Corbett fighting for his children’s futures
Raging bull Darren puts his regrets behind him
The tear in the corner of his eye says more than a thousand words. This is more than just another fight, more than just another comeback... this is everything for Darren Corbett.
When he turned professional in 1994 Corbett's power made an electrifying impact. It didn't matter that he was out of shape, he had a one-punch thunderbolt unmatched by any Irish professional fighter in the past 25 years and charisma to match with Elvis impersonations as a side show.
It seemed that with the right guidance a golden path would open up, but his star shone for a while and then gradually spiralled out of control. Now he is back two years away from the ring and with his 40th birthday approaching in July.
The old Raging Bull meets Mayo's Michael Sweeney over eight rounds at the Odyssey Arena on the supporting bill to Martin Rogan's heavyweight clash with Tyson Fury on April 14 insisting that he is filled with an unparalleled desire to succeed.
“I have two new beautiful kids, four other great kids, I'm also a grandfather and I love them all and I'm fighting for them. All I ever wanted was a wee sweetie shop, a deposit for a shop to get me going and that's what this fight is all about,” said Corbett, who will spar with Fury over the next two weeks.
“I never thought I would be fighting at 36 never mind 39... the simple fact is I'm not making anything out of this fight. This is covering my brain scan and medicals so I can fight again. I'd love a bit of sponsorship for my shorts to get me a few quid.
“I need the money, there's no work about and even though I'm not making one penny it gets me back and in one good year I know I can do a bit of damage, I have to.
“I have to thank Harry Crawford for paying for the medicals and big Mickey Hughes because without him I wouldn't be on the bill. Mickey Hughes has given me a lifeline, he's a straight guy and he gets you a fair deal.”
Corbett's professional career came about on the back of three stunning knockouts, two in the ring when he poleaxed American number one Ike Green and claimed the Ulster title in similar fashion against Ballyclare's Willie Clyde and the third when medics blocked his path onto the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games in 1994.
“I had been cut by a glass while doing the door, it had healed up and the top man in the Ulster Clinic gave me the all clear, but the doctor said no. I had already knocked out the favourite, Britain's Michael McKenzie, in a round. I was sick,” he added. The professional life beckoned and everybody wanted to talk to him.
“I haven't a bad word to say about Barry Hearn, but the guy I should have signed with was Joe Frazier.
“Joe Frazier had watched me knock out Ike Green, the National Golden Gloves champion and Junior Olympic champion and he loved me. He was offering me $30,000, an apartment, a car and a job with a guy Mike Doyle who would have given me a job in his bar.
“I was young and foolish, I was advised there would be better deals and turned him down. That was a big mistake.”
The stoppage of Clyde is still talked about in amateur boxing circles, not only for the concussive power he exhibited, but the celebration which saw him boot his gumshield into the Ulster Hall balcony.
“The night before I had drunk 20 pints and smoked 10 joints — I’m totally against drugs and don’t smoke or drink now,” said Corbett. “I went in the next night and knocked big Willie Clyde out. The referee gave me a count for no reason and that made me angry and then right away I got him with the left hook and booted my gumshield into the crowd.
“Big Willie’s gumshield was lying in one side of the ring and his tooth was lying on the other side. That was a special night.”
Eventually he signed with Hearn and having started out as a heavyweight, the 5ft 11 north Belfast 22-year-old chalked up two first round knockouts before dropping down to cruiserweight where he won the Irish title before the zenith of his career in 1997 when he challenged unbeaten puncher Chris Okoh for the Commonwealth belt before a sold out Waterfront Hall.
“I was supposed to get banged out that night, nobody wanted to fight him, but I knocked him out. The crowd was amazing that night. That’s the thing, I was always a ticket seller,” he said.
“I thought after that the world was my oyster. I expected to be fighting for a World title, but everybody was avoiding me. That was June and I didn’t get to fight again until December and I gave the worst performance of my career against Rob Norton — even though I won.”
A year later he lost a British and Commonwealth title fight to Bruce Scott before returning at light-heavyweight only to make what he regards as the biggest mistake of his career.
“I was set for a British and Commonwealth title fight with Neil Simpson and I was on fire, but I didn’t want to sign an extended contract with Barry Hearn and I was advised to ask for more money and even though I was getting a lot more I was still told to ask for more and the fight didn’t happen.
“People haven’t seen the best of me because the best of me was in preparation for that fight. I was battering the WBO champion Mark Prince as well as Mark Baker and I sat and watched Simpson beat Baker by a point.
“I stayed in bed and cried for a week. I’m a big strong man but that hurt, I was sickened. That was the biggest mistake I ever made and things were never the same.”
For the past decade he has had long spells of inactivity, boxed briefly in the States and had two poor displays in Prizefighter, while trying to keep his personal life together.
Now with partner Noeleen, Corbett says he is “fresh” for the fight ahead.
“I don't feel 40, I feel 18. For the first time in life I really feel in love and Noeleen is really looking after me. She keeps me right, she doesn't cover for me, she's helped me change my life around,” he said.
“She's 11 years younger than me and she's a lot smarter! I want the best for her and all my kids. That’s why I am fighting and I’m loving it — I’m buzzing and ready to give it my best.”