Celebrating The Great Diego Corrales On The Day Of His Death And Defining Triumph
Sometime around twilight Friday night, Michelle Corrales-Lewis will go back to that place again.
She’ll bring her three children to a bare patch of pavement on Fort Apache Road in Las Vegas. Cars will coast by, their drivers looking ahead probably won’t notice. That’s fine. Michelle wants to be discreet. She’ll kneel down, light a candle, then grab her children’s hands. They’ll bow their heads in a solemn vigil to reminisce.
Michelle has made the same trip with her children the last 14 years.
Every year it’s gratifying to see the flowers, cards, tiny boxing gloves, small signs and other mementos laid there, in remembrance of her husband, the great Diego “Chico” Corrales, at the place where he died, May 7, 2007, after a tragic motorcycle accident.
Friday marks the 14th anniversary of the former two-division titlist’s death—and it also marks 16th anniversary of his grandest triumph, fondly remembered as possibly the greatest lightweight title fight in boxing history when Corrales rose from two knockdowns to stop Jose Luis Castillo in the 10th for the WBC title.
So, today Michelle will take Diego’s children, 15-year-old Daylia and 13-year-old Diego Jr., along with 28-year-old Natia, who Diego helped Michelle raise, will keep their tradition going in paying homage to her late husband. Then they’ll visit the Palm Cemetery, where Corrales (40-5, 33 knockouts) was buried at the age of 29 and they’ll empty a bottle of Corona on his grave, because that’s what Corrales liked.
“We make sure we go out every year the same day to remember Diego,” said Michelle, who was pregnant with Diego Jr. when Diego died. “We’re a very, very close-knit family and Natia will come with us, because Diego was more of her father than anyone. Natia was the one who Diego had tattooed on his shoulder.
“We usually go in the evenings and we’ll do that again this year. It’s important for Diego’s kids to remember their father and what a great man he was. We stop by the grave yard and then go out to dinner, and we make sure we pour a Corona on his grave.”
Michelle says she’s done this tribute too many times, because deep down in her heart, she knows her late husband should still be alive. She’s made sure Diego Jr. knows everything about his father.
Michelle has since remarried, but Diego’s name is still alive in their home and recalled reverently. As a reminder, Daylia is the splitting image of her father.
When Michelle talks about Diego, she does so with a beaming smile, interrupted by laughs in recalling past stories about Diego.
“Diego Jr. is a techie, but he is just like his daddy in some ways,” she says laughing, “because he’s the one I still got called about by the school when he was in second grade and smacked a fifth-grader. He has heart and heavy hands like his dad, but he wants to build computers. It’s opposite from his father like that.
“Daylia is tall and lanky like Diego. She has his face. We all watched Diego’s fight against Castillo several times together, and there have been times when I had talks with Diego Jr. about his father. I remind him about the confidence his father had, and I’ll remind them all of the blood that’s running through their bodies—and that they have the heart of a champion.”
Anyone who watched Corrales fight will never forget him. His amazing comeback against Castillo resonates as one of the greatest fights of all-time—in the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns realm.
“I’ll go better than that,” said Hall of Fame broadcaster Al Bernstein, who broadcast both fights. “Corrales-Castillo was the greatest fight ever, and to me, Corrales-Castillo I was Hagler-Hearns times three. You had a lot of the same things going on in the briefer version of Hagler-Hearns.
“Michelle, Diego’s wife, is just an amazing woman. She’s kept Diego’s legacy alive and what I’ll always remember about Diego is that he was great with the press and great with all of us. He is terribly missed.
“What people forget about Corrales-Castillo I was that not only was it a brawl, but it was fought at such a high skill level. That was some inside fighting at the very best. Diego could have tried to box in that fight, which we expected him to do going in and he didn’t. Diego made that fight, because he decided to fight in a phone booth, which was Castillo’s fight.
“That’s the very best fight I’ve ever called. Nothing matches it in terms of ferocity, skill level, the courage and the drama. What happened in Round 10, I don’t know how you ever possibly eclipse that.”
Gary Shaw was with Corrales throughout his career, as his promoter. Shaw recalls the times Corrales would consul Shaw before fights, pulling the acclaimed promoter over to a corner of the dressing room and let Shaw know, “I have this, I’m going to win. Don’t worry.”
Corrales had a disarming way about him. A quick smile or subtle wink as Corrales did his prefight trot around the ring would ease Michelle and Shaw.
Shaw had seen thousands of fights. But never a fight like the one on May 7, 2005, against Castillo.
“More than anything, I remember sitting in the stands in the first row and having an outer-body experience,” Shaw recalled. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Diego was very calm, and he made everyone around him calm. Diego was a good guy, and most people don’t remember him as a good philanthropist, willing to sign autographs and did food services for the under privileged.
“He was willing to fight anyone. It didn’t matter. He had the biggest heart of any fighter I ever had.”
Shaw has Diego’s ring wardrobe framed from that night—complete with Corrales’ bloody trunks.
Shaw was sitting in his home the night of May 7, 2007, when Corrales’ manager at the time, James Prince, called and said, “I have terrible news.”
“Diego will never leave me,” Shaw said. “Diego was a great champion, because he was a throwback fighter. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame—1,000-percent. Diego was willing to fight anyone at any time.”
Michelle was waiting for Diego in the dressing room after the Castillo fight. She remembers him pissing pomegranate juice there was so much blood in his urine when he took his test for the state commission. Michelle knelt down and tied his shoes that night, because Diego couldn’t move. He wore Michelle’s sun glasses to the post fight press conference to protect his swollen eyes.
For months, Michelle had to dress him.
“Diego wouldn’t let anyone know he was hurting, but he was suffering a lot,” Michelle said. “What I think about today was how much Diego left in the ring. When he passed away, he did it two years to the day of that fight, May 7. That fight took place May 7, 2005, and two years later, May 7, 2007, Diego died. Diego lost a part of himself in that fight.
“I’m extremely blessed. We’re forever intertwined. I can feel Diego’s presence. Diego was a part of my life, and he’s still a part of my life. He could not have survived that accident. I admire Paul Williams for surviving his accident.
“I’m not sure Diego could have dealt with that, if he survived it. God took him home, because the medics said he passed away instantly. When I saw him at the coroner’s office, it looked like he was sleeping. Diego needs to be remembered, and needs to be honored.
“He needs to be in the Hall of Fame. One of these days I would like to see that. Diego was up against a stellar class last year, and that class deserved to go in. Whenever we get the phone call that Diego is in that will be another huge blessing.
“That’s every fighter’s dream.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.