Diego Corrales' epic win nine years ago won't soon be forgotten

LAS VEGAS -- It was a cool, spring night on May 7, 2007. Two days earlier, Floyd Mayweather had defeated Oscar De La Hoya in a match that would become the best-selling pay-per-view bout of all-time.

The telephone rang in the early evening and a familiar, but halting, voice on the other end asked a strange question.

"Have you heard anything about Diego?" the man, who asked his name not be revealed, said.

I was perplexed. I knew he was referring to Diego Corrales, the former world champion who had been extraordinarily popular in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas. Many in the Las Vegas boxing community treated Corrales as a part of their family.

His friend was obviously worried about bad news.

Two years to the day earlier, on May 7, 2005, Corrales had defeated Jose Luis Castillo in arguably the greatest boxing match ever held. It was an epic slugfest, back and forth, with neither man willing to back down. Castillo decked Corrales twice in the 10th and seemed on the verge of victory when Corrales rallied.

After he had a point deducted for spitting out his mouthpiece, referee Tony Weeks walked him to the corner so trainer Joe Goossen could rinse it and reinsert it. Goossen said, "You [expletive] have to get inside on him now,' shoved the mouthpiece back in and then skipped down the steps to watch history unfold.

Corrales blasted Castillo with a right and then, as he always did when he had an opponent in trouble, moved in for the finish. Castillo was laying helpless against the ropes being battered by powerful Corrales punches when Weeks stopped it, setting off a wild celebration and impressing even jaded media members.

If it wasn't the best fight ever, it was among the best, and the finish was one of the most dramatic ever seen in a title fight.

Neither man was ever the same fighter after. Corrales lost his next three fights, including by fourth-round knockout in the rematch with Castillo after both struggled to make weight. Corrales was a mess at the weigh-in and looked as if he were about to collapse as he walked to his room. Castillo had to be helped to the scale.

But for Corrales, his in-the-ring journey wasn't the big one.

On May 7, 2007, in the shadow of the Mandalay Bay Events Center where he'd scored his dramatic victory, Diego Corrales lost his life.

The caller who asked, 'Have you heard anything about Diego," had heard that Corrales had wrecked his motorcycle. A phone call to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police confirmed that there had been a serious traffic accident, possibly a fatal, a little while earlier not far from where Corrales lived.

Arriving on the scene, yellow police tape blocking the area, I parked in a nearby apartment complex and walked over to speak to the officer in charge. He confirmed the worst news.

Diego Corrales, champion, husband, father and friend to so many, was dead at 29.

It was a tragic ending to a somewhat tragic life. He'd done some bad things, and spent time in jail on a domestic violence conviction, but you'd have been hard-pressed to find anyone in Las Vegas who knew him who didn't adore him.

The fans loved him and he loved them back. He would gleefully sign autographs, pose for pictures and talk boxing for hours with his fans. The media loved him because he was approachable, accessible and always had something interesting to say.

And promoters loved him because he was a guaranteed must-watch fighter. He always put on a show.

Never, however, did he put on a better show than he did when he defeated Castillo on May 7, 2005.

The date always evokes emotion, pure exuberance when thinking of 2005 and unabashed sadness when remembering 2007.

He's gone, far, far, far too early, but the good thing is, Diego Corrales is not forgotten. Not will he ever be by those who knew him.