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Corder tries to keep his eye on the prize

Cleveland Corder was taking a cold shower when his boxing future was first decided.

Just 7, Corder had gotten into a little scrum with the new kid in the neighborhood. But before Corder and Joe Bicknese could settle their wrestling dispute, Joe's father, Dan, had thrown the youngsters into his concrete cellar.

"If you guys want to fight," Dan Bicknese told the youths, "you're going to learn how to fight like a man."

Before any blows were thrown, Dan's wife, Betty, came into the cellar and dragged little Cleveland home, where his father immediately tossed him in the shower.

When Cleveland emerged from the shower, his father and Dan Bicknese had decided that Dan would train young Cleveland in the sweet science.

"It was funny. When you're 7, you just don't think. We're wrestling on the ground and the next thing you know we're in the cellar," Corder said.

Now 33, Corder is still boxing and Joe Bicknese is his best friend. Corder even served as the best man at Joe's wedding.

As much as things have stayed the same, they've also changed.

"Back when you're 7, you don't feel anything. You could jump out of trees, jump off houses, anything. Now everything hurts," Corder said.

Corder (33-3) will fight 32-year-old J.J. Corn (44-13-1) tonight as part of Friday Night Fights III at Qwest Arena. Along with Kenny Keene, Corder will headline the six-fight card in front of what should be a near-capacity crowd.

Corn, who has lost his last six fights, weighed in five pounds over the limit Thursday afternoon. Corn came in at 168.6 pounds and had to forfeit $500 of his purse. He attributed his weight problem to having just two weeks to prep for the bout.

And while Corder tries to prepare for Corn, he has his sights set much higher. Corder and fight promoter Kasey Thompson said they have an agreement for Corder to fight Jesse Brinkley for the third time on March 31 in a bout televised on one of the ESPN networks — provided he handles his business tonight.

"There is no big fight unless I win this one," Corder said. "You've got to take one fight at a time, but it sure helps you train harder knowing there are bigger and better things down the road."

Brinkley, who appeared on NBC's boxing reality show "The Contender," has twice beaten Corder. Brinkley won by ninth-round knockout in March 2004, and by first-round technical knockout in June 2003.

"Jesse is the only guy that's beaten me that I've never redeemed. To be able to retire knowing you beat everybody you ever faced, that would be awesome. You could feel great with your career," said Corder, who avenged his only other loss by defeating Ron Johnson in a rematch.

"It's tough to see how Brinkley's career has just skyrocketed since 'The Contender.' I know I can beat him. I can only hope I get the opportunity to prove that."

Corder, who is married and the father of two young children, isn't going to allow his final days in boxing to be decided by others.

He already has a plan.

"My wife (Heather) and I have talked about it. Win this fight. Avenge my loss to Brinkley. Get my title shot. Then I'm out," said Corder, who would like to go back to school to supplement his associate's degree in criminology.

But boxers rarely go out on top. And they rarely go out that easily. Look at Keene, the pioneer of boxing in the Treasure Valley.

Keene, 37, is climbing back in the ring after three years of "retirement," against the advice of many friends and family members.

Once boxing gets in your blood, it doesn't leave. It's certainly in Corder's blood. So even as he discusses his three-fight-and-out plan, he talks about fighting until his "ticket is called" and the big payday comes.

The road to that big payday — one that started with a typical childhood wrestling match and wandered through a national Golden Gloves championship, a silver medal at the Olympic trials, and through 36 (and counting) professional fights — has rarely been as straight and obvious as it is tonight.

Win. Find a way to beat up Corn. Don't let this chance, perhaps his last best one to make it big, slip away.

His game plan is simple, no more complicated than a 7-year-old's would be.

"Try to rough him up. Box him for two rounds and then get in there and do what I do best — tear him up," Corder said.