LAS VEGAS – The lights of the Las Vegas Strip twinkled in the distance Monday as emergency personnel completed their grim work.
Two years to the day after his greatest triumph, Diego Corrales lay dead, the victim of the same risk-taking behavior that made him one of the most entertaining boxers of his time.
The former junior lightweight and lightweight world boxing champion died at 29 Monday in a motorcycle accident.
Las Vegas police say Corrales' 2007 Suzuki 1000 motorcycle, traveling at a high rate of speed, slammed into the back of a Honda Accord, careened into oncoming traffic and was struck by a Mercedes-Benz traveling southbound.
Only two years earlier in the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Corrales was the victor in a brawl with Jose Luis Castillo in a lightweight title unification match that was unsurpassed in boxing history for its savagery.
But what made the fight so memorable was its sensational and unexpected ending. With his left eye closed, his face a grotesque lump of welts, Corrales dragged himself from the mat after a pair of 10th-round knockdowns to rally and stop Castillo.
It was his finest moment, one of the finest in boxing history.
Tragically, that night of triumph was also the beginning of his end. He lost his final three fights, never again approaching the form he showed in that pulsating win. Castillo knocked him out in four rounds in the rematch five months later.
Joel Casamayor defeated him last October after Corrales was forced to surrender his title on the scale when he was unable to make the lightweight division's 135-pound limit. And then, in a desperate bid to revive his career, he moved to welterweight but was dominated for 12 rounds in April by Joshua Clottey.
After the win over Castillo, he accumulated a large tax debt, separated from his wife, Michelle, had his Cadillac Escalade stolen, was sued for back wages by his ex-trainer, and got into a dispute over his rights with promoter Gary Shaw.
He died as he lived – pushing the limits. He was a soft-spoken and engaging man who loved video games, fast cars and anything that would make the heart race.
He jumped out of planes, enjoyed scuba diving with sharks and skied, he once said, "like a maniac."
The approach he took in his leisure time was the same he brought to the ring. Many fighters say their opponent will have to kill them before they'd quit. Corrales was one of the few who actually meant it.
That approach made him a favorite of those who loved the ferocity if not the art of boxing, but it also contributed to his death.
Michelle Corrales accepted her husband's risk-taking as part of who he was. Undoubtedly, they talked about it many times, as he seemed to indicate during a 2005 conference call to promote his rematch with Castillo.
"I don't know how she handles it," Corrales said of his wife on that call. "But we've had conversations before and I've always said, 'If anything happens to me, be happy that I was able to do what I loved to do to the very end, which is not something all people can say.' "
And so, despite how horribly and tragically he died – leaving a wife and five children with another on the way and a world filled with friends – remember those words, for Diego Corrales died doing what he loved.