LAS VEGAS – Some of the biggest names in boxing passed through the doors of the Palm Mortuary on Tuesday, barely noticing the reed-thin man with a scraggly patch of red hair standing out front in the scorching sun clutching a tattered newspaper against his chest.
The man watched as promoters, managers, fighters, friends and family gathered to pay their final respects to Diego Corrales, the ex-junior lightweight and lightweight world champion who died in a May 7 motorcycle accident near his home.
Michael Bruce said he didn't know Corrales, has no connection to the boxing business and only met him once, but said he couldn't miss the funeral.
"I love boxing and I wish all boxers were like Diego, but that's not why I'm here," he said. "I'm here because of this."
Bruce pulled the newspaper away from his chest to reveal a photo of an exultant Corrales after his epic May 7, 2005, knockout victory over Jose Luis Castillo. On the side of the photo was scrawled barely legible writing: "Michael, thanks for being such a great fan. Diego Corrales."
Corrales signed the newspaper for him outside of a Las Vegas restaurant, Bruce said. Corrales was going to meet friends, but made them wait for more than an hour as he stood in front and signed autographs and spoke to his fans, Bruce said.
It was, according to Corrales' close friend Pat Lamparelli, the type of thing Corrales did every day – he was one of the meanest fighters in the ring, but he was kind and caring outside of it.
Lamparelli, who was an honorary pall bearer, said he learned not to go to movies he wanted to see badly if he was with Corrales.
"We'd never get in," Lamparelli said. "People would see him and they'd flock to them. A lot of guys would just smile and walk past. Some guys would sign as they walked into the theater.
"But not Diego. He would stand there and talk and take pictures and sign things for them. By the time he was done, the movie would be two-thirds over."
During the service, Corrales was hailed as a man of compassion and courage.
Former referee Richard Steele, an ordained minister who conducted the ceremony, relayed a story of how Corrales kept a promise to attend a charity golf tournament Steele was sponsoring on May 9, 2005.
It was only two days after Corrales had stopped Castillo in the 10th round of that fight at Mandalay Bay that has been hailed as one of the greatest bouts ever.
"I had his picture on the promotional stuff, but after that fight, I never expected him to be there," Steele said. "No way. There was no chance. I told everybody, Diego's not going to be able to come. He was too beat up. He couldn't even open his eyes."
But a swollen, sore and battered Corrales did, in fact, show up, keeping his commitment and leaving a lasting impression upon Steele.
Boxers Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Kevin Kelley, Samuel Peter and Wayne McCullough; promoters Bob Arum and Gary Shaw; referees Steele, Joe Cortez and Tony Weeks and trainers Roger Mayweather, Kenny Adams and Dickie Woods attended the service.
Corrales' manager, James Prince, split the costs of the funeral with Shaw.
Showtime executive Ken Herhman said the network was producing a tribute to Corrales that it would air on June 9.