Chico wants to be the man at 135 pounds
Appeal boxing columnist
On his way to winning three world titles in two weight divisions, Diego “Chico” Corrales has never been one to take the path of least resistance.
That won’t change Saturday night when Corrales, the WBO lightweight beltholder, looks to dethrone WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, in Las Vegas.
Although the WBA and IBF might say otherwise, the unification bout, to be televised on Showtime at 9 p.m. (delayed broadcast on the West Coast), will determine who is the division’s undisputed champion. THE RING magazine, which doesn’t acknowledge sanctioning bodies, recognizes Castillo as its world champion and has Corrales as the No. 1 contender.
“I’m impressed with Castillo’s tooth-and-nail style,” Corrales said Monday when contacted at his home in Las Vegas. “He finds a way to get it done.”
So does the 27-year-old Corrales, who in 1999 knocked off 32-0 Roberto Garcia to claim the IBF junior lightweight title. After successfully defending his belt against top contenders such as John Brown, Derrick Gainer and Angel Manfredy, Corrales, then 33-0, challenged unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2001.
It was the beginning of a rough three years for Corrales, whom Mayweather knocked down five times on the way to a 10-round TKO. Following the bout, Corrales served more than a year in prison for spousal abuse and after four comeback fights lost an epic battle to former WBA 130-pound champion Joel Casamayor in a non-title bout in October of 2003.
The fight, which saw both men hit the floor, was stopped in the sixth round because of a gaping wound caused by Corrales’ mouthpiece.
On March 6, 2004, Corrales proved his mettle and avenged the defeat with a split-decision victory over Casamayor for the vacant WBO junior lightweight title. Five months later he stopped undefeated Acelino Freitas for his WBO lightweight belt and became the newest player in the 135-pound division.
Just how long Corrales can stay at 135 is anybody’s guess. At 5-foot-11, Corrales constantly diets and endured an 11-week training camp for the Castillo fight, which was three to four weeks longer than his usual camp.
“It’s still hard getting down to 135,” Corrales said. “One-forty would be still be tough. (Between fights) I put weight on and go through weight training. This fight, I’ll be a true lightweight.”
Corrales, 39-2, with 32 knockouts, appears to have brought his punch with him to 135 and floored Freitas three times before “Popo” quit in the 10th round. And in the 31-year-old Castillo, 52-6-1, with 46 knockouts, Corrales will be meeting a similarly powerful opponent.
“Castillo’s a great inside fighter and he’s a technician,” Corrales said. “He’s strong on the inside. I look for him to be all these things.”
Corrales believes he is more versatile than Castillo.
“I think I’m better. I’m the stronger of the two on the inside,” said Corrales, who, in spite of his long arms, is able to throw effective short punches. “Once we’re on the inside it benefits me. No matter where we go, I’m good. Outside or inside, I’ll take it wherever I can get it.”
On paper, Corrales seems to have many advantages: He’s four years younger and four inches taller than Castillo and has a two-inch reach advantage. Castillo, who turned pro at 16, has more professional fights than Corrales, but “Chico” had 255 amateur fights, losing only 15.
Even though there are several attractive fights out there for the victor – WBO junior welterweight champion Miguel Cotto said “the door is open” for the winner – Corrales has his mind on only one person.
“I’ve got a helluva job on my hands,” Corrales said. “I have to think about how I handle my job. Castillo’s a helluva fighter. Truthfully speaking, I have to give him every ounce of my undivided attention.
“(World junior welterweight champion) Kostya Tszyu, Miguel Cotto – I don’t care about them. Nobody else but Castillo is getting in there with me Saturday. I don’t care about ‘open doors.'”
Nor does Corrales feel he’ll benefit from his own boxing pedigree.
“I have to handle (Castillo) as Castillo,” Corrales said. “I can’t take anything from my other fights. I have to find a way to beat him at his set thing.”
And that thing is power, aggression and the will to win. Castillo first captured the WBC lightweight crown on June 17, 2000, with a majority decision over Stevie Johnston.
After a draw in his rematch with Johnston, Castillo had two more successful defenses of his title before losing it with a controversial decision to Mayweather in April 2002. Castillo dropped the rematch with Mayweather later that year but defeated Juan Lazcano in June of 2004 to reclaim the vacant WBC crown.
Castillo defended his belt with a split decision over Casamayor in December and again on March 5, when he stopped Julio Diaz, who gave up his IBF lightweight strap to face Castillo, in 10 rounds.
Corrales said he feels that, sanctioning bodies and THE RING magazine aside, he is the real lightweight champion.
“Juan Diaz (the WBA beltholder) is a good fighter, but he has a lot of growing up to do in the ring,” Corrales said. “He has a lot of natural ability. He’s going to grow into a great fighter someday.”
Corrales said his only prediction is a “great fight” and appears to believe that it’s not the destination that counts, but the journey.
“Thus far it’s great to have done all I’ve done,” Corrales said. “But I’m still not finished. This fight will be just another chapter in my life. I like to look back and watch it and say, ‘I’ve done it again.’ I’m having fun with it.”
And when Corrales looks back on this fight he hopes it’s a tape of the night when “Chico” became “the Man” at 135 pounds.
n Contact Mike Houser at email@example.com