THE fight game has always been a numbers game for DeMarcus ‘Chop Chop’ Corley. He chased big ones to change lives. He put up big ones to leave his mark.
Now 45, Corley still plays the game and, consequently, the numbers go up. There are 85 professional fights to go with his 119 amateur bouts and he has now competed in 19 different countries. (Because the list is more impressive than a number, they are as follows: USA, China, Puerto Rico, England, Nicaragua, Kazakhstan, Russia, Argentina, Ukraine, Canada, Northern Ireland, Turkey, Bolivia, Mexico, Sweden, Denmark, Jamaica, Guyana and Nigeria.)
Some numbers, however, stay the same. A number like 140, for instance, represents Corley’s weight, in pounds, the night he made his pro debut and is the weight at which he has campaigned for most of his career. Another is 25. Corley says he feels 25 years of age despite the fact it’s not 1999 and he has lost his last four fights and six of his last nine.
But the magic number, in terms of understanding why the Washington southpaw keeps going, is this: as well as 51 wins, 33 defeats and one draw, DeMarcus Corley has 11 – yes, eleven – children. That’s six boys and five girls, as good a reason as any to continue chopping.
“Not finished,” he told Boxing News. “Not finished at all. I’m looking to fight again before this year is out and I’m also looking to do some bareknuckle fighting.
“I want to test the waters and see if a fighter is willing to step in there and stand toe-to-toe. It ain’t boxing. It’s a totally different fight game.
“The boxers have the advantage because we know how to punch and place our punches. The mixed martial artists don’t throw correct punches. They’re just winging shots. If they land, they land. Some get the homerun shot on the chin but a lot of them scuff the top of the head, back of the head or elbow and that’s how you hurt your hands and mess your hands up.”
Self-preservation has long been the name of the game for Corley. His style, though never negative, has often been cute, clever and cagey, while his physique has always been that of someone who prepares correctly and keeps their temple well maintained.
“I feel great,” he confirmed. “It feels amazing to still be able to be out there competing at a high level. I’m still able to do 12 rounds. My legs are still great. I’m still running at a fast pace.”
To attempt to make him feel older than he sounds, I hit him with another number: 23. It’s the amount of years that have passed since Corley made his professional debut in Washington against Aaron Smith. On hearing it, there is only the slightest hint of a creak. “Oh, wow,” he said. “Man, that’s a long time ago. It don’t seem like 23 years ago but time flies, that’s for sure.”
Corley’s boxing journey goes back further than May 17, 1996, the night he boxed without headguard and vest for the first time. It started in 1984, in fact, when Corley was 10 years of age and didn’t care much for punching boys his age but quite liked the idea of hanging medals around his neck or placing trophies around the house.
“I didn’t like to fight,” he said. “I didn’t mind fist-fighting but if you fist-fight you don’t get nothing. You’re just fighting because you’re angry or someone did something to you.
“I was asked if I wanted to box and, at first, I said no. But then I asked what you get if you win and I realised it was a sport.
“Being a short boy, I didn’t do basketball. Also, you’ve got four other players on the team with you and you’ve got to wait on them passing you the ball before you can shoot. That’s a team sport and I didn’t care for team sports like that. Same with football.
“But, with boxing, you go in the gym and you practice and when you go home you still train but you’re training by yourself now. That’s your job.”
Before it really did become his job, boxing was, for Corley, a way of touching something gold and shiny and a place for a “weird kid” to belong. It gave him not only an identity but one of boxing’s more iconic nicknames.
“I got the name ‘Chop Chop’ when I was 10 years old in Nashville, Tennessee,” he explained. “I was at the Silver Gloves tournament and I checked my weight and I was right there at 65 pounds. We went out to eat that night and I came back weighing 75 pounds.
“My trainer Kenny said, ‘Man, you chopped that food up so I’m going to call you Chop Chop. Now you’ve got to move up to 75 pounds and fight the bigger guys.’ I did and I did great.
“Ever since then ‘Chop Chop’ was the name I always had. ‘Chop Chop’ loved to eat.”
If, as an amateur, it was all about food, medals and trophies, Corley’s intentions switched upon turning pro. The food was cleaner, and the gold shaped and paraded differently – around waists rather than necks. In 2001, he got his first taste.
“I remember getting a phone call on the Tuesday from Don King’s office asking if we would be willing to step in and fight Felix Flores for the vacant WBO (junior-welterweight) title that coming weekend,” he said. “It was vacant because Ener Julio, the champion, had to have eye surgery due to cataracts. I was told, ‘If you win, you have to fight Ener Julio for the first defence.’”
Corley did both. He first wiped out Flores inside a round and then renewed acquaintances with Julio, the former champion he had already defeated in 1999.
“I’d beaten him once before, so it wasn’t a problem, but that was my first 12-round fight and it was a tough one,” he said. “I knew the second one would be much easier. And it was.”
It’s at this point, as a world champion with the mindset of a fight-all-comers journeyman, Corley’s pro career got hard, unusually hard, and settled into an unforgiving pattern of one tough fight after another. As WBO champion, he tackled Randall Bailey, one of the sport’s biggest punchers (all 26 of his wins came via knockout), in his second defence. “He was the knockout king at the time,” said Corley. “He didn’t play.” Neither did Zab Judah, the Brooklyn southpaw who outslicked a slick southpaw in 2003 and took Corley’s title via split-decision. Nor did Floyd Mayweather, whom Corley faced in his first fight after losing his title.
“I remember everything about that,” he said. “We trained hard for Floyd and the game plan was there.
“We knew he wasn’t an explosive power-puncher but he’s very quick. The game plan was to get Floyd to exchange. We wanted to get him in a shootout where we could hurt him and try to finish him. I got him in a shootout in the first and second rounds and then in the third round I caught him. In the fourth round we tried to finish him, but he went to the ropes and recovered.
“He listened to his corner very well. His uncle Roger told him, ‘Don’t bang with him. Box him.’ He listened. He stopped banging with me and started boxing with me. He knew if he banged with me, I was going to knock him out. I would have caught him again. It was just a matter of time.”
The following year Corley, keen to sample more future Hall of Famers, travelled to Puerto Rico to fight Miguel Cotto for his old belt.
“The Cotto fight I will never forget,” he said. “The game plan was to box with Cotto and break him down in the later rounds. But the referee gave him a gift by stopping that fight. I was going to hurt that boy.”
The problem for Corley was that when they met, in February 2005, Cotto felt more bull than boy.
“He outweighed me 158 pounds to 138 pounds on the night of the fight,” said ‘Chop Chop’, who was stopped by the Puerto Rican inside five rounds. “At the weigh-in I weighed 137 pounds. He barely made 140 and then came in (the ring) at 158. He was going to get tired.
“I felt his weight when he hit me on the hip. He never landed no solid punches on me. I thank God he didn’t because I didn’t sustain no damage. But the shot he landed on the hip really neutralised me and took away my mobility for the next two rounds.”
After Cotto came an unsuccessful WBC title shot against Junior Witter in London, which acted as the first of six straight defeats for Corley, including one inflicted by Bailey, his old rival. But by now the former champion had adopted a have-gloves-will-travel mentality and was every inch the throwback. Proof: he fought Lucas Matthysse and Marcos Maidana in Argentina, Viktor Postol and Sergey Fedchenko in Ukraine, Ruslan Provodnikov in Russia, Anthony Yigit in Sweden, and Selcuk Aydin in Turkey. Not once did he complain.
“The most dangerous fighter I faced was Matthysse,” he said. “He was like a tsunami compared to me because I was so small at 140 pounds. He was like six-foot or something and had heavy hands.”
Corley’s greatest overseas success was the night he travelled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to halt the momentum of local favourite Paul McCloskey before a raucous Irish crowd. That one ended in the 10th round. The victory was in the silence.
“That’s one of my good memories because I was promoted by Lou DiBella and knew going into that fight that Lou was setting me up,” he said. “That’s how some promoters do you when they can’t use you no more. They send you out there to clean you up.
“He said, ‘We’ve got a fight for you, Chop. We can go to Belfast and fight this guy.’ I beat a DiBella fighter called Tito Bracero in my last fight. He said, ‘We’ll send you over there to fight.’ I said, ‘If I win, I need you to do right by me and get me a title shot.’ He said, ‘Okay, Chop, I’m going to make sure I take care of you.’”
When he found out he could bet on the outcome of the fight, Corley told his team to take two thousand dollars from his purse and stick it on him to win. At first, they were hesitant, unsure it was a sensible thing to do. But Corley wouldn’t take no for an answer. He didn’t just want them to bet on him winning. He wanted them to bet on him knocking McCloskey out.
“To make him get off with a good shot I would bait him, make him reach and catch him,” he said. “It worked. He got comfortable with exchanging with me and I put him to sleep.”
It’s always interesting to hear fight plans explained, especially successful ones. Yet, in Corley’s case, more relevant and fascinating is his life plan. Less about where he ends up, more about how he got here, there is something both unusual and heartening about the pro boxer able to discuss an 85-fight record with a lucidity often sacrificed in pursuit of such numbers.
“I have thought about it (the damage) a couple of times when I see other fighters you might call ‘punchy’,” Corley said. “I hear them talk and they slur. Their speech is not clear. They walk on the heels of their feet. These are much older fighters and it comes from wear and tear on the body and brain.
“It doesn’t just come from fighting, though. Some of it is due to the fact they have been getting hit, of course, but a lot of that comes from the wear and tear they have picked up from their lifestyle.
“For example, what were you doing during your childhood and in your twenties and thirties? Were you a heavy drinker? Were you a smoker? Did you do drugs? A lot of these old fighters have engaged in those type of activities.
“When I was in my twenties, I tried to drink. I tasted alcohol when I used to go out to the clubs. But, number one, I don’t like the way it tastes. Number two, it changes you. You go from a normal human being to a person who thinks they can do whatever they want to whoever they want. You become the worst kind of Superman. I didn’t want to be in that type of environment.”
For most of his life boxing has been clean-cut Corley’s environment, his home and safety net, and he’s now reluctant to leave. There is too much fun to be had. Too much of the world still to see.
“I would love to go to Dubai and Paris to fight,” he said. “Dubai, Paris and somewhere in Brazil. That’s all I have left to do.” There is no time like the present. Chop chop, as they say.