This weekend, Diego Corrales will be inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. It is an arguably overdue honor for an extremely popular fighter, who won titles at 130 and 135 pounds and who was renowned for his indomitable fighting spirit. 

Corrales engaged in a trilogy with Joel Casamayor, wound up on the wrong side of a junior lightweight unification battle with Floyd Mayweather, and ended the unbeaten record of Acelino Freitas. He is undoubtedly best known, however, for his May 7, 2005 war with Jose Luis Castillo at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas – a fight that plenty of observers consider the greatest of all time. 

Kieran Mulvaney was ringside for that fight, and in honor of Corrales’ induction, below is an expanded, updated version of the report he wrote for, with a coda that updates and concludes Corrales’ story.

It was a fight that always promised a combination of skill and fireworks. It was a fight that seemed destined to be as explosive as it would be closely contested. And when finally the day arrived, when battle was ready to be joined, there was excited expectation at the prospect of a truly great contest. 

From the moment WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo and WBO lightweight titlist Diego Corrales signed to meet each other, there was every expectation that it would be a battle to remember: Castillo, the immovable object, relentlessly resisting all that his opponents threw at him before breaking down all before him, a man who had never been dropped in his career let alone knocked out; Corrales, the irresistible force, a fighter whose chin was more suspect than his opponent’s but whose punching power was never in dispute. 

But could any of us, truly, place hand on heart and claim that, before the first bell rang, we expected to see not only the surefire Fight of the Year, but a fight so breathtaking in its brutality, so extraordinary in its ebbs and flows, so exceptional in its execution that there was not one word of dissent when, at the post-fight press conference, co-promoter Gary Shaw declared that, “Ladies and gentlemen, you probably just saw as great a fight as you will ever see as long as you all live.”

We had all been saying the same thing to each other, milling around the Mandalay Bay Events Center arena after the evening’s concussive conclusion, shaking our heads in disbelief, experiencing the collective contradictory high that is unique to boxing, one that combines the thrill of having experienced something of exceptional beauty with the adrenalin-pumping horror of having witnessed carnage on the scale of a car accident. Minutes, even hours after the final echo of the final bell had rippled through the arena, long after the fighters, managers, promoters, and trainers had said their piece at the post-fight press conference, after the deadline writers had filed their reports and were preparing to gorge themselves at the Raffles Café, those present were still betraying the same reactions as they had been displaying the moment the bout had reached its titanic crescendo. A knowing glance, a short exhalation, a disbelieving shake of the head, a shared acknowledgment of a universal incredulity at the notion that two men could batter each other so relentlessly, that the violent confrontation we had all just witnessed could really have happened.

The conventional wisdom was that Corrales would win if he kept his distance, used his long left jab and overhand right hand, stepped to one side, turned Castillo and prevented him from setting his feet, and that Castillo would emerge victorious if he could walk Corrales down, fight inside, keep the contest at close quarters.

And then the bell rang, and conventional wisdom proved to be the only real loser of the night.

Sure enough, Corrales began by jabbing, flicking his left hand in the direction of Castillo’s face. But soon afterward, the two fell into a clinch and when, instead of holding each other, the pair continued to work away on the inside, it was a portent for the rest of the evening. Castillo landed a right hand and a double left. Corrales responded with a short right in close. A sweet combination from Corrales—left, right, double left, another left—was answered by Castillo, and the two exchanged tough blows at the end of the round.

The fighters spent almost the entire second frame working in close, each man digging deep to his opponent’s body and periodically switching his attention upstairs. Corrales landed a left, a left/right, a three-punch combination and another, all at close quarters. He was fighting Castillo’s fight, but he was beating the WBC champion at his own game. 

Perhaps feeling confident after that second round, Corrales opened up more at the start of the third. His hand speed was clearly the superior of the two men, and he appeared to be landing two punches for every one of Castillo’s. But as they once more fell into working close, Castillo suddenly began finding Corrales’ chin with his uppercut. One short uppercut landed, then another, and a third. A brief pause as Castillo looked to work the body and then suddenly again, a fourth uppercut bounced off Diego’s jaw. Every time he found even a little space, Corrales raked Castillo with straight rights and lefts, but he barely had time to unleash a solitary combination before Castillo marched through the incoming artillery and forced Corrales to work in close once more. It is difficult adequately to describe, to those who were not witness to it, just how close to each other these two spent most of the fight; the phrase “fighting in a phone booth” is used often to describe close quarters combat, but Castillo and Corrales epitomized it, barely moving their feet, just standing center ring and pummeling each other to the body. 

Asked afterward why he had fallen into the trap of fighting toe-to-toe with Castillo, Corrales answered that, “It was Cinco de Mayo weekend. It was Mexican pride.” Pride, of course, comes before a fall, it is said, and at the end of the third round, Corrales’ cojones looked destined to doom him to defeat as Castillo unloaded a sequence of punches without response from the WBO titlist before the bell brought the assault to a halt.

The fourth began as did so many others: Corrales firing long jabs and straight right hands, looking to keep his distance and maximize his strengths, and in the process bouncing combinations off his opponent’s jaw. But then Castillo marched forward again, closed the gap again, and Corrales met him head on, again. With thirty seconds to go, Corrales was perhaps ahead in the round, but then a left from Castillo landed flush, followed by yet another uppercut and a final left at the end that probably snuck the stanza for Jose Luis.

Again, Corrales started the fifth smartly: landing a left/right/left and this time stepping back before Castillo could close the gap. A left from Castillo earned the riposte of a hard straight right from Corrales, and then a left/right from Corrales sent Castillo to the ropes, where Corrales attempted to open up with limited success, but enough to take the round.

The sixth, however, saw Castillo take charge again, and seemingly this time for good. A right from Corrales appeared to stun his foe, but a return right from Castillo hurt Corrales more. It was Castillo’s turn to open up this time, and this time he landed more cleanly and had Corrales more hurt than at the end of the third. The bell once more intervened, but as the fighters emerged for the seventh, Corrales looked suddenly ragged and spent. His punches had lost their snap, and his legs looked unsteady. Two more of the omnipresent Castillo uppercuts found their mark, but like a wounded, cornered animal, Corrales is at his most dangerous when hurt, and now, sensing danger, he lashed out. A strong right hand preceded a short left, and then a flurrying four-punch combination in close. Suddenly, a left/right/left exploded off Castillo’s jaw, and the WBC champ buckled. His knee bent and was inches away from touching the canvas, and yet somehow he found the strength to stand up before the bell once more interceded.

And then the fight really started.

Had it not been for what was yet to come, the eighth round would already be being spoken of in hushed, reverential tones; it still clearly stands as three of the most remarkable minutes in fistic history. In those 180 seconds were encapsulated all that, to boxing fans, is uplifting about the sport, and to its opponents, all that is barbaric about it. Corrales, scenting blood but with his left eye now swelling grotesquely, immediately moved in for the kill. Finally fighting at the kind of distance that played to his strengths, he rattled Castillo anew with combination after combination. But Castillo was made from stuff that would make Kryptonite look soft, and returned fire with a combination of his own that snapped back Corrales’ head. Now it was Castillo’s turn to come forward, but as he did so, Corrales drove him back with another fierce combo before Castillo turned the tables again. A right hand hurt Diego and had the Las Vegas resident looking in serious trouble, but it also knocked out his mouthpiece, and after a brief respite as referee Tony Weeks took Corrales to his corner so trainer Joe Goossen could clean and reinsert it, Diego took the initiative again at the bell, staggering Castillo with a monster of a left hook.

“Round of the Year,” I wrote in my notebook. And so it was. For three minutes.

Round nine will likely be one of the least recalled rounds in boxing annals, not because it was stupefyingly dull or uneventful—far from it—but because its light, however bright, was eclipsed by that which preceded and succeeded it. Let the record show that, in another close frame, the two men again exchanged short punches inside, Weeks warned Castillo for low blows, the bell rang after three minutes, and after a minute’s rest, the two men came out for the tenth.

The tenth.

The round felt as if it had barely started when Castillo landed a perfect left hook to Corrales’ jaw. Corrales’ torso slumped slightly and then, in a perfect delayed reaction, so did the rest of him, as he fell to the canvas hard. He landed first on his knees and his backside, before struggling to right himself and sprawling face-first on the floor. He rolled over, and as he crawled to his knees, he seemingly spat out his mouthpiece. He clambered to his feet at eight, and referee Tony Weeks called time and returned Corrales to his corner so Goossen could put the mouthpiece back. Castillo immediately renewed his attack: another left hook to the jaw stiffened Corrales again, and a second hook to the temple dropped him for a second time. 

Surely, now, it was all over.

Again, however, Corrales, badly hurt but clear-headed enough to know that he needed to buy time, deliberately removed his mouthpiece with his glove. This time, Weeks deducted a point; and despite Weeks’ furious admonishments, Goossen took his sweet time cleaning and reinserting the protective piece of plastic over his fighter’s teeth. 

Showing the ice water that pulses through his veins in place of blood, Goossen sent his man back out with one final, calmly administered, admonition:

“You’d better fucking get inside on him now.”

Castillo, unconcerned by the delay, moved in for the kill. But this time his uppercut, so accurate and deadly all night, was launched from a distance and missed by a mile, and Corrales—who, by this point, must barely have been able to even see his opponent through the swollen slits that had once been eyes—countered with a left and a straight right. 

Suddenly, Castillo appeared hurt, and Corrales knocked him into the ropes. Castillo escaped, but then a right hand landed to the temple, and another. Castillo was on the ropes again, and this time clearly in trouble; Corrales knew that he had to seize his chance and he did so with frightening fury. A left landed, and a right. Another left. Another right. A final left detonated against Castillo's jaw, his head snapped back and rolled around on his neck, his hands dropped, he took another right hand, and, defenseless, he was done. Weeks stepped in to halt the contest, and at 2:06 of the tenth, Diego Corrales had staged perhaps the most remarkable recovery in the history of prizefighting, and stopped Jose Luis Castillo to add the WBC lightweight belt to his WBO strap, and confirm himself as the best lightweight in the world.

Many fighters boast that their opponents have to kill them to beat them. Corrales meant it. Had Castillo beheaded him and thrust a stake through his heart, he still might not have denied him.

“I looked at him real closely,” said Goossen afterward. “But Diego told me a while back: ‘If you ever stop one of my fights, I’ll kill you.’ And I looked at him and he was OK.” Goossen seemed shaken by what had transpired. “I’ve never seen a fight like that. I’ve never seen anyone come back from two knockdowns like that.”

There was, of course, controversy. Castillo claimed he wasn’t hurt. His promoter Bob Arum argued that, instead of docking a point and giving Corrales time to recover (twenty-eight seconds, as it turned out) after the mouthpiece came out following the second knockdown, Weeks should have forced him to continue without it. He also asserted that the ropes had been holding up Castillo, which should have been treated as a knockdown—granting Castillo the respite of an eight-count—and not a stoppage. On the second point at least, Arum was on less than solid ground. Corrales had been hurt by the knockdowns, but Castillo was all but out on his feet at the end of Corrales’ fists. Weeks made a good call.

After nine rounds, the judges’ scores were 86-85 Corrales, 87-84 Corrales, and 87-84 Castillo. Officially, Corrales climbed to 40-2, with 33 KOs, while Castillo fell to 52-7-1 (46). But, as Shaw, who could afford to be magnanimous, argued, there were no real losers.

At least, not immediately.

As fantastic a fight as this was, it was thirty minutes of mayhem that made both men’s careers and at the same time, surely, shortened them dramatically. Neither man would likely ever be the same again, and whereas the clamor after such an explosion was almost always for a rapid rematch, and although neither fighter balked at the notion, those around them counseled otherwise.

“You’d have to be sadistic to want to see that again,” said Goossen. “I don’t want to see it again.” 

Shaw concurred.

“I as an individual would never want to do this fight again. They stand in front of each other, throw hard punches. Someone could get hurt.”

Indeed, Corrales and Castillo inflicted the kind of damage on each other that night that no man should have to endure at the hands of another. As we left the arena  and filed back to our own private spaces, there was scarcely a single one of us who witnessed the carnage who didn’t hope that those two men would never fight each other, and put each other through such legalized hell, again. 


Money, of course, talks, as does the competitive fire that burns within fighters, and the refusal of a truly great boxer to back away from that which he is warned to avoid. And so, for all the protestations afterward, for all the expressions of admiration mixed with shock and revulsion—many of them genuine—the rematch was duly signed.

Compared to the epic first battle, the rematch - held on October 8 the same year - was controversial and underwhelming. Castillo missed weight by 3 ½ pounds and used that extra weight to his advantage, knocking Corrales oit in the fourth round. A rubber match was scheduled for June 2006, but this time Castillo was 4 ½ pounds over the limit, and the fight was canceled.

Corrales then dropped a decision in a third bout with Casamayor (for which he, ironically, missed weight), before moving all the way up to welterweight and being manhandled by Joshua Clottey.

He had not won a bout since that astonishing performance against Castillo, and had not looked even remotely like his old, menacing self in any of the three defeats he had suffered since then. Perhaps that momentous battle had, as many had feared, proved his undoing; perhaps he would never again be the fighter he once had been. Perhaps, whispered friends and fans alike, it was time for him to retire.

Corrales did not retire from the ring. But he did not fight again.

One evening approximately a month after his fight with Clottey, Corrales was speeding through a residential area of Las Vegas on a newly-acquired Suzuki motorcycle, when he attempted to pass a 1997 Honda Accord. Instead, he hit the vehicle in the rear and was flung through the air, crashing to the pavement after traveling, according to some reports, the distance of a football field. 

The date was May 7, 2007. It was two years to the day since his epic battle with Jose Luis Castillo, the date in which two men etched each other’s names forever into sporting history. On that date, Corrales won what many have come to consider perhaps the greatest fight ever seen. Two years later, he fought one fight too many, one which he had no hope of winning.

Diego Corrales died upon impact. He was 29. The lights of the Mandalay Bay, the scene of his greatest triumph, shone brightly in the near distance.

Kieran Mulvaney has written, broadcast and podcasted about boxing for HBO, Showtime, ESPN and Reuters, among other outlets. He also writes regularly for National Geographic, has written several books on the Arctic and Antarctic, and is at his happiest hanging out with wild polar bears. His website is