself through."

There are those among the media (myself included) who question whether Corrales should put himself through hell again. Is it a good idea for he and Castillo to get in the ring only five months after their grueling slugfest? Most of the questions are directed at Corrales, who many believe received more punishment in the fight despite pulling off a dramatic 10th-round knockout after being dropped twice in the same round.

Corrales believes the less small amount of time between bouts will make him sharper this time around.

"This camp has gone much better than the camp for the first fight," he said. "I looked terrible in that camp because I had been off for nine months. It took me the entire camp just to find my rhythm."

Goossen employed some tough local lightweight prospects and journeymen for that first camp to help Corrales get ready for Castillo -- including Jose Armando Santa-Cruz, Rolando Reyes and Silverio Ortiz -- and the boys often gave as good as they got in sparring sessions that sometimes went as long as 16 rounds.

This time around, however, Corrales is the boss in the ring. He sets the pace and his sparring partners are forced to focus more on defending themselves than putting hands on him. Reyes, who recently won the NABO title by stopping Courtney Bourton, is back for this camp. The Oxnard, Calif., native, who is trained by former IBF 130-pound titlist Roberto Garcia (and who lost that belt to Corrales back in '99), provides good work for Chico.

He is a good inside technician like Castillo, and he has an educated jab and a mean uppercut like the former two-time champ, but he's got faster hands than the Mexican, plus decent footwork.

Reyes, 25-3-2 (16), used all of these attributes to good effect for the first two rounds of a sparring session recently; however, when Corrales decided to step it up, it was very clear who was the elite fighter and who was the prospect.

Corrales worked six rounds with Reyes, who is 18-1 in his last 19 bouts, and focused mainly on applying smart pressure and body punching.

He then sparred five rounds with Angel Mata and worked the rugged little journeyman from long range behind a sharp jab. Corrales finished this session by going three rounds with Ulises Pena, a 12-5 journeyman everyone in the gym calls "Doc Oc" after the Spider-Man villain, because of his mauling tactics. Total rounds: 14.

"That was a slow day," said Antonio Leonard, one of J. Prince's main men, "we normally do 18 rounds!"

To which Corrales replied: "Slow day for who?"

"Hey, you do the fighting, you let me do the sellin'," Leonard said.

"Yeah, you do that, that's not my thing," Corrales said. "I'm in the pain business."

Yup, and business is good.

Castillo-Corrales I was strictly for the die-hard followers of the sport. Only around 5,000 faithful were present at Mandalay Bay's Event Center that unforgettable night.

There will be three times that amount at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday, and hundreds of thousands more will buy the pay-per-view broadcast.

It's special when two world-class craftsmen of punishment as tough as Corrales and Castillo butt heads in the prize ring. This time, everyone knows what to expect in Las Vegas.