The unexpected resurrections of Bailey and Corley
Take yourself back to a time when Brian Dunkleman was just as famous as Ryan Seacrest, when $20-million could buy an ‘N Sync member a trip to space, when Ted Williams’ body and head were attached. The year was 2002. And Randall Bailey and DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley were both twentysomethings on an upward trajectory as major players in the deepest division in boxing.
Nobody’s talking about the other host of American Idol, Lance Bass or Teddy Ballgame’s head anymore, but somehow, here we are in 2009 and Bailey and Corley are on an upward trajectory again. They’ve fought each other twice in the intervening years and both experienced their fair share of downward momentum, but they’re now relevant once more, two of boxing’s most surprising comeback stories.
Two Saturdays ago, Corley knocked out an 11-1 prospect in Kazakhstan. This Friday, Bailey challenges for a belt in the most anticipated ESPN2 Friday Night Fights matchup of the year — maybe the most anticipated in several years. Bailey is 34, Corley 35, and both were thought to be used up a few years ago. But sometimes a new trainer and a little desire can go a long way.
Corley won the first encounter between the two, taking a unanimous decision over Bailey on Jan. 4, 2003, but one fight later, in the biggest opportunity of his career, he lost a decision to Zab Judah in a dull, disappointing bout. Soon after, he fell to both Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto (though he had his moments in both fights). Then the real low came from ’06-’08, when six straight losses suggested it was time to stick a fork in Chop Chop. Losses to Junior Witter and Devon Alexander were one thing; defeats to Jose Alfaro, Dairo Esalas and Ashley Theophane were another thing entirely. The streak concluded with an eight-round decision loss to Bailey on Oct. 22, 2008.
How appropriate it was that Corley’s path intersected again with Bailey’s, because while Corley had yet to turn his career around in a positive direction, “The Knockout King” was doing precisely that. After his loss to Corley in ’03, Bailey fell twice in ’04 — a close decision to Ishe Smith and a one-sided TKO at the hands of Cotto.
Bailey was a 30-year-old former titlist with a 28-5 (27 knockouts) record, and what some viewed as “finished,” he viewed as “at a crossroads.”
“It was the Cotto fight that turned everything around for me,” Bailey, now 39-6 (35), told RingTV.com. “I thank Cotto for what he did in that fight. In the Cotto fight, I was basically empty as far as my fundamentals were concerned. At that point, I told myself, ‘I’m going to find somebody that’s able to make me better than what I am — either I do that, or I’m going to have to retire.'”
Bailey separated from longtime trainer Al Bonani. He tried training with Michael Moorer and Anthony Wilson and won one fight with them, a decision over Roberto Ortega, but the partnership wasn’t quite right. Then he found Norman Wilson and John David Jackson. Bailey waited 10 months to enter the ring with Wilson and Jackson in his corner because he was learning in the gym and wanted to be a polished, finished product by the time he fought again.
“I had gotten into the habit of just coming forward, throwing bombs,” he explained. “Things have to be set up, because after a while, people start realizing, He’s going to try to catch you with the right hand, just look out for the right hand; if you get past the right hand, you’ve pretty much got him figured out. (Wilson and Jackson) touched up on a lot of things with me, and got me back to doing a lot of things that are necessary inside the ring. They got me re-establishing my jab and using my natural boxing ability.”
It’s hard to argue with the results: Bailey has won 11 of 12 since the Cotto loss, and his only defeat in that stretch was a disputed split decision in Montreal to local attraction Herman Ngoudjo. Among Bailey’s wins during the streak are a first-round knockout of 27-1-1 Santos Pakau, a stoppage of 15-1 Anthony Mora, the eight-round decision win over Corley to avenge his loss more than five years earlier, and a spectacular one-punch fourth-round KO of 20-2 Frankie Figueroa on ESPN2 in April.
Now Bailey is set up to fight tough, offense-minded Juan Urango on the Friday Night Fights season finale in a bout sure to deliver impact punches.
“If the knockout comes, it comes, but I’m not going to make a big deal about a knockout,” Bailey said of the Urango showdown. “My game plan is to use my jab and just box him, basically. I’m pretty sure I can knock out anybody at 140 if I catch them on the chin right, but I’m not going to expect it. I’m just going to let it flow.”
The eraser in his right hand makes Bailey’s comeback, though unexpected, easy to rationalize for those who doubted him. Chop Chop Corley doesn’t have quite that same kind of power. So his resurrection is perhaps even more surprising. Especially because, whereas Bailey has never lost two consecutive fights, Corley lost six in a row.
But after losing to Bailey, Corley made some changes. And it started with rediscovering his motivation. As a father of eight kids, ranging from seven months to 18 years of age, Corley didn’t have to look far.
“Two of my sons are boxing now. I have an 11-year-old, he’s 5-1 in the amateurs, and I have an 8-year-old who’s only had one fight. I want to show them how hard work can pay off,” Corley said. “I want to show my kids that once you make it, it can all be taken away from you, but if you dedicate yourself and focus, you can regain it once again and learn how to keep it this time.”
So Corley got a new trainer, Don Turner, who was able to give him the attention he desired, unlike longtime cornerman Bernard Roach, who had to juggle training Chop Chop with his full-time job as a Washington, D.C., fireman. “Fighters are just like women: We’re jealous. When we’re in the gym, we want that attention just like a woman does,” Corley said.
After the rematch loss to Bailey, a fight Corley took on two weeks notice because, he said, he’d been struggling financially and needed the payday, he vowed to stop taking fights at the last minute and always prepare with a training camp of at least four weeks. He started going away to Turner’s camp in North Carolina and sacrificing the time he would normally be spending with his kids.
“I always stayed in the gym, but I wasn’t in 100-percent fighting shape to win the fight. I was just in enough shape to do the rounds but lose,” Corley said. “So I got with Don Turner after the Devon Alexander fight. I lost my first two fights with Don. Randall Bailey was the second loss. And then I knew I had to put my all into it and train and prepare myself like I was a champion. And after two fights, we clicked. Don didn’t change me, he just added to me, he brought out what I already had inside me.”
Since the Bailey fight, Corley has gone 4-1, with the one setback an unpopular eight-round decision to unbeaten prospect Hector Sanchez. In his last two fights, Corley went to Kazakhstan as the “opponent” twice and scored a pair of eighth-round knockouts.
The latter of those two victories, over James Kimori on Aug. 15, was particularly telling about where Corley’s head is and what he’s still capable of. Thousands of miles from home, he got a call from his wife on the day of the weigh-in informing him that his brother had died.
“My manager said, ‘You OK?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not OK, but I’m going to be OK.’ He said, ‘You want to pull out of the fight?’ I looked at him like, ‘You want me to kill you right now? I been away in camp for eight weeks, and now you’re going to tell me we’re going to pull out?'”
In the seventh round of a competitive fight, Corley, 35-11-1 (21 KOs) hurt Kimori with a southpaw right hook. In the eighth round, he knocked the favored fighter out cold with that same punch. He channeled his emotions over his brother’s death into his biggest win since — well, since he beat Bailey almost seven years ago.
Both Corley and Bailey experienced the lows that boxing can deliver, regrouped and took a small-time, small-paycheck, grassroots approach to rebuilding. And for both, that approach has been surprisingly successful.
Now Bailey is in position for major paydays if he can beat Urango this Friday, while Corley wants Bailey to win almost as much as Bailey himself does, because Chop Chop has his eyes on a rubber match.
Whether Bailey beats Urango or not, Bailey-Corley III isn’t a bad fight. It’s not an HBO main event or anything, but it’s two veterans with some name value.
And unlike many matchups that can be described that way, these aren’t two old guys living off the names they established in the past. Bailey and Corley both have accomplished something of note recently and, to the surprise of many of us, both have a future to look forward to, not just a past to look back on.
ÔÇó A few quick opinions on some of the fighters and officials (who, unfortunately, were almost as big a part of the story as the fighters) from last Saturday night’s solid Boxing After Dark card from Houston:
I don’t know judge Gale Van Hoy personally. But I know enough to say that he’s one arrogant man. To have Paulie Malignaggi shine a spotlight on your homer-ism before the fight then go ahead and score that fight 118-110 for Juan Diaz takes a disturbing level of ego. Van Hoy clearly thinks he’s untouchable (and maybe Texas commissioner Dickie Cole has assured him that he is). But to show such blatant favoritism when already under the microscope is utterly galling. What is it with people from Texas in positions of power thinking they can do whatever they want and face no consequences?
Not a single fighter on the televised card saw his stock drop, but only one really saw his stock rise significantly, and that was Robert Guerrero. Good for “The Ghost” for taking another step toward erasing the memory of his previous HBO appearance. However, I must admit, I get a little queasy when I hear Guerrero referred to as a “three-time champion.” Might I remind you whom he beat to win his titles: Eric Aiken, Spend Abazi and now Malcolm Klassen. Not exactly Benitez, Hearns and Hagler. Guerrero is a good fighter, probably worthy of the No. 2 spot in THE RING’s 130-pound rankings. But it’s a sad state of affairs when the best fighters you’ve beaten are fringe contenders and yet you’ve held three “world” titles.
How did Ishe Smith not lose a point against Danny Jacobs at the end of the fifth round for a blatant late punch followed by a doubly blatant late forearm to the throat as referee Laurence Cole stood between the fighters? Then Smith loses a point four rounds later for innocently completing a punch he’d started as the bell was ringing? Cole is the cop who lets an armed robbery slide but pats himself on the back later for nailing that same criminal with a parking ticket.
ÔÇó I interviewed Felix Trinidad last week for a separate article that I’m working on, and for you “Tito” fans, here’s what he had to say about his future: “I am not retired. I have not announced my retirement. I don’t know what I am going to do. Someday in the future, I will let everybody know what I’m going to do.” If I had to guess, I’d say he’ll be reporting to Vikings training camp any day now.
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]