News November 2017

Irish Raging Bull talks explosive career, Donald Trump offer & regrets


Darren “Raging Bull” Corbett talks to Livefight

By Michael J Jones

IRELAND, JUNE 1997 and Irishman Darren Corbett enters the ring against Commonwealth cruiserweight champion Chris Okoh. The champion is a perfect 14-0 and the WBC’s number one contender. In physical appearances the fight looks a mismatch with Okoh far more sculptured than his stocky challenger but his opponent shows no fear at the Ulster Hall, Belfast.

“Chris Okoh was a good fighter but he’d gone off the boil of late” Darren Corbett, now 45-years-old, tells Livefight from his home in Belfast. “I’d watched his fight against Denzil Browne and it was a boring fight. I said I was confident I’d knock-out either man.”

The Okoh fight was short and brutal. The unbeaten Londoner looked a million dollars in the first as he banked the opener but his rugged Irish opponent got into range in the second and his heavy hands were soon to cause devastating consequences…

The younger Corbett first began making waves in the early 90’s with a string of big knock-outs as a super-heavyweight. Despite admittedly not living the life as an amateur fighter, Corbett was talented enough to become a five-time Irish amateur champion and impressed many with his power-punching style.

“I loved fighting in the amateurs but I didn’t train properly, even smoking and drinking the day before the fight. When I boxed Willy Clyde I’d had about twenty pints the day before the fight! At the end of the day I was knocking everybody out but I just didn’t want to train.”

The Clyde fight of 94’ has become a Youtube classic and features Corbett savagely knocking his rival spark out in the second just moments after receiving a standing count himself. A huge left hook detonated violently against poor Clyde’s head as he appeared knocked out standing before slowly crashing to the deck.

The explosive win wasn’t the only time Corbett impressed onlookers even once catching the eye of a certain future President of the USA…

“I boxed a former Golden Gloves champion in Philadelphia named Ike Green” recalls the “Raging Bull”. “I knocked Green out and after the fight Donald Trump came up to me with a proposition for me turning professional. He said ‘you can be a world champion, but if you don’t become a world champion, you’ll be a millionaire’.”

“He wanted me to be trained by Joe Frazier, with a guy named Mike Doyle as my manager and Trump taking over the promoting. Turning down that offer was the biggest regret of my life. I had two big regrets in my boxing career; not taking that deal and also signing with Barry Hearn. All I wanted to do back then was to party with the boys and I just thought there would be other offers like that in the future.”

“Another time I fought a lad named Mike McKenzie from Birmingham” continues Corbett of his amateur days. “He was being given the big build-up for his upcoming pro career and had just been given a big spread in Boxing News. He’d agreed terms with Frank Maloney but we faced each other in an Ireland vs England tournament and I knocked him spark out in the first.”

With a sledgehammer punch in either hand, charisma in and out of the ring and a fine amateur pedigree under his belt, Corbett, turned pro as a heavyweight in 1994. His first two bouts were just three days apart with both ending inside the first round.

“I never took it seriously as an amateur but as soon as I turned pro I never smoked or drank. I stopped David Jules in the first and then, three days later, I took on Carl Gaffney who was a very big guy of about 6’6” and was about thirteenth in the UK rankings.”

Although he would navigate to 10-1-1 (6) as a heavyweight, Corbett made the decision to move down to the cruiserweight division in his search for a title fight. The 5’11” puncher improved greatly as he showed faster hands and greater mobility during his fights.

“I was never a heavyweight as I was just too small” comments Darren who lost over two stones in weight (28lbs) in his transition from heavyweight to the 190lb division. “I had a couple of fights (at the lower weight) and felt good so I was very confident I could beat Chris Okoh and move on to become a world champion.”

After wiping out the respected Ray Kane, and later, Noel Magee in Irish title fights, Corbett would face the favoured Okoh in Belfast not even three years into his pro career. Okoh had looked sensational in stopping Franco Wanyama to lift the Commonwealth belt two years earlier but had appeared jaded in his last couple of fights though swore he would be back to his best for Corbett.

The champion looked solid in the first but Corbett started getting closer midway through the second before a heavy left-hook floored the Londoner at the end of the round. The bout was permitted to continue into the third but Corbett, in front of his passionate local fans, was not to be denied.

A final, clubbing right-hand took out what little remained of Okoh in the third as a new star of the division emerged in the form of the “Raging Bull”. In a memorable celebration, Corbett, who would often celebrate a knock-down wildly, leaped into the air before dropping to his knees in his elation and shuffling around the canvas still on his knees.

“Not even that went right” chuckles Corbett over twenty years later. “I injured my knee cartilage doing that (celebration) and later needed an operation in New York to correct the damage.”

Now 15-1-1 (10) and a perfect 5-0 (4) as a cruiserweight, the 25 year old Corbett looked set for a world title shot following his eye-catching Commonwealth title victory but the next seventeen months brought only thankless, marking-time fights as a bonafide title shot eluded him repeatedly.

“I think if it was up to Barry Hearn I’d still be packing out the Ulster Hall defending my Irish title” says Darren, a little needle creeping into his thick Irish brogue. “I kept selling out the Ulster Hall but getting paid hardly anything. You go to most Commonwealth champions now they’re on fifty-sixty thousand as champion. I got £2,500 for Chris Okoh.”

“When I boxed Noel Magee, the show sold out in two days. There was a long historic rivalry between our areas in Ireland that went back decades so everyone wanted to watch the fight. Magee ended up getting twelve grand while I got just £1,500. The numbers never made any sense to me.”

“Often my brother would get more money selling tickets than I did for the actual fighting!”

Corbett kept winning and won two further bouts in 1997, the latter against awkward southpaw Rob Norton with Corbett edging the unusually quiet twelve-rounder by just half a point (via the old UK scoring system).

“Even by then my head wasn’t right and, in my eyes as a fighter I thought he won. I boxed that night for not even 3k and he won the WBU belt straight after our fight.”

Entering 1998 there was much talk of Corbett facing reigning WBO champion Carl Thompson but the Manchester fighter instead took on former super-middleweight champion Chris Eubank over two contests as the Irishman was left in the fistic wilderness.

“By then, I was world rated and thought a title shot was just around the corner. I really fancied me being able to knock out Thompson but he kept delaying signing for the fight. Instead Thompson fought Barry Hearn’s best mate Eubank.”

“I thought it was strange the first fight (which Thompson won by close decision). A big, strong, cruiserweight should be banging out a little super-middleweight no problem at all. I thought I’d be next (to challenge for the WBO title) but they had a rematch and I couldn’t believe it (when it was arranged).”

“I remember Johnny Nelson coming up to talk to me and saying ‘Carl Thompson is sh*t scared of you he doesn’t want anything to do with you.’ A while later Nelson got the shot at Thompson to become the WBO champion and that was that.”

In November 98’ Corbett was matched with former light-heavyweight contender Bruce Scott. The Jamaican-born Scott had suffered an embarrassing defeat recently to journey-man Tony Booth but had returned with an upset knock-out of Dominic Negus and had whipped himself into the shape of his life for the Corbett fight.

“The truth is I should never have been in the ring that night” sighs Corbett. “I’d been involved in a five-car pile-up just a week or so before the fight and had damaged the vertebrae’s in my back. It was in the November and Christmas was coming up and I wanted the kids to have all their toys so I went through with it.”

The two men were no mood to engage in a jabbing spectacle and instead unloaded power punches on each other in ring centre. The fight went back-and-forth but eventually Scott would find the punches to end matters in the tenth to hand Corbett his first loss as a cruiserweight.

“My movement was affected and I couldn’t fight the way I wanted. I felt OK to continue but the referee stopped it. It’s not Bruce Scott’s fault (Corbett was injured) just one of those things.”

After another defeat five months later to France’s Stephane Allouane, the demoralised Corbett would make the decision to move down a further weight to the 175lb light-heavyweight division. His first fight at the new weight would be against Coventry’s Neil Simpson for the IBO Inter-Continental title.

“It was my first fight at the weight and I wasn’t happy with fighting for the money I was on so just went through the motions. I couldn’t tell you who I thought won as I’ve never watched it back…”

Simpson was boxing very well when felled by a Corbett body-shot in the sixth. He recovered and appeared for many to have done enough to score the upset though the judges handed a split vote to the Irishman.

Later, a proposed rematch was in the works for the two with the British title on the line but it was later scrapped. Corbett thus had to watch his former rival become the British, and subsequently Commonwealth, champion.

Corbett’s form and activity was patchy after an IBO win over John Lennox Lewis in 2000. He would box just eleven times in as many years though featured in two Prizefighter tournaments in 2009 and 2010 respectfully.

In the 2009 edition, Corbett would beat Micky Steeds in his first bout before losing to eventual tournament winner Ovill McKenzie in the semi-final.

“It was a bit crazy really, I only agreed to enter Prizefighter as I wanted revenge over Bruce Scott. I’d not been in the ring for two years and had to lose three-and-a half stone in just a few weeks but I’m a fighter it’s just one of those things.”

For the record, Scott lost his very first contest to John “Buster” Keeton who would lose on points in the final to McKenzie.

Corbett would fare no better the following year when he would also bow out in his second contest to another eventual finalist in Nick Okoth. Two years later, Corbett was up to a career-heaviest 244lbs for his final contest; an injury defeat to fellow Irish-man Conall Carmichael in Belfast.

His final record reads 29-8-1 (16) though the bare statistics fail to show one of the biggest punching fighters to ever hail from Ireland and who provided many a memorable night for Irish fight fans.

“It’s simple really; some fighters get looked after and others don’t” reasons Corbett of his career. “I always wanted the biggest challenges as I knew that would bring out the best in me but, for whatever reason, Barry Hearn didn’t want me to be a world champion.”

“Nearly every time I boxed it was in front of a full house and with TV involved. It was always the same I’d go and see Barry Hearn and he’d just shrug it off that people were avoiding me but why were undercard fighters even getting more than I was as the main event?”

“My proudest moment as a fighter was becoming the Irish champion. There’s nothing can beat being the champion of your own country and I did both as an amateur and professional. I never made any real money and my career was derailed by too many lay-offs and not getting the right fights but that’s life.”

It seems sad that a fighter who brought so much excitement and attention to Irish boxing is so disillusioned with the sport but Corbett can be proud of the career he had. Not only was he a murderous puncher but he also had true ring charisma that only a select few can boast of having.

You simply couldn’t help but smile at Corbett’s antics whether they be a prefight Elvis impersonation, clowning after dropping an opponent or those wild ring celebrations. The “Raging Bull” never won a world title due to the dreaded ‘boxing politics’ but could really fight and could well have been a solid world champion with more luck and opportunity.

Parting shots

The full offer by Donald Trump to Corbett was; a 30k signing on fee, a car, an apartment in the US, former world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier as head coach and a part-time job as a barman. God only knows how vastly different Corbett’s boxing career could have been if he had taken the offer.

Joe Frazier in his prime was 5’11”, 200lbs and had a terrific left-hook. He would have been superb as head trainer to Corbett who (as a cruiserweight) was the same size and also had a brutal left-hook.

Corbett was only 220lbs when he was a heavyweight but always appeared thickset and heavier than he looked.

Ovill McKenzie would win Prizefighter 2009 while Jon-Lewis Dickinson would win the year after. The two men would face each other a few years later with McKenzie stopping Dickinson in two rounds.

Corbett was said to have been sparring a fighter named Mark Baker for his rematch with Neil Simpson. Corbett reportedly turned down the Simpson fight due to not being happy with the money being offered. Baker duly stepped in and Simpson beat him by a single point to become British light-heavyweight champion. Corbett was said to be distraught afterwards having watched the fight.

Corbett stated to Livefight for his fight against Tyler Hughes in 2001 he knocked his opponent out in eleven seconds (including the count). The show’s promoter then ran off with the money leaving him to answer to some aggrieved Italian Mafia members who thought Corbett was involved with ripping them off. One apparently even showed the Irishman a machine gun to underline his point.

Annoyingly when you think of how a world title fight eluded Corbett, Bruce Scott, following his victory over Darren, would fight in successive world title fights against WBO champion Johnny Nelson and WBC champion Juan Carlos Gomez.

When Darren Corbett told me he worked in a bar I assumed he was a doorman but he actually is a bar-man. People often make the mistake that he owns the bar and comment he “must have done OK in boxing”.

The bout with Carl Thompson was at one point scheduled but Thompson pulled out citing an injured knee. It was considered ludicrous at the time that Eubank, who had never boxed above the light-heavyweight limit and was coming off a sound thrashing by Joe Calzaghe, would get a shot at Thompson’s title though both fights were memorable affairs.

Chris Okoh only boxed one more time after his devastating defeat to Corbett. A timely reminder how one fight in boxing can sometimes change an entire landscape.

Corbett's draw was with Garry Williams while his first loss was to Roger McKenzie. Both were considered journeymen which surely prompted the move down in weight for Corbett.

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