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by David P. Greisman

He always got up.

Thirteen times, Diego Corrales hit the canvas. Thirteen times, he rose, even when he was certain to take more punishment, ready to fight with unsteady legs and ample heart.

No more.

Corrales died Monday night in Las Vegas, a fatal motorcycle accident robbing the sport of one of its true warriors, robbing his friends, robbing his family, robbing us all of a fighter who was the definition of a man.

Corrales died living as he fought – full speed ahead. He was riding north through southwest Las Vegas when his motorcycle hit the back of a Honda Accord, police told Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports. His motorcycle went into the opposite lane of Fort Apache Road, where it – and possibly Corrales, who may have already been thrown off his vehicle – was struck by a southbound Mercedes-Benz, authorities said.

He liked the rush, Corrales told Iole in a 2006 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He liked extreme sports – as if one-on-one battle with another man wasn’t thrilling enough.

He gave us a rush, too, whenever he stepped in the ring. In victory, he was breathtaking – his come-from-behind knockout of Jose Luis Castillo remains, two years later, one of the most dramatic conclusions ever, a fitting end to a memorable war.

For ten rounds, Corrales and Castillo traded vicious hooks and power shots, but Castillo was winning the battle of attrition. Castillo floored Corrales twice in the tenth, but Corrales bought himself time, intentionally or otherwise, by losing his mouthpiece. Castillo went in to finish things off, but Corrales caught him and clobbered him against the ropes, stopping the fight, dropping our jaws.

In defeat, Corrales was proud, valiant.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. knocked Corrales down five times in their 2001 collision. Mayweather certainly would have added a sixth, but Corrales’ corner threw in the towel. Corrales protested, just as he would do in his 2003 fight against Joel Casamayor, a match that ended when the ringside physician, concerned over bad bleeding in Corrales’ mouth, halted the bout.

To Corrales, the fight wasn’t over unless he couldn’t continue. If he couldn’t make a comeback, he could at least go out like a man.

Corrales’ last fight was one such affair.

Just one month ago, Corrales jumped two divisions from lightweight to welterweight and challenged tough, skilled contender Joshua Clottey. Corrales had mentioned that he might change strategies and box against the bigger man. But, as usual, he went toe-to-toe, taking hard shots while seeking to land his own. Clottey put Corrales down twice, and the fight, reasonably, could have been stopped. Corrales, though, did everything he could to last the distance the only way he knew – with honor.

It speaks volumes that we hold Corrales with such high esteem, because the man wasn’t without controversy.

Shortly after his loss to Mayweather, Corrales served more than a year in prison for abusing his ex-wife. But he rebuilt his image and earned recognition by repeatedly taking tough fights. In a three-year period from 2003 through 2006, Corrales fought Joel Casamayor three times, Jose Luis Castillo twice and Acelino Freitas once, going 3-3 against top-notch foes.

He avenged his stoppage loss to Casamayor. He made Freitas quit. He made weight when Castillo failed, on two separate occasions, to reach the 135-pound limit.

He stuck around the lightweight division for too long.

Corrales barely made it below junior welterweight for his rubber match against Casamayor. The scales read 139. Casamayor out-boxed his weight-drained opponent, taking his championship and sending him, ashamed, to the welterweight ranks.

Last month’s loss to Clottey showed that 147 would be an uphill battle for Corrales. But while we questioned his ability to beat the best the division had to offer, we never denied the one thing that had always defined him – his heart.

Corrales was 29. He leaves behind his wife, Michelle, with whom he had three children. Michelle is seven months pregnant with their fourth.

Rest in peace, Chico. You were – and always will be – the man.
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